Tuesday, 30 December 2008

End of 2008 Articles

So, as 2008 draws to a close, let's look at a couple of articles that show where the southeast Florida property market is at the moment.

Last week, both the Miami Herald and the Sun Sentinel reported that property prices are now back to the same level they were in 2003. The Herald writes that the weakened U.S. economy means fewer and fewer people are able to obtain mortgages and that many are also scared from taking the plunge and making a purchase at the moment. Both of these reasons will, in turn, contribute to prices falling further.

However, falling prices have caused a recent upturn in the amount of properties being sold. Both newspapers state that sales of houses and condos increased in Dade and Broward counties from November 2007 to November of this year. Sales of houses rose by 39% in Dade and 26% in Broward; for condos it was a rather smaller 4% for Dade and 3% for Broward. There were also fewer properties coming onto the market too for the same comparison period, although supply still vastly outstrips demand.

The two articles report that the housing market isn't expected to make a recovery soon, with 2010 more likely to experience an upturn rather than next year. However, they do both highlight the fact that for those willing to take a gamble, there's plenty of opportunity to grab a bargain right now.

To finish this post, I'd like to point out what I think is a great quote in the Sentinel from a Californian gentleman, Bob Tucker, who recently bought a five-bedroom property in south Florida (it is not mentioned exactly where) for $743,000, which was $250,000 off the market value for the area. Despite some problems with the purchase and the property itself, Mr Tucker says:

"...I think it's a good investment because this is such a desirable area."

Very desirable area indeed, Mr Tucker.

Happy New Year to everyone and all the best for 2009.

Article: As prices tumble, buyers scoop up existing homes in Broward County (Sun Sentinel, 24th December 2008)
Article: Lower home prices behind uptick in South Florida home sales (Miami Herald, 24th December 2008)

Friday, 28 November 2008

Article: In Florida, New Condos On The Block

The New York Times today featured an article about Florida condos being sold in auctions. Earlier this month, I mentioned an article that spoke of online auctions for Florida property; the NY Times instead talks about the more traditional type of auction.

With new condo developments struggling and prices falling fast, developers are often opting for this method of selling as a quick way of offloading large numbers of their apartments, in some cases even trying to sell all units available. Each condo has a minimum price set (which it must reach, otherwise it will not be sold) and bids are then taken on and above that price.

The article gives the example of a recent auction for 33 units at The Edge, a 307-unit development in West Palm Beach. Minimum bids for the various different apartments ranged from $95,000 to $225,000, and all attendees were required to bring a $5,000 cashier's cheque or money order. Those apartments that sold typically went for about 20% higher than their set minimum price.

Also mentioned is a previous auction for The Landmark in Palm Beach Gardens. In that instance, although the auction was well attended, ALL units failed to sell as not even one minimum bid was reached. Steve Good, of Sheldon Good & Company who put on the auction, said:

"The marketplace basically rejected the minimum bid. Prices have dropped so far so fast that in many cases, particularly where we're representing developers, the properties might not be worth more that the mortgages.

With the plummeting economy, there's a real open question in terms of what real estate is worth today."

Article: In Florida, New Condos on the Block (28th November 2008, The New York Times)

Friday, 21 November 2008

Articles on Foreclosures

Here's a few articles from US News (one from this month, two from earlier this year - but still highly relevant) with helpful hints and tips on looking for or buying foreclosed properties.

The keys things that I picked out from these articles are that foreclosures properties shouldn't be considered short term investments. If purchased now, they will likely decrease in value in the immediate future, so are unsuitable for anyone looking to make a quick buck by "flipping" them. Furthermore, just because they're foreclosed homes doesn't mean that banks will be extra willing to accept low offers or do deals - they most likely won't.

When searching for foreclosed properties, the articles also advise to make contact with a local real estate agent. You'll firstly cut down on the amount of research you have to undertake in finding these properties, and secondly, an agent that has experience in dealing and selling foreclosures will be of enormous help to you.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Article: Florida Property Bargains For Brits

The (London) Times published a short article earlier this month on opportunities for British buyers in Florida. The primary focus of the article was new-build condos and houses in developments that, now built, are difficult to sell because of the downturn in the U.S. property market. Some such properties are now being sold on online auction websites for prices vastly under what they were valued at a year or so ago.

Nevertheless, the article also highlights some possible problems with buying in Florida. Notwithstanding the current slump there, issues include high-ish property taxes, and the concern that British owners may run into financial trouble at home, causing a knock-effect in the Sunshine State.

Article: Florida property bargains for Brits (7th November 2008, The Times)

Monday, 10 November 2008

Article: Real Estate Increasingly Onerous For Foreign Buyers

Here's a great and highly relevant article from The New York Times. Published a few days ago, it highlights the issues facing foreign buyers at the moment, in Florida in particular. (Florida is the state where most foreigners buy - of all property bought by foreign buyers in the U.S. in 2007, 26% occurred in Florida.)

A British couple from Birmingham, Gary and Denise Murphy, are currently encountering problems buying their dream Florida property in Orlando. The (un-named) U.S. bank from which they planned to obtain a mortgage first increased the interest rate from 4.9% to 7.9%, then increased the amount they wanted in downpayment from 25% to 50%. The Murphys also mention the huge amount of paperwork they would have had to complete to get the mortgage; no doubt an example of the lender imposing stricter checks on foreign buyers.

Another British buyer however, Brian Dingley of London, didn't face too much difficulty in buying two properties just outside Tampa. (Little is said about the actual buying process he faced, save for the fact that one of his properties is yet to be built.) He believes the housing market there has bottomed out, and now is an excellent time to buy.

In the same way the article shows some of the problems that foreign buyers may encounter, it also serves as a useful guide as to what to expect if looking to buy a property in Florida - and how to get around these issues.

