Want a Bigger Backyard? Buy a 2-Story Home!

Is the size of the backyard important to you?If you’re searching for South Florida homes for sale and one of your criteria is that you want a big backyard, consider focusing on two-story homes as they generally have a smaller footprint on the property and often have more air-conditioned living space for about the same amount as a single-story home.  This photo of two Broward County homes side-by-side provides an example of what I mean.  The lot size of each of these properties is 5,665 square feet.  On the left is a 2-story home with approximately 2,400 square feet of air-conditioned space while the one on the right is a 1-story home with approximately 1,950 square feet of a/c space. 

Now look at the footprint of the house on each lot.  While they both have about the same size front yard, the backyard of the 2-story home is large enough to accommodate a pool and still have some yard space left.  In subdivisions, the front setbacks are typically the same so the real difference can be found in back of the house. Surprisingly, there usually isn’t a big gap between the sale price of each home, assuming they are in the same neighborhood, have similar lot sizes and are the same type of lot (ex: waterfront) with similar outdoor amenities (ex: pool).  So the question to ask yourself is, which is more important to you… no stairs or more useable land/outdoor space?

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Safest Cities in South Florida – 2007 Edition

Relocate to South Florida!Relocation to South Florida can be stressful and one of the issues often taken into consideration when deciding which city to relocate to has to do with crime statistics.  The 14th edition of the City Crime Rankings from CQ Press — published this week — can offer anyone relocating some useful information. 

According to its Safest City Rank Order, Coral Springs (at #17) is the safest city in South Florida, followed by Pembroke Pines (#48), Boca Raton (#67), Davie (#88), Plantation (#90) and Sunrise (#118).  It’s interesting to note that 5 out of the 6 are in Broward County and the western side at that.

Google Maps of South Florida Can Be Useful to Home Buyers

blue tarps on roofs in South FloridaIf you use Google Maps you may have noticed that they seem to have recently updated their maps of South Florida (satellite/hybrid aerial maps).  How can I tell?  Well, because now when I use Google Maps, I see lots of roofs with blue tarps on them… something we saw everywhere throughout South Florida for many months after Hurricane Wilma blew through Broward County as well as other surrounding counties.  Even now… almost two years later, you’ll still ocassionally see homes with a blue tarp on the roof.

If you’re a home buyer looking at homes in South Florida, this may be a good way to tell if the home you’re considering buying had roof damage.  In fact, the aerial maps even reveal which South Florida neighborhoods had roofs that weathered the hurricane better than others.  

Of course, Florida home buyers should always ask the home seller to provide them with a copy of the Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement (SPDS) which is designed to assist home buyers in evaluating the property being considered.  In Florida, a home seller is obligated to disclose to a buyer all known facts that materially affect the value of the property being sold and that are not readily observable.

Brand new and already functionally obsolete!

BlueprintsI recently showed one of my clients a 2-bedroom/1-bathroom townhome which has the 2 bedrooms with a bathroom between them upstairs and zero bathrooms downstairs (where the kitchen and living room/dining room are).  Whenever I come across these types of odd floor plans, I have to ask “what were the builders thinking?”.  Who wants to have to go upstairs every time they need to go to the bathroom or make their guests do that?  I know some older homes were built with only one bathroom but this was a 10-year old townhouse… a townhouse that was functionally obsolete even when it was brand new!

Whenever you are shopping for a home, be sure to take into consideration the potential value of a home in the future.  Oddities such as the one I mentioned above can negatively affect the value of the home and make it more difficult to sell, especially during a buyer’s market when inventory levels are high.  Unless there is a way to fix the problem and the fix is not unreasonably expensive, it’s best to move on and find another home you like that won’t make it difficult to sell when you decide to move again and have to put it on the market.

Living Free of Homeowner Association Fees and Constraints

HOA Free ZoneWith an eye towards helping homebuyers save money and perhaps find more affordable housing, tomorrow I’ll introduce the first in a series of posts that will highlight neighborhoods that are HOA-free!

Every so often a home buyer will let me know up-front that they’re not interested in looking at homes in any neighborhood run by a homeowner association.  The most common reasons I hear are that they either don’t want to pay a homeowner association fee or they simply don’t want to live by other people’s sets of rules.  Most homeowner associations (HOAs) have rules and regulations that anyone purchasing in that neighborhood has presumably been made aware of by the previous homeowner via the HOA documents.  Among other things, maintenance fees pay for the upkeep of a community’s amenities… regardless of whether you use them or not.  Many homeowner associations have protocols which residents are supposed to abide by.  This can include completing an application to be submitted to the Architectural Review Committee if the resident wants to make any modifications to the exterior of their home, which is not necessarily limited to the structure as it oftentimes includes major landscaping changes.

On the flip side, there are advantages to living in a community that has a homeowner association.  One of the benefits is that you don’t need to worry about such things as living next to a house whose owner painted it purple or some other color that doesn’t blend with the rest of the neighborhood homes.  Another benefit (which some will dispute) is that it keeps property values up by forcing residents to keep their homes and its landscaping in good condition.  However, this works best when the HOA has some “teeth” (for example: the ability to charge fines when a homeowner breaks the rules).  Homeowner associations also allow residents to share in the costs of maintaining common areas and any amenities available within the community (examples include a pool, spa, clubhouse, exercise room, tennis courts, children’s playground, lighting, gated entries, etc.).

Throughout Florida, homeowner associations did not start to become popular or commonplace until about 20-30 years ago so you’re more likely to find more neighborhoods that are not governed by a homeowners association closer to the coast than further inland.

Calculate Your Monthly Mortgage Payment

CalculatorWhether you’re a first-time home buyer or a seasoned buyer, take advantage of free online tools to assist you in your decisions. Before your start looking at homes for sale in South Florida, you need to know how much mortgage you can afford.  If you’re not ready to visit with a mortgage broker to get pre-approved for a Florida home loan, here’s a free online mortgage payment calculator you may find useful. 

Moving to South Florida? Some tips for a successful move…

Moving BoxesPrime season for moving in South Florida (as in most places) is during the time kids are out of school – typically June through August.  Moving can be among the most stressful things we do in our lives, but with the right planning, your move to South Florida can be made easier.  Following the moving tips provided in the various sites mentioned below may help you turn your next house into a home sooner rather than later.

If you have any questions about intrastate household moving, you can call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) when calling within Florida, or (850) 488-2221 when calling from outside of Florida.  Another helpful resource is Florida’s Division of Consumer Services website.  Their site offers some good information on moving within Florida (household intrastate moving), including information on how to choose a mover, what the cost of your move will depend on, tips on successful packing, what your rights are, what to know before you sign an estimate or contract, about liability for loss/damage, important terms to know, what to do if you have a claim, as well as a basic moving checklist.

Another resource with useful information is the Florida Movers and Warehousemen’s Association (FMWA) which has established a code of ethics for its members.  If you’re planning an interstate move, you may also find the information at the American Moving and Storage (AMSA) website helpful.  AMSA is a non-profit trade association.  Additionally, you can find articles on how to protect yourself from moving fraud as well as search movers and complaint history at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website. 

To lighten your moving load, be sure to also read my previous post on ways you can benefit from having a garage sale which can also provide you with money to help pay for the move! 

Aside from the physically demanding side of moving, remember to notify the utility companies and delivery services when to stop services at your old address and begin services at your new address.  Additionally, your move will be smoother if you notify the post office of your change of address at least 7-10 days before your move-in date.