I interrupt the long post about Grit that I started about five days ago and was going to work on today to say goodbye to my Florida condo.
No, I do not actually own a condo in Florida, but boy did I want to!
As my wife and I watch Weather Channel coverage of Hurricane Irma getting ready to slam the Sunshine State, I was reminded of the many hours that I spent researching, coveting and dreaming of our own little slice of paradise.
Of course, over the years I have learned many times over that for all of the natural beauty and warmth in Florida, that beauty and warmth can be overshadowed by crime, poverty, drugs and what must be the highest tattoo per capita rate in the U.S.
Once I researched and dug a little deeper, I found that many of the properties that I wanted to purchase were in areas plagued by crystal meth, gangs and host to episodes of Cops.
I would tell my brother about how much I hate Illinois winters and am looking at purchasing a property in Florida to spend a few weeks every winter and then eventually a few months, and he would tell me that he had noticed over the years that if something crazy or bizarre happened in the country, it most often happened there.
Someone eaten by an alligator? Cannibal frat boy eating an older couple? Smoking crack in the ICU? Man stealing over 800 pairs of underwear from Victoria’s Secret? Man having sex with a pit bull? This shit could only happen in one state.
Why I Wanted One So Bad
I have taken my lovely family for a week in Disney World six times at about five grand a pop. We have not gone for several years; however, my wife, son and daughter are going there this December and my daughter is going again in February assuming that it is open again and accepting tourists and their dollars.
I realized then and still do that our lifestyle at Disney World of not driving, walking around a perfectly clean environment filled with happy families and forced-to-act-happy staff is not real life. Paying $200 or so dining out three meals per day is also not reality for our middle class family.
What was very real was the seventy-five to ninety degree weather day after day without a flake of snow in sight.
We would return home as the snow melted in late March and I would go about returning to the drudgery of work, making money, paying bills, saving money for our children’s college funds and trying to save a few dollars for my wife’s and my future.
Time would continue to pass, as it always does, and January would come about with its twenty below zero days, eight inches of snow, shoveling, slippery roads, furnace repairs, $200 to $300 natural gas bills, higher and higher taxes, higher and higher crime, higher and higher corruption and other things associated with long, dark Chicago area winters.
While shoveling my one hundred foot long driveway at six in the morning before embarking on a nine hour workday, I would be dreaming the entire time of sipping an iced coffee or perhaps a tropical drink on the beach or in the Florida room of my Florida home.
Realizing that I have neither the time nor inclination to maintain a single-family home including making sure that the lawn gets mowed, that the structure is maintained and that it is secure from the hundreds of thousands of potential burglars throughout the State, I settled on searching for condominium units or townhomes in what appeared to be somewhat safer and nicer areas.
My Collection of Would-Be Second Homes
I printed out well over one hundred property listings, nearly all Fannie Mae-owned homes listed on Homepath, for cheap foreclosed condos and townhouses throughout the Sunshine State from 2011 through 2014 and kept them in a folder called “FLA Condos” in my office file cabinet.
Having transferred from the department where I was hired to work and did well for twelve years into a new department with a new and inexperienced supervisor this past July, I had to relocate all of the items from my office to a new one.
Besides all of the stress and anxiety that I experienced during this transition, and continue to experience but am doing better coping with it, it provided me an opportunity to weed old useless stuff from my office that I would not have otherwise weeded out until retiring at the end of 2025 or later, or until I resigned my position to move to a better one, or got let go.
I certainly was not expecting to have to go through and move twelve years worth of stuff this past July.
While going through the files, I came across my Florida condo folder and thought it worthy of a post before I moved it along,, admitting that I was not going to purchase one while also inching closer to my annual Resolution of becoming more organized. After all, what good does it really do to have a seven-year-old condominium listing sitting in a folder in your office?
Even more so considering that I never purchased any of them, and many of these properties are soon to be destroyed or heavily damaged.
Even considering that, as I flipped through them today I could not help thinking “What if?” and began contemplating purchasing a second home that might ultimately become our only home in the future when Florida ultimately rebuilds.