Generally, raising finance is probably the most potentially troublesome aspect of buying a property. Buying with cash of course elimates much of the hassle...but not everyone has bank accounts swelling with spare money. Raising a downpayment of 30% to 50% may increase the odds of getting credit in the U.S., the article says. It also goes on to mention a German buyer, Stefan Werner, who bought in Fort Myers this year. Mr Werner was able to obtain a loan from a bank in Germany, bypassing any difficulties in dealing with American banks. If you obtain a loan from your home country, you're also much more likely to understand the banking processes and requirements of obtaining a loan - making the whole thing a little bit easier.

There are positives in purchasing a property in the U.S. The buying process may be the quicker and less convoluted than what you may have experienced back home. The New York Times quotes Gunter Haubrich, an agent in Boca Raton. He says that purchasing a property takes 45 to 60 days for most foreigners and that:

"the actual closing — the final signing of the contract and the disbursement of funds — can be done without any of the principals in the same room as faxes or PDF files can now be sent."

Which is certainly true. In actual fact, I was the owner of a Florida apartment 10 days after making an offer, and wasn't in Florida for any of that time! It was all done by emailing PDFs back and forth, plus a little help from Fedex. And of course my parents who were out there and viewed the property, and were able to pay the agent directly for things like an property inspection.

Back to the aforementioned Mr Werner:

"I didn't find the property-buying process in America difficult in the least. You just need to find a good broker who will look after your interests."

I agree with him 100%!

Article: Real Estate Increasingly Onerous for Foreign Buyers (6th November 2008, The New York Times)

Article: Savvy Buyers Know The Ins And Outs Of Flipping

Yesterday's Miami Herald featured an interesting article about those that are taking advantage of foreclosed properties.

Such foreclosed properties will likely be priced low; are being sold by a bank (who needs to sell the property, and is thus seen as a motivated seller); and can often bring other opportunities to potential buyers - such as allowing them to purchase particular properties or in areas that would normally be unavailable.

Buyers of these properties would normally only ever deal in cash, given the current difficulty in raising suitable credit. Furthermore, purchasing properties in cash may also negate the possibility of running into future financial difficulties.

Once a foreclosed property is bought, the new owners undertake renovations and then either sell the property on or - more likely - rent it out. In this way, people can buy a reasonably priced property and begin earning income from it whilst it appreciates in value - if not immediately, given the current housing market, in the long term at least.

Bob and Meg Massing of South Carolina are shown in the article as example of those undertaking the above. They only buy properties for cash and usually do most of the renovations to the properties themselves, thus keeping their costs low.

Randall Porter of Ohio is also featured in the article, dealing in very-low priced homes. (He talks of purchasing a property for $12,000.) Porter is also a good example because he takes full advantage of the Internet to the do his research. Whilst the number of foreclosed properties in his local area may be considerable, very few of them may be suitable for him to buy for one reason or another. When looking to buy a place, he whittles down the number of properties to only a handful, and then tracks these online to see any changes in price or status before comitting himself into making an offer.

So, readers, a foreclosed property might be the thing for you too.

Article: Savvy buyers know the ins and outs of flipping (9th November 2008, Miami Herald)

Friday, 31 October 2008

Article: U.S. house prices to continue plunge until 2010

The Miami Herald this week featured an article about the analysis of the US property market by Nouriel Roubini, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.

Mr Roubini claims we are going to see the greatest fall in house prices since the Great Depression, and predicts that prices will fall by 16% each year until 2010.

This follows a report by S&P/Case-Schiller which shows prices falling each month since January 2007, with an upturn in the near future unlikely.

Article: U.S. house prices to continue plunge until 2010, expert says (27th October 2008, Miami Herald)

Monday, 29 September 2008

Article: Homes More Affordable; Loans Are Not

The Miami Herald featured an article yesterday about a growing issue that's causing the property market in southeast Florida to stagnate. Although prices are - finally - coming down, local buyers very often either can't get the mortgages they require; can only get mortgage at rather prohibitive terms; or need to stump up large downpayments. As the title of the article suggests, homes are indeed now becoming more affordable. But they're still out of reach to many - first time buyers for one - who can't get appropriate loans.

This means that the supply of properties is swelling ever more. Currently, Dade county has a 32-month supply of houses and a massive 41-month of condos, whilst Browward has a 20-months supply of houses and a 29-month supply of condos. In a "normal" market, there would ordinarily be a six to twelve month supply of such properties.

So, what about prices? 62% of condos in Dade county are under $300,000, whilst this percentage is at 78% for Broward. $300,000 is (at the moment) just over £165,000 - so there's plenty of supply of properties at the lower end of the market. But this doesn't help if people are unable to find loans to pay for the properties - something that, given the recent major financial wobbles - probably won't be rectified anytime soon.

This all means that as a foreign buyer, you may well be at an advantage. If you're purchasing a property with cash or are able to obtain a loan in your home country, you're in a very great position. Sellers will view you as a keen buyer and this in itself may work to your advantage - you may well be able to negotiate on price.

Article: Homes more affordable; loans are not (28th September 2008, The Miami Herald)

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Articles: Recent Roundup

No one can have failed to have noticed the news about America's fourth-largest investment bank, Lehman Brothers, over the last couple of days. The knock-on question from this is - how does it affect us? For those with an interest in southeast Florida property, the collapse of Lehman Brothers may be greater than you think. The bank invested in large-scale projects across the region, including the expansion of Aventura Mall; Donald Trump's new venture in Hollywood Beach; and Canyon Ranch resort on Miami Beach.

Such larger scale projects may not suffer too badly - another lender may simply swoop in any buy off the loans at a discounted rate. Borrowers, assuming they're not making losses, would continue making repayments to the new loan company.

It's with Lehman's investments in condo units in the area that there is an issue. If selling off such projects won't pay off loans, units may be sold as quickly as possible for well below what their actual value may be.

Article: Lehman was major force in S. Florida (15th September 2008, The Miami Herald)

Foreclosures in America increased at a slower rate in August than in previous months. August saw a 27% increase to the same month in 2007; less than in July and June. In total, over 90,000 properties across the country were repossessed in August 2008.

The top U.S. states for foreclosures are Nevada, California and Arizona. Florida comes fourth.

