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Florida Condo Advice

Old 03-17-2009, 03:30 AM
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The wife and I have always wanted to own a small condo somewhere in NW Florida, and it looks like we might be in a position to go for it here in about a year or so (translation: no kids and no house payment )

Our main reason for wanting to do so is that we'll use the thing alot, but I also want to try and make a little of our money back by renting it out through VRBO. Not to mention with the market being in the tank, it may turn out to be a good investment if we buy low. Renting is optional though, and if it turns out to be a hassle, it may not be worth it.

What we'd really like is a small 1-2BR. There are so many different types of developments to choose from, and we'd probably opt for something with inland water access instead of gulf front views.

I'm just now delving into researching the subject, but i'd like to get you guy's input regarding the benefits, drawbacks, and pitfalls and what kind of stuff do I really need to school myself on, such as taxes, fees, etc. Something tells me that there will be more to the taxes and dues that i'm not seeing right now.

Also, which areas are good? We like the panhandle because it is a short drive for us, but would consider other areas.

Any info you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
Old 03-17-2009, 04:29 AM
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We vacation in Destin FL every summer, some of the best water and beaches in Florida. I don't know if I would buy with hopes of renting, there are a ton of condos around empty. Summer is the best window to rent with the warmer water/air temps.

We have family there so we get to stay with them when visiting. Once we did stay a few nights at the Palms and it has great pools and is off of 98 near Silver Shells condos which are on the beach.

http://www.palmsofdestin.com/
Old 03-17-2009, 04:42 AM
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you may also want to look into the bend bend area.if your going to try and rent it a few times a year this is ideal.during scallop season you will have no trouble getting it rented.but there is not much for beaches.
Old 03-17-2009, 05:38 AM
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Alabama's real estate has less property taxes than Florida.
Check financials and repair histories with any condo you visit if it's older than 5 years.
Find the COA president and talk with him/her. You'll get a feel for whether the COA is stable, whether he's a king (been there forever and a despot), what the dues history has been, how they pay for insurance (and any other assessments), assessment history and reasons.
You can get a Mgmt company to handle the rentals and other items. Otherwise you'll be far away when your phone rings and your one-week renter calls about the microwave and coffee pot not working...and fix it today or they'll move somewhere else.
Old 03-17-2009, 05:22 PM
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We went through a similar decision, looking from St. George Island to Crystal River before deciding on a condo in Gulf Shores, at the intersection of the Intracoastal and Mobile (Bon Secour) Bay. We rent the unit all winter (January through April) to Snowbirds, since my wife is a schoolteacher and I work as well. A management company is a great idea, assuming you can find someone who is competent. The rental income does not come close to paying for the unit on an annual basis, but it does come in handy, and we have paid for a number of upgrades that could otherwise have not been justified. Snowbirds are relatively easy on the place, but I think a steady stream of weekly renters would beat the heck out of the place in short order.

Homeowner dues are a fact of life for condos, and you need to determine exactly what is covered, as well as the frequency of assessments for improvements, such as dredging and seawall repair. You also need your own insurance on the contents, plus liability. Hurricanes are a fact of life, and can come with quite a pricetag, although generally less than for a single-family dwelling.

We love having the place, and my wife spends her summers at the condo. Our son and his family use the condo when it's available, and it is a great place for a family gathering. Even though we white-knuckled through Ivan, we'd buy again without reservations.
Old 03-17-2009, 05:58 PM
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Good info, thanks.

Do either of you have any idea what the difference in property taxes would be, approximately?
Old 03-17-2009, 06:43 PM
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I would invest in the Alabama Coast over Destin these days. Far less tax as mentioned and far less tourist traffic. Destin has been a turn off for years as we were spending too much time sitting in traffic and seem to be getting worse every year. Orange beach area IMO wont be overbuilt like Destin was.
Old 03-17-2009, 07:00 PM
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Not wanting to sound like a C of C spokesman, but here's a list of what's less in Orange Beach/Gulf Shores than in Destin/Fort Walton, FL:
Prices of condos
Property taxes
Traffic

From any place in OB, the drive to the beach is 5 minutes, to a boat launch, 5 minutes, to a store, same. Water is clear just like Destin's. Both places have a Pass for access to the Gulf.
Old 03-17-2009, 07:23 PM
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If there are empty units. Foreclosure or missing owners. The condo fees get devided among the paying owners. My nephew had a condo on water in se florida and his condo fees were going crazy because speculators and foreclosures were causing the other owners to make up the difference?$?$
Old 03-17-2009, 07:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Bly View Post
If there are empty units. Foreclosure or missing owners. The condo fees get devided among the paying owners. My nephew had a condo on water in se florida and his condo fees were going crazy because speculators and foreclosures were causing the other owners to make up the difference?$?$
Another good reason to check out the COA officers and the financials. A shortfall in dues is best handled with a bank loan LOC that gets repaid as dues-paying members stabilize.

A poorly managed or under-funded COA isn't generally able to qualify for a LOC, so check the reserve account and whether it's growing regularly.
Old 03-17-2009, 08:06 PM
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No matter where you look for condos, buy one on the water. If you want to rent it out it must be on the water. A golf course location is 2nd choice but waterfront is always better.
Old 03-18-2009, 03:56 AM
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Originally Posted by gregGradyfish View Post
I would invest in the Alabama Coast over Destin these days. Far less tax as mentioned and far less tourist traffic. Destin has been a turn off for years as we were spending too much time sitting in traffic and seem to be getting worse every year. Orange beach area IMO wont be overbuilt like Destin was.
You are right about the traffic. Every year we go down, it seems they tear down a cottage or a house on the beach and put up a massive condo. It is a shame that it's not the Destin it was years ago. It's definitely being over built, but it's still a nice place
Old 03-19-2009, 05:10 PM
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I certainly agree with the "on the water" comment. Unfortunately, beachfront condos are usually not "boat friendly", which is why our search took so long. I love having the boat on a lift right right by the condo; you will use the boat so much more than if you have even a short drive, or have to get the boat out of storage.

That usually means you end up in the "back bay" area, which is a compromise we gladly made. Crystal River is really nice, but the manatee zones can really slow your trip to the Gulf, and it is a long way to deep water. St. George is very nice, but private docks are expensive. Because of the wetland and dredging laws, a lot of places with nice canals are older, but you can find them with a decent search. Some areas in Mississippi are recovering from Katrina, and might be a good fit for you as well. Just try Google Earth, and you can actually see the developments and docks - neat way to spend a rainy weekend on the computer!

That said, we really do love Gulf Shores, and I hope to retire there in the not-too-distant future.
Old 03-19-2009, 05:23 PM
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Gulf Shores is sure nice, but you'll be travelling to Orange Beach to launch your boat, so why not just retire in OUR nice little village!

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