Even on the eve of massive destruction throughout the State, I have no doubt that one of the biggest construction booms ever will happen throughout Florida and parts of Georgia and perhaps even damaged areas of South Carolina for years to come. It will be a long and painful process, many people will be permanently displaced and many lives will never be the same.
Ten years from now, people will be complaining about the gentrification of areas that were once trailer parks and lower class areas as Millennials, hipsters and Gen X retirees like I hope to be someday move into new or rebuilt properties. Much like the nicer areas of New Orleans have come back and are still coming back stronger than ever, while the poor, mostly black folks in the Lower Ninth Ward and other similar areas never came back.
The examples blow my mind.
A 1,140 square foot condo in Taveres for $23,900 in January of 2014. Annual taxes of a mere $807.
A 3,567, seven bedroom, three bathroom home on seven acres at 612 W. Park Street in Lakeland for a mere $44,900 in July of 2013. A pittance of property taxes of $479 a year. Seriously?! My own taxes on a home one-third that size is a Benjamin per week.
A 1,239 square foot three bedroom, two bathroom condominium on Environmental Drive in New Port Richey for the ultra-low price of $24,900 with a HOA fee of $294 per month and annual property taxes of $95. That is less taxes than I pay every week!
I even printed out listings for numerous condos in the twenties, thirties and forty thousand dollar range in towns like Winter Springs, Winter Park, Altamonte Springs, Kissimmee, Lauderhill and Tampa.
One townhome that I printed out and coveted was a nice 2,176 square foot four bedroom, three bathroom unit in Universal Resorts in Kissimmee for a mere $12,771 with a $275 monthly HOA fee and only $962 in property taxes.
These units were and remain rentals for tourists, so it would not necessarily have been a nice place to live. But it sure would have proven to be a money maker for the past seven years since I printed the listing in 2010 and will continue to be.
By the way, if I purchased a property for only $12,000, I am not bothering with a mortgage. Just stroking a check, and then renting it out enough to cover the low monthly nut. Just have the tenants and renters deposit a check in a Kissimmee area bank account and let it grow until the late 20’s, when I am ready to get a nicer, more permanent area residence.
Another condo that I printed out and looked at a lot in 2011 was at 832 Camargo Way in Altamonte Springs, where I wanted to purchase a three bedroom, two bathroom 1,291 square foot condominium in an “upscale gated community” for a mere $44,000. Keep in mind that I would never pay asking price, like nobody would, and would make an offer for something like $36,000 or so before settling for $40,000 on a nice condominium like that. I looked up the previous sale, which prior to the listing that I printed was $188,000 in 2005. The taxes were $1,025 at the time and the HOA payment was $336.
The cheapest ones that I found were in Orlando; however, I soon learned that those were the properties in the sketchiest areas. More like homes for meth dealers and gangsters than Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.
Why I Never Bought One
My wife had something to do with why I never bought one, but truthfully I was and remain too financially careful and fearful to throw caution to the wind and purchase a second home.
During those recessionary years, and to this day, my job status feels precarious sometimes. How stupid would it be to purchase a second home when I can barely support my middle class suburban household as it is?
I do not exactly have an extra few hundred or more per month to pay for a home that we would be lucky to visit two or three times per year. Also, those two or three visits would entail purchasing airline tickets during high demand times of year like around Christmas, spring breaks or maybe around Thanksgiving.
The obvious thing to do would be to rent it out and let someone else make my mortgage payments for me, as they say.
My wife brought up some of the challenges of being a landlord, such as the broken toilets, paying for mowing and the inevitable problems that go along with having tenants. For instance, if they did not pay the rent for a month or two, how would I collect from a thousand miles away? Would I pay a property manager, like my brother does for his former house that he now rents out? Their typical fee is one rent payment out of twelve, which can have an impact on your cash flow.
Would I want to pay a licensed real estate attorney to initiate eviction proceedings? Would I even want to evict someone if it was a single mother or an elderly person or someone who could not pay due to losing their job to outsourcing or a robot? Or to their crystal meth habit?