Article: US foreclosure rates up 27 percent in August, slower than July and June (12th September 2008, Sun Sentinel)

Meanwhile, nearly 14% of Florida property owners are behind in their mortgage payments or are facing foreclosure. This compares to 9% of property owners nationwide. Interestingly, the cause of foreclosures may now be shifting from the subprime crisis to those who had good credit history but took out crazy mortgages with tough repayment plans.

Article: 14 percent of Florida facing mortgage crisis (6th September 2008, Sun Sentinel)

Friday, 29 August 2008

UK Property Portals - Any Use?

If you've had experience of buying a property in the UK, it's likely that you will have used one of property portals. There's many out there - and their number is increasing by the day - but the major ones are Primelocation, FindaProperty, PropertyFinder and Rightmove. All of them have Overseas Property sections. But are they actually any good, and will they help you find a property?

Well, kind of. Generally, all of the above provide the usual listings of properties, based on particular criteria (e.g. minimum 2 bedrooms, must be a house) and price. Most provide you with results for the whole of Florida, without a way of narrowing it down to a specific region within that state. In PropertyFinder's case, you can only search properties for the whole of America. Now, unless you're especially indecisive, that's not particularly useful!

But doing a general search for properties across Florida might actually be quite helpful. It may well be that you haven't particularly decided on an area yet, and want to see the types of different things for sale across the state. Alternatively, you may have a very specific budget, and need to see what that will get you in different cities and counties. At very the least, these portals will give you a list of some of the agents that operate in different areas. You can then Google these agents, find their details, and then contact them direct.

Overall, though, I'd only use these portals as one of the early steps in buying a property in Florida. Doing as much preliminary research as possible is always beneficial. But ultimately, you'll find it much better to use one of local Florida portals. (Each local region newspaper usually has one - for example Sun Sentinel Real Estate).

Article: South Florida Home Prices Continue To Drop

At the beginning of this week, the Miami Herald provided its latest update on property prices. In an article published this past Monday, the newspaper detailed a recent report from the Florida Association of Realtors.

Overall, and what will come as a suprise to very few, year on year prices have gone down, rather substantially. From July 2007 to July 2008, prices of houses in Dade county dropped by 14%. In Broward, this figure was 19%. For condos, there was a bigger drop in prices: 19% in Dade and 26% in Broward.

Median house prices are now at $322,700 for Dade and $303,600 for Broward. Median prices for condos are $230,700 for Dade and $138,300 for Broward. As an interesting side point, take a closer look at that last sentence. The median price of a Broward condo is almost $100,000 less than a Dade condo!

No matter how falling house prices can be used to the advantage of some - such as by bagging yourself a bargain - we all want to hear of some upturn, right? The Herald reports that the number of homes that are on the market has levelled, possibly indicating a combination of fewer foreclosures, less new instructions and more sales. There is still, however, a huge supply; for example, there's a 41-month supply of condos in Dade county. (A normal level would be six to twelve month supply.)

In terms of numbers of sales, there has actually been a slight increase in Broward. Sales of houses has gone up 4% from July 2007 to July 2008; condo sales have "only" dropped by 1%.

Comparatively, for the whole country, sales have gone up by 3.1% in the same period.

Article: South Florida home prices continue to drop (25th August 2008, The Miami Herald)

Monday, 18 August 2008

Article: Is it time to back America again?

On a similar subject to the article I featured on Friday (Florida still No. 1 with foreign home buyers), The Sunday Times yesterday featured a piece on investing in America - in property and the stock markets - and how now could be an optimum time to do so.

Whilst the majority of the article talks about making financial investments, there is a brief discussion about investing in U.S. property. The article highlights how a real estate company based in Naples, Florida, has had 45% of its business come from British buyers, in comparison to 38% in 2007. Wow, almost half of its business this year from Brits! I guess a lot of you out there are buying in Naples...

Overall, the strengthening dollar has prompted many into believing that this is the start of an upturn in the U.S. economy, whilst other countries and regions around the world may continue to struggle and not recover for a while yet. So making any property investments in the U.S. now won't just be beneficial because of low prices - you may well see increase in value sooner than you thought.

Article: Is it time to back America again? (17th August 2008, The Sunday Times)

Friday, 15 August 2008

Article: Florida still No. 1 with foreign home buyers

The Miami Herald last week published an article commenting on a recent study of foreign buyers in the U.S. released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The study, of about 4,000 realtors across America and conducted over a year to year end May 2008 , revealed a number of interesting facts about us foreign buyers:

  • Florida is the most popular U.S. state for foreign buyers, accouting for 25.4% of all purchases (other popular states are California, Arizona and Texas)
  • UK citizens are second in the league table of foreign buyers (top were Canadians, third Mexicans)
  • Of these British buyers, 42% chose to buy in Florida (compare this with Canadian buyers - 33% of them chose Florida)
  • 40% of foreign buyers pay cash (compared to just 7% of U.S. buyers)
  • The average cost of a property bought by a foreign buyer is 36% higher than the average cost of a property bought by a domestic buyer
  • The average property bought was a single-family home for $297,400, intended for use as a holiday home

However, overall, the study also revealed that there is currently a downturn in the number for foreign purchases. 26% of realtors revealed that they had at least one foreign client in; this figure was at 33% the previous year.

The main reason for this decline is presumed to be that foreign buyers, just like domestic buyers, are waiting to see a further fall in prices before committing to making a purchase. Other factors that may put off foreign buyers include immigration laws and property taxes.

Article: Florida still No. 1 with foreign home buyers (7th August 2008, Miami Herald)
Also: Foreign investors slow to buy U.S. real estate (14th August 2008, The Star Ledger)

Monday, 11 August 2008

Article: Houses take average of 156 days to sell...

I assume the majority of you reading this blog are interesting in buying a property in Florida, rather than selling. That's what this blog is all about, after all!

Nevertheless, data on selling properties can still be useful to buyers. The Sun Sentinel last week had an article on a report created by Altos Research, who undertake research on the real estate market.

