Expat Guide To Buying Property In Florida

Buying Property in Florida illustration

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Florida is the perfect place for relocation or retirement – ask the thousands of British expats who have made the move.

You can join the 400,000 British expats who have already jumped across the Atlantic to enjoy life in the Sunshine State.

If you want to live a perpetual holiday with warm weather all year round, experience world-class entertainment on your doorstep and shop until you drop in huge malls, then Florida is the place in the sun for you.

There are some drawbacks…

Like Australia, the bugs, snakes and alligators are big and vicious; you will rub shoulders with lots of tourists and now and then dodge a hurricane.

But the plus column more than makes up for the odd lifestyle intrusion.

Where Is Florida?

Everyone on the planet knows Florida is the southernmost state of the USA, poking out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida is just one state but is roughly the same size as England, Wales and most of Scotland, with a third of the population – 21.5 million compared to 65 million in the UK.

Living in Florida means coping with a sub-tropical climate, with little rain and temperatures ranging between 20 and 30 degrees Centigrade all year round.

The further south you live, the hotter the temperature, with the heat topping out in Miami and the Keys. Across the state, the sun shines an average of eight hours every day all year round.

Rainfall is scant, but the occasional hurricane makes landfall between June and November.

The Gulf of Mexico to the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the south are warm enough to swim between May and November comfortably.

Why Move To Florida?

Most people move to Spain because of the weather. The sunshine and lifestyle are a magnet for retirees.

Property is relatively spacious and cheap compared with popular expat destinations like Spain, France and Italy.

Florida is great if you enjoy relaxing on the golf course, basking on beaches, fishing or sailing.

And don’t forget the theme parks and attractions, from the space centre at Cape Canaveral, motor racing at Daytona to the almost endless list of theme parks around Orlando.

A best-kept secret is Florida residents can enjoy discounts at most attractions.

Many expats are ‘snowbirds’ – the American slang for older people who live out of state but spend the winter soaking up the sun. They make up a large portion of the population, so much so, the towns and cities have gated snowbird communities with dedicated housing and activities.

Make sure you read the guide on moving abroad before you decide

Florida Property Prices

Florida house prices and what you can get for your money can come as a surprise to many expats.

According to the property website Zillow, the average house price at the end of September 2020 was $259,642 (£196,427).

Prices jumped 5.6% year on year and are predicted to rise 7% by the end of September 2021.

The average price is just that. Homes in Florida can cost millions of dollars in the prestigious neighbourhoods of Miami and St Petersburg.

Many British expats settle for a spacious, modern villa with a pool near Orlando, where a sumptuous detached five-bedroom home sells for $370,000 (£279,479) or a two-bed apartment for around $150,000 (£115,000).

Away from the popular holiday centres and cities, the property is even cheaper.

A bonus for snowbirds is they can rent out their homes in the summer season when more than 100 million tourists flock to Florida. This can provide a decent second income as Florida has no state income tax.

Where To Buy In Florida

Undoubtedly home buyers from Britain get more bang for their buck in Florida.

Expect a modern, stylish detached home with four bedrooms, plenty of living space, a double garage and probably a private pool within a 30-minute drive of all the major attractions in the holiday capital of Orlando.

Don’t forget air-conditioning is a must for avoiding hot, sticky nights.

Bear in mind that although the amenities are close in Orlando, it’s still a 40-mile drive to the nearest beach, 75 miles to Tampa and 205 miles to Miami and the Everglades.

If you want glitz and glitter, then Miami is the destination for you. The city oozes Art Deco style, and a strong Hispanic influence as the city is no further from the Cuban capital of Havana than Orlando.

But Orlando and Miami are not the only choices for expats to live.

Check out Jacksonville in the north, where the weather is slightly cooler; Daytona, the iconic home of the Daytona 500 NASCAR motor race, the Gulf Coast city of Tampa and further south on the same coast, Fort Myers.

To the north, the famous Florida Panhandle – the strip of land that joins the state with neighbouring Alabama and Georgia-has Pensacola’s well-known but lesser-visited cities and the state capital Tallahassee.

Property Buying Process In Florida

Looking for a new home in a foreign country is exciting, but remember you want somewhere to live all year round, so don’t treat the house hunt as a tourist.

The needs of visitors and someone who lives permanently in Florida is different.

You need to think about how close the shops are, accessing healthcare and a home kitted out for a long-term living, with storage space, parking and a yard.

Don’t get suckered in by the sharks selling homes.

