I got the greatest piece of advice last year when I put my Florida condo up for sale. The experienced and very talented real estate broker/attorney I hired explained the philosophy of Florida to me in this way: “You only come to Florida to get warm. There’s no such thing as real estate investments in Florida.” In hindsight, I’ve come to realize that my broker is 1000% correct. To this day, I keep his picture posted on my bulletin board, above my computer, so I can remind myself each and every day of his miraculous words of wisdom.
My parents were snowbirds, thus my siblings and I always wintered in Florida with them. My mother loved Miami. My father loved Boca Raton. My mother always wanted to buy a condo. My dad always told her no. Back in the 1960’s, my dad modified a VW bus and outfitted it with a fold-down table that converted into a bed that he and my mom would sleep on. My father created a back platform, covered it with a smallish mattress, where my sister and I slept. When New York got super chilly, he’d drive us all down to Florida. We’d stay in some hotel. Then he would drive us back up to the northeast.
When my parents passed both my brother and sister bought Florida condos. In 2008 the Florida housing market collapsed, never to recover. They have no intention of selling, so, the property value decline is a moot point for them.
Every winter has been a struggle for me. In affluent years my family and I would fly to the Caribbean. Lean years brought us back to driveable Florida. In 2005 I asked my one time and only financial advisor if I should buy a Florida condo. He told me to rent instead.
Over the years, the rising rents of Florida condos have made wintering in them nearly impossible. Here is a list of what a rental unit would cost you, per month, in today’s dollars:
- Florida (Central): $1,500-$6,000 (condo); $2,500-$10,000 (single family).
- Florida (East Central Coast): $2,800-$6,000 (condo); $3,200-$9,000 (single family).
- Florida (Panhandle): $800-$2,200 (condo); $1,100-$3,500 (single family).
- Florida (South): $2,500-$8,000 (condo); $5,000-$12,000 (single family).
So, I discovered RVing in Florida instead. Just like everything else in life, the fees went up. In 2014, I did a comparison of RVing vs condo home ownership. My calculations on paper confirmed that buying a condo (for cash) priced below $160K, with low annual HOA fees and low property taxes would come out cheaper than renting an RV site for 3 months. So, that’s what I did. I sold the RV and bought a condo. I finally could join my siblings and live happily ever after fulfilling my childhood dream. On paper, everything went perfectly well. But there was one thing that no mathematical formula could anticipate….and that was………
Neighbors. Smoking neighbors. Lying neighbors. Nicotine addicted neighbors.
If I were in the RV, I could just drive away. After 1.5 years of fighting with these inconsiderate neighbors, negotiating new condo common smoking rules with the condo board, filing complaints against the smoking neighbors with the Department of Health, all to no avail, I learned very quickly that Florida is no New York (where we have plentiful laws protecting the innocent from the health abuses of second-hand smoke). The stench from the constant tobacco smoke eventually caused disastrous health issues for me (I wound up in the ER four times with massive and uncontrollable nose bleeds and severe breathing problems) I had no choice but to sell the condo, which brings me back to my divine real estate broker.
Lesson learned: You go to Florida to get warm. Not buy investment properties.
So, here I am: back to square one. The coldness is descending upon me again as wintertime approaches yet once more. (Don’t even mention moving to another locale because DH and I have resolved ourselves to NEVER move out of New York again. We can’t take any more chances.) First we were going to RV in Arizona but the mileage was just to costly to bear. Next was scouting our old sites in Florida but they’re more costly than I choose to remember. We decided a way to keep costs down was just to RV one month (February) rather than our usual three. At $90 a day, we were looking at a site rental fee of $2700. To cut the costs again we eliminated the sewer hook up and kept only the water and electricity for $70 a day, totalling $2100 for the month. (you only get cost reductions when you stay for 3 months)
Don’t ask me how it happened, or how it came about, or how I got the idea but I found myself looking online at Florida State Park RV rental sites (and there’s a gazillion of them!) At a cost of only $24 per night (with water and electricity hook ups only) you can find yourself sitting amongst the palm trees and mangoves, complete with an ocean (river, lake, stream) view, sipping a pina colada! It’s a little too late in the season to find a consecutive run of available sites but this is where my imaginative and creative aptitude came in to play. It took me a while but I managed to book three weeks, on the ocean, at a Florida State Park. With taxes and fees, it only comes to $564. That’s one thousand five hundred thirty six dollars ($1536) that I don’t have to spend! The last week of February I will stay with my sister (and store the RV) for the price of zero!
Next season I will start my search earlier and try to get a site in a more suitable location closer to my siblings. Reservations start from one day to eleven months in advance. I’d like to start out our Florida adventure in St. Augustine with the end goal of Key West.
And so the Snowbird Shuffle begins yet once again.