The report showed the average time it takes to sell a house across America. In southeast Florida - specifically, the counties of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach - this amounts to 156 days. This figure is the highest for the whole of country, as the national average is 111 days. (N.B. This data only refers to houses, not condos, so it shouldn't be considered an indication of all properties on the market.)

156 days works out to just over 5 months. This does seem like a long time, which would surely test the patience of many - almost all - sellers. It is, however, another thing that gives buyers and advantage. The longer the property is on the market for, the keener the seller is to sell - generally. The property may well have already undergone several price reductions, and an interested and firm buyer may well be able to negotiate a further price reduction.

More to the point, one big reason for houses having such a lengthy selling process is that there's much more supply than demand. So buyers get a considerable amount of choice.

Of course, as the article points out, 156 days is just an average. Some homeowners would be happy if it "only" took them 5 months to sell their property. Others in southeast Florida find it takes them a lot less. (The cities of Hollywood and Plantation are mentioned as examples of the latter.)

All in all, it still remains a buyer's market.

Article: Houses take average of 156 days to sell in South Florida, report says (8th August, Sun Sentinel)

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Article: Should You Buy A Home Now?

I've come across this recent article in the LA Times. Sure, okay, this is a blog about Florida property, so you might not think it that relevant. In fact, the article actually gives some very useful advice and - don't forget - the housing market in California is very similar to the market in Florida in that both are in difficult times.

The LA Times article addresses that much asked question - when should you buy? Many of you may be interested in purchasing a property in Florida, but are asking yourselves whether you should buy now or wait until prices drop further. If they do drop further, will it be a significant fall? Enough to make you wait under few months, half a year, year?

The problem with this is that there's no real answer. No one can see into the future, and whilst there may be trends and predictions, nothing is guaranteed.

So, essentially, it's all down to your personal situation. Do you visit Florida regularly, and spend a small fortune on renting accommodation? Is your long-term enjoyment -being able to enjoy holidays in your own property for many years to come - more important than making a quick investment? The LA Times article talks about home-ownership, but if you purchase a holiday home in Florida don't forget that you may also be able to achieve an income from the property by renting it out.

A college economist, Gary Smith, is quoted in the article: "Buying a house is risky, but waiting is risky too".

Article: Should you buy a home now? (3rd August 2008, Los Angeles Times)

Monday, 4 August 2008

Article: Cape Coral's Real Estate Collapse Attracts Bargain Hunters

The St Petersburg Times today published an article about crazily low property prices in southwest Florida - in the area of Cape Coral, to be precise.

Cape Coral is a relatively new city, even by American standards. Established in only 1957, the city now has a population of around 150,000 in an area of 115 square miles and is situated very close to Fort Myers. Much of the city of Cape Coral is undeveloped, even today, and this in part prompted a building and investment boom in the early part of this decade.

Now, of course, it's all a very different story. The St Petersburg Times article states that the Cape Coral - Fort Myers area hits the top spot in Florida's foreclosure chart. The area was even the number one foreclosure area for the whole of America back in February, although it has since fallen to fourth place.

Such foreclosures mean very bad news for some...and affordability for others. The average sale price of a property in Cape Coral reached $309,000 in 2006. It is now much lower. Indeed, the article highlights a couple on a property tour who view one house that is currently on the market for $103,000; a few years back the price might have been closer to $250,000. Another house, that they actually choose to buy, sets them back only $99,000, when two years ago the asking price was a whopping (by comparison) £314,500.

The article also mentions interest from European buyers - and, as we all know, the weak Dollar makes US property prices even more enticing to us lot. Such is the interest amongst Europeans that apparently a German film crew were recently in Cape Coral making a documentary!

Article: Cape Coral's real estate collapse attracts bargain hunters (St Petersburg Times, 4th August 2008)

Friday, 18 July 2008

Summer In Florida - So What Is It Like?

The New York Times article I wrote about - about Florida owners renting their places out in peak season, and only enjoying them during the summer months - got me thinking. Is summer in Florida all that bad?

Yes, the summer is low season. People think of it as being very hot and humid. Too quiet. Empty. And, of course, not to mention that it's also hurricane season. (Hurricane season officially runs from the beginning of June to the end of November.)

All in all, it doesn't exactly sound like the time of year you'd want to visit your property, right? Why put up with all of that when you could instead enjoy your holiday home in winter, when your country is probably cold and grim?

That's not exactly the case. Florida is still very enjoyable during the summer months. I've been to the state a number of times during the summer, and haven't enjoyed my trips any less than when I've been there during winter. Sometimes even more! So let's look at some reasons why Florida in the summer is just as nice:
  • Yes, it can get very hot and humid in Florida - think temperatures in the mid to high 30s (in Celsius). But southern Europe can get just as hot and sticky, so the weather out in Florida isn't anything unusual for a lot of us. Hey, some years (such as 2003 and 2006) it's even been that hot during the summer in England! But the major difference about all this in Florida is that...they have everything in place to cope with this kind of weather. There is air conditioning everywhere. Some places (shops) have it so cold that you'll need to take a jumper with you to wear indoors. Cars have ultra-powerful air con too. Every home has it. (How many homes in Europe have air con as standard?!) And if that's not enough, you can always jump the pool or sea to cool down.
  • If you're from England, chances are that the summer you've had so far hasn't been spectacular, weather wise. Like this year. Or last year. So, on holiday, anything that isn't grey and drizzle is a plus. Sun and high temperatures, as in Florida, is therefore fantastic!
  • If you've ever driven in Florida, you'll recognise that "less congested roads" during the summer is a major bonus.
  • Who isn't pleased by quieter beaches during the summer? No one wants to sit on a crowded beach, with only a square metre of space for themselves. (Weekends will still be busy on the beaches, of course.)
  • Summer is also rainy season. Okay, so that's never a plus. But thankfully, rain in Florida tends to consist of a really heavy storm for an hour or so. So you can easily avoid it. And a Florida rainstorm is also a pretty exciting thing to see/be in!
  • There's certain activities that may well be more enjoyable in the summer. The New York Times article highlights fishing, boating and snorkelling as some examples.
  • There's also lots of events going on - concerts, sports games, festivals, exhibitions - just as in winter.
  • "Quieter" doesn't mean completely dead. It means you can get reservations at top restaurants and so on more easily. But there will still be plenty of other people there too! You won't be dining out in deserted places where you're the only customer!
  • Some places - like South Beach - don't seem to have a "low season". I was there on a Friday night in June, and had to practically fight my way through the crowds of people on Ocean Drive.
  • Summer also brings the 4th of July - Independence Day. If you're there (or anywhere in America) you'll have a great time taking part in the celebrations. Don't forget to head to your local beach to watch the fireworks display!