Some developers guarantee rentals, which can be an attractive snowbird proposition, but their guarantees are riddled with glitches, and you are probably paying more anyway to cover guarantee payments.

Realtors – the US estate agents – stage their homes with fancy furniture and decorations, so make sure you ask what comes with your deal and what’s fluff to boost sales.

Note, make sure you get the correct expat healthcare insurance and cover while living in the USA.

Realtor realities

Estate agents work differently in the States from those in the UK.

Think of Phil Spencer from the TV show “Location, Location, Location” rather than trailing around the dozen agents in your high street when looking for a home.

You will sign up with one realtor who will short-list several properties from your list of requirements. Then, the relator will arrange viewings or open houses.

Every realtor has access to MLS – the multi-listing service – a central database of homes for sale, much like an online property portal displaying homes from hundreds of agents in the UK.

Some don’t even list homes but broker deals between buyers and sellers.

The bill is settled by the seller, who pays commission to the listing service, realtor or broker.

Realtors must have a licence from the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

You want a buyer realtor who understands the needs of British expats, and if you plan to rent your home out, someone who knows the holiday letting market. Some realtors are agents who work for the seller and cannot give the same level of advice as a buying agent.

Online property portals

America has several online portals and well-known British websites like Rightmove and Zoopla have sections dedicated to Florida.

Two of the biggest in the US are Zillow and Trulia.

Viewing trips

Realtors or developers may invite you on a viewing trip to see a range of properties over a few days.

Sometimes these are subsidised by the sellers.

Taking a trip can work out well, but you are unlikely to see properties, not on the selling agent or developer’s books, so your choice may be restricted.

Exchanging contracts

Buyers purchase a property ‘as seen in Florida, so it’s a good idea to get a surveyor to look over your dream home.

Surveys in Florida are not as thorough as those in the UK, so make sure you pay for a rigorous check.

Once you have signed and exchanged contracts, the deal is closed. You pay a 10% deposit, and if you discover any defects after handing over your cash, then you cannot renegotiate or pull out of the transaction without losing the deposit and any associated fees.

The sale completes typically 30 days after the exchange of contracts.

Many buyers take out closing insurance to cover their costs if the title deed is found ‘clouded’.

A clouded title is when someone other than the seller has an interest in the property.

On completion, the authorities levy a property tax which comes to around 1% to 1.5% of the property value.

Although many sales go through without the aid of a lawyer, think about paying a professional to oversee your purchase. Then, for the sake of a few hundred dollars, you have peace of mind that what you are buying goes through without any problems.

Buying A Property In Florida FAQ

Florida is a great place to live, whatever your budget and lifestyle expectations – and you will probably see a lot of your family and friends if you are based near Orlando theme parks and attractions.

But living in a foreign country is much different from visiting as a tourist.

Here are some answers to the questions about buying a property in Florida that pop up most often.

Can I live permanently in Florida as a British expat?

Residence and visa restrictions do apply, depending on your expat status. Most property owners have a B1\B2 Visa that allows you to come and go as you please. If you stay more than 182 days in any year, you may become a tax resident.

That means filing a tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and paying tax on your worldwide income if you have financial interests outside the US.

Who looks after my property if I am away?

Plenty of firms offer a professional home watch service. For a small fee, they will visit your home regularly and deal with any maintenance issues. They also look after mowing the lawn and keeping the pool clean.

If you are in a gated community, security comes as part of the deal.

Do I qualify for healthcare in the States?

You need to take out comprehensive private medical insurance. This is because medical bills in the States are notoriously high, and there is no state-run service.

Should I worry about crime?

No. Like any other place, Florida has crime, but the risk varies between neighbourhoods and is probably at the highest level in some areas of Miami. Plenty of expats live in Florida without ever coming across any crime committed against them.

Can I get a mortgage in Florida?

Yes. Providing you meet the lender’s profile, you can get a mortgage in Florida. However, it’s a good idea to get pre-approval before you start looking for a home so you have some idea of what type of property you can afford.

Typical mortgages are 70% of the property value.

How much does it cost to buy a home in Florida?

The fees and taxes are around 4.5% of the purchase price if buying with a mortgage and drop to around 2.5% without a loan.

Can I rent my Florida home out?

Check with the local county authority before making an offer. The rules vary from area to area and can differ between neighbourhoods in cities. For instance, Orlando has four counties with different standards.

You will also pay income tax on any rental profits.

Below is a list of some related articles, guides and insights that you may find of interest.

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