We Learned How to Buy a House in Florida.

I’ve been blessed by living on a large lake for the better part of 27 years. I retired four years ago and my wife retired last October. We went to northern Florida for the winter, and she decided she is a beach girl. This is how I found myself looking to buy a house in Florida, in the St. Augustine area, near the beach.

Life has never made a lot of sense to me. Lots of strange and inexplicable things happen every day. If you don’t believe me, watch the news, although I don’t recommend it. The resulting indigestion can be staggering. Anyhow, we got us a realtor, and off we went on our hunt for the perfect Florida home. We were off on an adventure to buy a house in Florida.

In order to buy a house in Florida, one has to consider many things. Does one want a single family home on the beach, near the beach, or perhaps a condo? We’re a retired, 60+, middle income family, so the million plus dollars required for beach front property would have required selling several major organs. At my age I’m more likely to need new ones than to sell the ones I already have. A single family home near the beach was feasible, and a condo was quite reasonable.

Then, there’s the maintenance required for property in Florida. The salt and sand are corrosive, and the summer sun can bake the skin off your back and the paint off your house. Should we have chosen to sell some major organs, a beach front home would require painting approximately every fifteen minutes. The roof would need replaced every other day, and the rusted plumbing every other week. And, should a Florida wind (read hurricane) show up, the place better be built of stone, cement, brick, or underground. A single family home near the beach has similar issues, although I understand that the beach front property can sometimes act as wind shield for these off-beach houses in a big blow. Then there’s the glorious condo, where others care for the exterior of the property. All the owner has to do is take care of the leaks, other plumbing problems, electrical issues, etc. that occur on the inside of the condo, most of which are 30-plus years old at this point.

One needs to carefully consider location. Most of Florida is drained swamp. If you end up too far from the beach, you can find yourself in the middle of a swampy area. In one development, we found a large pond (read drainage management area) with signs warning “beware of alligators and poisonous snakes”. This was directly adjacent to the community pool. We ran away.

Then, there’s elevation to ponder. Most of Florida is at sea level (or below), so flooding is a major issue. Surprisingly to me, much of the flooding comes from drainage issues on the swamp side. It’s even worse when the big winds blow the ocean into your back yard, or living room. We found a development that was 8 feet higher than anything else in the area, and a record of hardly ever flooding (reassuring?). That 8 feet in elevation made an amazing difference in our insurance rates. Having lived on a mountain lake for 27 years, 8 feet in elevation constituted about two steps down the hill towards the dock.

Being a clever man, I pointed out to my wife that we also needed to take into account the materials with which the house was built. Many of the older homes and condos are made of cement, brick or stone, which hold up fairly well in a big blow (again, read hurricane). Remember the three little pigs? Apparently, the use of those materials for new construction makes the cost prohibitive to most normal human beings (remember that sale of major organs thing?).

We found one development with new construction, and discussed this issue with their manager. As it turned out, they were willing to build you a new home out of cement, with a nice, strong tile roof, but we didn’t have enough major organs between us for the roof, let alone the house. The construction manager assured us that the homes built with wooden frame, plank siding and shingled roof were just fine. This conclusion was based on the fact that the roof was anchored to the ground using aluminum cable. At this point, we had been in the sun for hours and seen about a hundred different places. So, we were delirious, and considered this possibility. That is, until we walked out back and saw another one of those drainage ponds, with the requisite sign “beware of alligators and poisonous snakes”. Dehydrated from sweating all day (did I mention it was July), we walked away fast rather than running.

My wife, God bless her, is the detailed one in our marriage. She was the one who spoke to the insurance companies to get estimates for a house in Florida. When she tried to explain it to me, my head was in danger of exploding. Apparently, if you are less than 5 feet above sea level, it is assumed that your place is going to flood at some point, and the rates are astronomical. If your roof doesn’t have special devices installed to help hold it on in a big blow, your rates are astronomical. If your place isn’t made of cement, brick or stone, your rates are astronomical. And, you need a survey that includes elevation and an inspection to prove your roof is attached properly, or your rates are astronomical. See a pattern here?

My wife and I are over 60 with knees that are beginning to complain, a lot. So, to avoid stairs we were hoping for a first floor walk-in with everything on one floor. We both have our own hobbies in retirement, and were looking for a home with a sufficient number of rooms so that we could each have our own place for said hobbies. I have always been a tiny bit compulsive when it comes to caring for my cars, so I wanted a garage. Neither of us are particularly fond of alligators or poisonous snakes (our idea of a pet is our cat Cookie), so we needed to be closer to the beach. There, the alligators are further away in the swampy areas and the poisonous snakes stay pretty much to the dunes.

After several weeks of diligent research, visiting countless homes and argument after argument, we bought a house in Florida; settled on a second floor two-bedroom, two-bath condo with a loft (lots of stairs but no flooding). It’s 30 years old, sturdily build of cement (won’t blow away). Unfortunately, it’s 30 years old, so it had to be re-piped (something about cheap copper from China used in the pipes in homes throughout Florida). It also needed a new HVAC unit, and we will eventually remodel the upstairs bathroom and kitchen. The roof is apparently attached properly, so we save a few bucks on insurance there. We will have to do our hobbies in the same room.

The lesson learned is that when you buy a house in Florida, it’s on Florida’s terms. High and dry (no flooding), lack of lethal things (gators, snakes), and not blowing away (cement construction with strongly attached roof) trumped no stairs, 3-bedrooms and a garage. Survival be goodJ

Speaking of a garage, you can buy a detached garage somewhere else in the condo complex for a mere $60,000, approximately the cost to replace both of my current cars with brand new ones. The good news there is that for twenty dollars a month you can run your car through the local car wash as many times as you want. That’s kind of nice. They have all colors of flashy lights, it’s entertaining and relaxing. The water flows over your vehicle kind of like driving through a waterfall, that smells like sulfur. When I’m stressed thinking about how I ended up in a two-bedroom, two-bath, second floor condo in Florida, I can just take one of my cars through the car wash, relax and forget for a few minutes. (Help me.)

Detective Jason Longfellow likes to camp. His wife does not. Perhaps they should consider buying a place in Florida. To get PLEASURIA: Take as Directed, go http://bit.ly/pleasuria