So give summer in Florida a go!

Photo - Hollywood Beach, June 2008 N.B. That's the beach on a Tuesday - notice how empty!

Article: Foreclosure Defense Buys Homeowners Time

Much has been made of the increasing number of homes and properties that are foreclosing in Florida and the rest of the U.S. And with that now comes a new trend - foreclosure defence. Essentially, for those facing foreclosure, this involves hiring an attorney (solicitor) to help them fight against lenders via the courts - a process that may stall the foreclosure of their homes by months or even years. Owners continue to live in their properties, and without the threat of immediate eviction, they may well be able to raise enough money to move elsewhere, or even be able to sell their home.

Does this seem a shifty to you? It does a little to me. I do see how this process may be able to help those that have genuinely fallen on hard times, who may well be left "homeless" if their home forecloses. At this stage, people are few options and need to turn to someone for help with their situation. But foreclosure defence seems to be the kind of thing that certain less than genuine people would readily take advantage of. Not to mention that some attorneys that offer foreclosure defence may themselves take advantage of some property owners, without properly helping them.

The article also mentions one lady that opted for a foreclosure defence help after her mortgage loan payments stopped automatically being taken from her bank account after a new mortgage company took over her loan. She didn't realise this until it was too late. Avnd she didn't realise she was supposed to be paying to a new mortgage company because..."she is careless about opening her mail".


Article: Foreclosure defense buys homeowners time (Miami Herald, 18th July 2008)

Article: At Home In The Florida Sizzle

The New York Times today features an interesting article about renting out Florida property - and making the most of the different vacation seasons in the state. The article highlights how property owners are making the most of the prime holiday periods (winter and February to April), and dealing with the tradionally quiet summer season, particularly July and August, when Florida is generally considered just too hot!

In particular, the article highlights a growing trend of Florida property owners; renting out the house or flat in the winter months, when demand is high and high rental returns can be achieved, and then enjoying the property themselves during the summer, when there's a lot less interest from holidaymakers and renters. That way they can get the best income from their property (which is of added importance in the current economic climate) whilst still getting to enjoy the property and Florida themselves.

More to the point, because summer in Florida is hot and humid, not to mention hurricane-prone, the whole place quietens down somewhat during that season. But that too has its advantages - more space on the beach; better chance of getting reservations at the top restaurants; less traffic-congested roads. On the other hand, however, the busy and popular areas - i.e. Miami and South Beach - remain buzzing all year round, so there's still plenty to do if that's your preference. So those that choose to enjoy their own property during the summer months won't be missing out.

The article also mentions the new "condo hotels" that have begun to appear and gain in popularity in southeast Florida. People buy units in these hotels as they would a normal property, and these are then let out by the hotel in the normal way - with the hotel, of course, taking a percentage of the rental achieved. Owners are still allowed to use their unit any time they choose, but are more likely to avoid doing so in peak season when they can make the highest rent from their property.

Article: At Home in the Florida Sizzle (The New York Times, 18th July 2008)

Monday, 7 July 2008

Recommended Bars In Southeast Florida

In probably the last of my series of recommended places in southeast Florida, I'm now going to take a look at some of bars and nightspots that I visisted. (I say probably, as I may well think of other places to recommend!)

Delano 1685 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach 33139
Wow! Sorry, I'll say that again - wow!! Wherever you're staying in southeast Florida I'd strongly recommend that you visit the Delano on a night out. This place is amazing - and stunningly beautiful. If you pay a visit to this place, the first thing I'd do is walk...no, make that strutt...right through the lobby of the hotel to its bar area at the back. It will make you feel like you're in a movie. Or possibly in an episode of Sex and the City. Or both, given that a movie of the TV show has recently come out. Then head out to the poolside bar area where you can lounge at chic tables or sun loungers (yes, also at night) or even sitting right by the pool, dangling your legs in the water.

King's Head Pub 500 E Dania Beach Boulevard, Dania 33004
If you're after a taste of home (assuming you're from the UK, that is) and want it with a slight Floridian twist, come to the King's Head pub in Dania Beach. Case in point: one time I went there for a beer and some televised football, a land crab scuttled in to the bar area and freaked out the nice bar lady. You wouldn't get that back in Blighty, now would you? There's a small bar area serving a variety of beer - both draught and bottled - and a larger restaurant serving traditional English food as well as other dishes. There's also a large beer garden for al fresco drinking. Hey, it's Florida, you'll get plenty of opportunity to do that. I enjoyed watching some of the Euro 2008 games here - so if you're missing your fix of football (soccer), be sure to come here.

Blu Martini Lounge 1820 S Young Circle, Hollywood 33020
Located right on Young Circle in downtown Hollywood, this place seems a little unassuming from the outside, with its blank white exterior and dark windows. But inside you'll find a hip bar with a very extensive drinks menu. When we went, on a Monday, it was Ladies' Night. A concept somewhat lost on us (hey, we're from the UK, it doesn't happen here), so we enquired as to what that exactly was. Free drinks all night, we were told. "Free? What, entirely free??" Yes, entirely free. We didn't argue, and promptly ordered our first round. The place is open until 2am Tuesdays and Sundays; until 4am all other nights of the week.

