The pound’s bounce back against the dollar this year means the exchange rate hasn’t been so favourable since the Brexit vote in June 2016, which is great news for house-hunters across the pond. But before you start browsing for your dream Disney home, here are some reminders about Florida’s real estate market

Picking your property
Florida is a leading tourist destination, which means much of its property market is geared towards second or vacation homeowners. So first think about your preferred location and environment. Most UK buyers opt to buy in a gated community, where communal facilities typically include swimming pools, a gym and clubhouse, located in the popular ‘Golden Triangle’ area of central Florida, close to Disney and Orlando Airport. Communities, often ungated, within neighbourhoods can also be referred to as subdivisions.

Disney vacation home ideal for holiday lets

On a larger scale, golf resort ‘communities’, such as ChampionsGate or Reunion, are built around golf courses and within them have a selection of smaller gated communities, as well as restaurants and retail outlets for the homeowners.

In terms of property type, choice ranges from condominiums or ‘condos’ (typically the equivalent of an apartment in the UK), townhomes, villas and single family homes (single-storey, open-plan houses). Recent years have seen a rise in hotel-style vacation resorts in central Florida, where owners have the option to enter their property into the developer’s leaseback or rental scheme, enabling it to be used by holiday tour operators. Facilities at these resorts are comparable to full-blown hotel resorts – many have their own mini water parks!

Realtors and the MLS
Unlike the UK, Florida and the wider USA uses a system that gives all real estate professionals, known as ‘realtors’, access to all properties on the open market in their area. It’s called the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). This means that as a property-hunter you really only need to choose and work with one realtor, who becomes your ‘buyer agent’. They will be able to show you every property available that matches your needs in your chosen neighbourhood and when the time comes, guide you through the conveyancing process.

In contrast to estate agents in the UK, realtors in the USA must be certified and be members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which makes for a more regulated and arguably safer buying process. Realtors undertake regular training, can opt to take specialised courses in all areas of real estate and pledge to work to a high ethical standard.

Could this be your dream Disney condo?

The Homeowners’ Association
Every community and subdivision in Florida will have a homeowners’ association (HOA), comprising a group of owners within the community. The HOA’s duty is to ensure the community and its owners operate according to the standards stated in the community’s covenants. The HOA also decides how much owners pay each year towards the running and upkeep of communal facilities, so-called HOA fees. As a rule, large communities with multiple facilities will have higher HOA fees than smaller ones with more basic facilities. When viewing properties, keep an eye on how well kept the communal areas are.

Get real about rentals
It is common for homeowners in Florida to rent out their property to holidaymakers when they’re not using it – the extra income helps to cover running costs. If this is your plan, check with your realtor that holiday lets are allowed at any properties they show you. Why? In Florida, this type of letting is only allowed in areas that are ‘zoned’ by the county council for short-term rentals (STR). As a guide, only a portion of the four counties in the Disney area is zoned for STR.

Furthermore, a community’s HOA must also give approval for short-term rentals and can set their own rules governing them. As a homeowner, you must have both a Florida state licence and a county licence to rent out your property, and you will also need to register with the tax authorities and obtain an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). Ask your chosen property management company for assistance with these things. As a guide, 30-35 weeks’ annual occupancy should cover all running costs associated with a typical holiday home bought with a mortgage (70-75 per cent LTV) and rented out through a management firm.

Your ongoing costs
Be realistic about what your running costs will be. Owners of a typical home in a Disney community zoned for short-term rentals that is let and looked after by a management firm should expect their overheads to include: HOA fees, licensing fees, utilities, insurance, management fees, cleaning costs, repairs and maintenance, wear and tear on furniture and fittings, accountancy fees, and if applicable, pool maintenance, lawn care and pest control.

Written by Overseas Guides Company.

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