I also joked with my wife that I would end up being jealous of our tenants on those winter days when I had to shovel, drive through a storm, work long hours and come home to cold, darkness and more shoveling while someone else was living the Sunshine State lifestyle that I so coveted in a condo that I own.
Also, with college for two children looming, I thought it more prudent to sock away money in their college accounts and send a few hundred here and there to my own and my wife’s IRA than to invest it in a condominium a thousand miles away.
I currently pay about $2,500 per month toward our son’s private liberal arts college tuition, room and board instead of paying $500 to $800 of that toward maintaining a condominium that we would rarely use and that might be wiped out by a hurricane, while making our son borrow that same amount.
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I may as well admit here and now that my wife was right.
As Hurricane Irma moves closer to Florida, it is depressing to see lines of people trying to leave the area, some of whom have little to no wherewithal to relocate and many of whom do not have flood insurance to cover their impending losses.
Our daughter asked us the great question of what if someone is unable to leave. I emphatically told her that people must leave the area, no excuses. It is a life or death situation, and there is no upside to sticking it out with a category five hurricane bearing down on you.
She asked again, but what if you can’t. I told her again that you would have to no matter what. Spend your last dollars on gasoline and water if you have to, but if you do not leave, you would most surely regret it and could potentially lose your life.
She did not like my answer and told me so.
I guess that the answer is, if you cannot leave and get stuck in a major hurricane and ensuing storm surge that you could drown, you could be stuck on the roof of your home or a building for days, you could be injured or killed by flying or floating debris or you could wait around for the government to save you with a helicopter or boat.
With the forecasters issuing dire warnings and the State issuing evacuation orders for days, there is no excuse not to leave.
Had I purchased one of those homes and had renters in it, I would fully expect them to abandon ship and never return and never send me another dime.
My Future Southern Home
Somewhere out there, I do not know exactly where or what town or even what State, there is a home that either exists now or a piece of land where one will exist and I will purchase or perhaps rent a property.
As the major avid reader that I am, I know many people at the library in the town where I reside and where I work. One older lady librarian who I had been friends with recently retired to Myrtle Beach. She quoted the earlier reason of Florida being filled with crazy stuff, and her and her husband both retiring on modest government pensions, they could not afford the kind of place in the nicer areas of Florida that they would like.
She told me that they were purchasing a single family home about a mile and a half from the beach in Myrtle Beach for about $150,000, a very affordable price after selling a paid off home for twice that amount (with six times the tax bill) in the northwest burbs.
After she told me that, I once again began looking at second homes or future homes if you will in Myrtle Beach. Trulia, tracking every property that I look at, then started sending me new listings every time that a new property came on the market in Myrtle Beach.
For example, this lovely 2,100 square foot home built in 2008 has a reasonable asking price of a dollar under one fifty, to make it into my search results, a low HOA fee of $78 per month and property taxes are only about a hundred per month.
709 Austell Ct Myrtle Beach, SC 29588
3 beds 2 baths 2,100 sq ft 7840 sq ft lot size Single-Family Home
I cannot write that I intend for us to move there, neither of us having ever even been to the state of South Carolina, but I like what I see. It definitely seems like a better area for a modest Middle Class Guy like me and my family than most of the areas where I looked for properties years ago throughout Florida.
It is a 500 mile journey, or seven and a half hour drive, from there to Disney World. Close enough to drive there in a day, yet far enough away from the general nuttiness of Florida.
I am sure that South Carolina has its share of crazies and those who would not approve of my Jewish heritage, but it seems like a place that I would like to visit in the coming year or two and then dream about purchasing a place for the next ten.
As the area rebuilds from Irma, and then maybe Jose, and perhaps even some unknown future calamities, I will strive to improve upon my situation in life including financially, and will dream of purchasing a beautiful property in a place where it does not snow, where crime is not a continual part of life, where taxes do not take every extra dollar that I can possibly earn and perhaps even somewhere where we could walk to the grocery store, a library, a coffee shop and maybe even a beach.
But for now, I can only pray for the best for those who live in the path of tomorrow’s hurricane and say goodbye to my collection of real estate listings from the Sunshine State.