PRL Cafe 1904A Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood 33020
This is a great find. Located in a very narrow space in downtown Hollywood, next to a pizza parlour, the very laid-back PRL Cafe serves over 100 different beers. Pretty cool, huh? The slightly off-the-wall decor adds to the whole vibe of the place. As do the hundreds of photos that line the walls that show fun times in the bar in the past. This place also has Ladies' Night on a Monday, when it's two-for-one on beer.

Marriott Hollywood Beach 2501 North Ocean Drive Hollywood 33019
If you ever take a early evening stroll on the broadwalk at Hollywood Beach, and then decide that you are a little peckish or a bit parched, the Marriott Hollywood Beach is a good place to come. It's classier than some of its beach counterparts, making you feel like you're somewhere a bit more special, but it's also relaxed enough for you to feel like you don't have to dress up. There's a bar area and a proper sit-down restaurant. Try one of the dessert-style cocktails from their menu.

Hollywood Prime at the Westin Diplomat 3555 South Ocean Drive, Hollywood 33019
This mega-hotel has a number of restaurants and bars for you to enjoy...and some for you to avoid, quite frankly. The one that I would recommend is Hollywood Prime, a restaurant located just to the left of the lobby as you enter the hotel. I can't talk about the food - I didn't eat there - but the small bar area is very enjoyable. A very knowledgeable and friendly barman served us delicious martinis in a comfortable setting - think dark wood and expensive fittings, with soothing jazz piped over the sound system. One bar to avoid is BarSu, the bar slap bang in the middle of the lobby. Well, unless you like to hang out with drunken elder yahoos shouting at sport on the big screen, that is.

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood 33314
First off, if you're into your gambling in any way, you must come here. I'm not a gambler by any means - actually, I'm not a gambler at all - but what I saw at the casino here seemed to rival some of the casinos in Las Vegas - if being a little smaller. But the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino also has a large entertainment complex attached to it that is home to a variety of bars and a couple of giant clubs, Spirits and Passion. On the night we went, a Wednesday, the whole complex seemed a little quiet. Spirits nightclub, however, is apparently the place to be on a Friday or Saturday. We didn't venture out to it on the weekend to see if this was true or not, I'm afraid!

Skybar at The Shore Club 1901 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach 33139
Ultra Mynt Lounge 1921 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach 33139
I thought I'd lump these two together, although it's probably a little mean to do so. Having enjoyed a fabulous few hours at the Delano, my friend and I thought we would check these two places out, seeing as they were highly recommended to us. Skybar seems pleasant enough, comprising of several different bars (both indoor and outdoor), if too racuous on the night we went (a Thursday). And not good raucous, everyone-get-your-hands-in-the-air-raucous. More a little too packed with the flash people type of raucous. Ultra Mynt Lounge is part proper dance club, part club for the moneyed to show off. It wasn't for us, so we did a quick loop round the place in 30 seconds and left. Perhaps either might have been better on another night, particularly the Skybar. Still, if you want to be seen, these two are the place to go.

Photo June 2008 - King's Head Pub, Dania Beach

Friday, 4 July 2008

Happy 4th of July!

A very happy 4th of July to all our American readers and all those celebrating American Independence Day.

I've only ever been in America (Florida) once for the 4th of July celebrations, and I remember a joyous evening sitting on Hollywood Beach, watching the fireworks.

The photo at the top of this post (and used in the banner of this blog) was taken in Hollywood Beach the day before Independence Day a few years ago, as the local residents and businesses prepared for the next day's celebrations.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Recommended Restaurants In Southeast Florida - Classics

The reason I've called these restaurants "classics" is so I don't do them a disservice. My previous post talked about "upscale" restaurants, but the ones I feature below aren't any less enjoyable because they're not quite as expensive!

Angelo's Corner 200 Garfield Street, Hollywood Beach 33019
Although Angelo's Corner, situated right on Hollywood Beach, serves a variety of food (burgers, sandwiches and so on), you must go for pizza - it will be the best one you have ever tasted! There's different types, but I always usually go for the peperoni. A 16-inch one will only set you back $12. You can also order one for take-away; they'll make and cook it it in front of you. On the day we went, there had been storms pretty much the entire day which had kept all beachgoers away. We received a cheer on walking into the restaurant; I'd like to think that that's because they were pleased to see us, but it may just be because they were pleased to see any customers on that very rainy day. So I can't guarantee that you'll be cheered as you walk in, but I can guarantee that you'll get fantastic pizza.

Le Tub 1100 N Ocean Drive, Hollywood Beach 33019
If you go to only one of my recommendations on these pages, make it this one. Le Tub's burgers have been declared as the best in America by GQ Magazine, and even goddess Oprah herself. Situated on the Intracoastal Waterway with beautiful views, this is a really quirky place built from "flotsam, jetsam and ocean borne treasures all gathered daily over 4 years of day break jogging on Hollywood Beach". And it's true, as the tables, benches and walls all seem to be made from driftwood. Although there's a variety of things on the menu, you have to go for the sirloinburger, 13 ounces of ground top sirloin. It'll take a while to cook (it's huge!) but it's worth it - and the longer you have to build up your appetite, the better. (As I've said, it's huge!) I have the proud honour of going to Le Tub on three different occasions with three different people. Each time, they were unable to finish their giant burger. I, on the other hand, managed mine in double-quick time. Maybe I'm just a glutton.

The Floridian 1410 E Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale 33301
If you're after a traditional American diner, The Floridian is definitely the place to come. Open 24 hours, it serves comfort food in a cosy setting. I went in mid-afternoon to take shelter from the incessant rain that day - and boy, did I need comfort food! Go for one of the breakfast options; there's such a wide variety that there will definitely be something that takes your fancy.
Greenstreet Cafe 3110 Commodore Plaza Coconut Grove 33133
If you pay a trip down to Coconut Grove, a quaint little area with a laid-back vibe, try this place. The Greenstreet Cafe has a great corner location, and there's plenty of outdoor seating - perfect for you to relax and take in the surroundings. Try one of the salads or sandwiches for lunch.

Zona Fresca 1635 N Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale 33305
At it's basic level, Zona Fresca is a Mexican fast food place serving burritos, tacos, nachos and the like. Except it's so much more than that. Made with all natural ingredients, the dishes have none of bland, additive-loaded food that you get at fast food chains. Even the salsa is delicious, and you can tell that the guacamole is "made from scratch using whole ripe avocados". Best of all are the prices - for a very generously sized bean and cheese burrito (which comes with a side of nachos) and a beer, I paid just over $6.

Oriente 1300 Ocean Drive, Miami 33139
Oriente is the restaurant at the Cardozo Hotel, which is owned by Gloria Estefan and her huband. Located right on Ocean Drive (i.e. the road right next to the beach) it's a perfect location to people watch. And if you're on Ocean Drive, you'll have plenty of that to do! Oriente blends a mix of Cuban, American and European cuisines. Try one of the Cuban wraps or sandwiches - they're very tasty.

Jerry's Famous Deli 1450 Collins Avenue, Miami 33139
This place is amazing - you have to see it to be believe. Located in a prime position on Collins Avenue (in the heart of South Beach), Jerry's Famous Deli is a very large diner-style restaurant that's open 24 hours. So far, not so stunning, you think? Well, the clincher is that they serve over 600 different dishes. Can't decide between your friends over what kind of food to eat? Come here - you can have a pizza, whilst your friends tuck in to burgers, salads, breakfasts, desserts and the rest. If you're in South Beach on a night out, you should definitely come here for some post-clubbing nibbles.

Jamba Juice various locations
Jamba Juice is a country-wide chain of juice bars. What's the big deal, you ask, there's plenty of juice bars everywhere? Well, here's the big deal. These blended juices are delicious and refreshing, mixed as they are with ice and sherbert. If you get a chance, try one - you'll see the difference.

Photos all June 2008 - 1. Le Tub restaurant 2. Cardozo Hotel/Oriente Restaurant 3. Jamba Juice in Fort Lauderdale

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Recommend Restaurants In Southeast Florida - Upscale

As promised, I'm going to share with you some of the restaurants and bars I enjoyed during my stay in southeast Florida. I've come to realise that I treated myself rather a lot during my stay - but hey, I was on holiday! I went to a wide variety of places so rather than bombard you with everything in one post, I'm going to concentrate on upscale restaurants first.

The Conrad Hotel for Sunday Brunch 1395 Brickell Avenue, Miami 33131
Wow, what a find! The Conrad Hotel in downtown Miami features a beautiful restaurant on its 25th Floor, aptly named Level 25. The all-you-eat buffet brunch costs $55 - yes, that may seem a little pricey, but it's worth it. The quality and choice of food is amazing - it includes breakfast (various types of eggs cooked in front of you; waffles, pancakes, bacon and so on), sandwiches, mixed salads, a carvery section, cold meats and cheese, seafood, sushi, and gorgeous cakes. They'll also offer you three additional dishes cooked to order - I had scrambled eggs infused with truffle oil. Also included are unlimited champagne, mimosas and bloody marys. Best of all, the views over Biscayne Bay are amazing! Brunch served between 11am to 2.30pm.

Johnny V 625 E Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale 33301
What a find! My friend and I decided to spend a bit of time in Fort Lauderdale one morning, checking out the beach and so on. For lunch, we decided on "somewhere on Las Olas Boulevard", mainly because there seemed to be a bit of choice there, lots of cafes and similar. Not looking for anything especially fancy, we walked past this place and got enticed by the rather exciting menu. Johnny V has a fantastic range of dishes - think comfort food with a twist. I had the "Kentucky Hot Brown" which was essentially a turkey, bacon and cheese melted sandwich. I was expecting something low-key, but it arrived beautifully presented as an open sandwich on focaccia bread, served in a cooking pan. There seemed to be a very extensive wine and drinks list. Good service as well.

Blue Moon Fish Co. 4405 West Tradewinds Avenue, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea 33308
Located in a fantastic spot, right on the Intracoastal Waterway, the Blue Moon Fish Co. is a superb fish and seafood restaurant, as the name might suggest. It's very popular, though, so you might want to reserve a table prior to your visit - especially if you want an outdoor one. It helps if you have a very healthy appetite if you come to this restaurant; because everything on the menu looked so delicious I ordered a starter (which I don't normally do when I eat out). When my (pan seared, fresh shucked) oysters arrived, I couldn't believe the size of the portion! It meant I could barely finish my main, the sauteed yellow snapper.

Christine's 2671 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale 33306
Christine's is a new restaurant (opened this year) and it certainly shows with its sleek interior. This place serves modern American cuisine. Music is played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings - on the night we went (Friday) soothing live jazz played up by the bar area. I had the tasty duck breast with edamame and apricot sauce, with the delicious caramelized banana cheesecake as dessert.

Check back for other restaurant reviews soon!

Photo June 2008 - Blue Moon Fish Co.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Enjoying Your Property & Florida

I've recently managed to take a holiday out to my property in Florida for the first time. I did go out to it in January, but that was a mad dash around to furnish the place!

This was a proper "sit back, relax, and enjoy" holiday. And it was fantastic to do so in my own flat. I also found it pleasing to holiday in a "familiar" place - I knew where to stock on essentials, where the place to park for the beach was, what's the best way to drive to the local mall and so on - although that doesn't make the holiday boring, not by any means. On the contrary, that left me more time to explore, search out great restaurants, try some new bars, and visit places that I'd either never been before or not been to in absolutely years. (Such as the Everglades.)

Here are some tips that I'd like to share:

  • If your property comes with a pool - use it! (If it's a house with a private pool, how lucky you are.) The pool area is likely to be very tranquil with few people

  • Florida has an abundance of nature parks, and there is bound to be one near you. I'm lucky - I have two beautiful ones about 5/10 minute walk from my flat. You'll be able to walk, hike, explore nature, fish, canoe/kayak in the parks.
  • If you're close enough to the Everglades, it's definitely worth visiting. The place is amazing. And you'll get to go on one of the airboats, which are tremendously fun. We visited the Everglades Holiday Park which offers boat tours (with very knowledge guides) and gator shows.

  • If you're heading to Florida this time of year, be prepared for rain - quite a lot of it. Whilst most showers tend to pass over after an hour or two (even if it's a full lightning and thunder storm) some days may be total washouts. So plan some indoor activities - shopping is always good!
  • I had an absolutely awful time with mosquitoes this year. If you're prone to their bites, make sure you bring (or stock up) on some spray or something similar. Try to avoid sitting out at dusk. And if you do sit out on your balcony or terrace, one tip we were told would be to have a small fan out there (a cheap one you can buy from your local supermarket/pharmacy) that apparently keeps them away.

  • Don't go to your local beach on weekends - it will be very, very crowded. Even if you just want to visit a beach cafe for lunch/dinner it will be very busy. Go on a weekday instead.

I'm going to do a separate post on the restaurants and bars I found - check back for that later!

Photos all June 2008 - 1. Fort Lauderdale Beach, 2. an alligator at the Everglades National Park,

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Article: You Think Your Condo Is Bad? Look At These Rules

The Sun Sentinel last week featured an article on rules that condo associations apply, in particular, the somewhat strict ones. If you buy a condominium, you'll have to adhere to certain rules set by the condo assoication. The majority of these are pretty straightfoward and refer to matters such as pool usage; not storing items in common areas; allocation of car spaces; garbage disposal and so on. There may be a rule about keeping pets - my condo board lets me keep a pet that weighs 30 pounds or under. I'm not sure my London-based cat would be allowed to visit, in that case!

Some of the more draconian rules that the Sun Sentinel highlights include one condo association not permitting residents to have guests after 11pm. Another development has its pool looked after by the four separate buildings that make up the development. But reps from the four buildings can't decide on how to proceed with pool repairs, and so the pool has been closed for more than a year.

Article: You think your condo is bad? Look at these rules (Sun Sentinel, 27th May 2008)

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Articles From Around Florida

When commenting on Florida real estate articles, you might have noticed that the majority of articles that I write about cover southeast Florida. Today I thought I'd take a quick look at what's making the real estate news elsewhere in the state.

The Orlando Sentinel featured an article on the continuing fall in property prices in the city. The "Metro Orlando index", used to gauge house prices in the region and based on the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, saw prices drop 3.3% for the first quarter of 2008 - the fourth quarter in a row that prices have dropped. Essentially, this percentage drop diminishes any hopes that the housing market may improve in the near future.

The article also mentions a University of Central Florida real-estate specialist, Randy I. Anderson, and his belief that the downturn in prices was a:

...historic "shuffling of the cards" that many savvy real-estate
professionals will use to their advantage by snapping up bargains while others remain fearfully on the sidelines.

Meanwhile over in west Florida, the St Petersburg Times writes that the market may finally be bottoming out after two years of gloom. Or rather, there are signs that the market may finally becoming more stable. Some places report an increase in sales when comparing April of this year to April 2007, whilst condo sales have improved. Generally, though, this improvement in sales may largely be down to low prices, or vendors realising that they really need to price realistically in order to shift their homes.

The Fort Meyers News-Press features a blog from a local realtor, who speculates on the timing of any new property purchase. He talks about something I've mentioned before on this blog - the dilemma of when to buy. Property prices are falling, and may well continue to do so, so when's the best time to buy? Denny Grimes, the author of the piece, makes the bold statement that:

...we are going to witness what may be one of the best buying opportunities over the past 20 years. For some, it will be the last great real estate buying opportunity of their lifetime.

Essentially, his article makes the important point that the best time to buy isn't when prices are at their lowest (because you can only tell that the market has reached this point after it has happened) but when sellers are in their weakest position. When this occurs, they will likely to desperate to offload their properties and vendors can call most of the shots.

- Article: Hope dims for a turnaround in Orlando-area housing, experts find (Orlando Sentinel, 23rd May 2008)
- Article: House market seems to stabilize (St Petersburg Times, 24th May 2008)
- Article: When to buy is the most important question to answer (Fort Meyers News-Press, 25th May 2008)

Monday, 26 May 2008

Article: What Can You Get For $406,000?

It's all very well talking about falling property prices here, and a vast increase in the number of properties available there...but how about giving actual examples of some of these properties? The Miami Herald yesterday ran an article about what buyers in southeast Florida could get for around the $400,000 mark.

Some rather sleek homes are featured - take a look! Also listed are each property's annual taxes, which is useful to those trying to get a rough idea on the amount of tax they might have to pay.

Article: What can you get for $406,000? (Miami Herald, 25th May 2008)
(N.B. Article is in PDF format.)

Friday, 23 May 2008

America's Best Beach

This is slightly more travel-related than property-related, but I still thought I'd comment on it. After all, you could very well own a holiday home near one of America's top beaches - just imagine how fantastic that would be!

Florida International University professor Stephen P. Leatherman, also known as "Dr Beach", has announced his top ten list of the best beaches in the United States. Three Florida beaches made the top ten, including Caladesi Island (near Tampa) which was proclaimed the best beach in the country. The relative remoteness of the beach helped it hit the top spot in the list; the island is a state park and can only be reached by ferry or private boat.

All in all, sounds lovely - I should pay a visit one day soon!

The other two Florida beaches that made the list were Siesta Beach in Sarasota and Cape Florida State Park near Miami.

As anyone who's visited the state will know, Florida has an abundance of beautiful beaches. You don't have to be located near to one of the above to enjoy the glorious sea, sand and sun.

- Caladesi Island State Park
- Professor calls Caladesi Island US's best beach

Monday, 19 May 2008

Article: Condo Crunch in S. Florida Good News For Bargain Hunters

Pay attention, foreign buyers!

Yesterday's Sun Sentinel had an article on how the drop in housing prices in south Florida is, rather understandably, proving an attraction to foreign buyers. Lured by tales that condos are now going for "25 to 60 percent less" than they were during the boom property years, many foreign buyers are heading over to the Sunshine State hoping for bargains. The article mentions in particular interest from English, German, Italian, South American and Indian buyers.

I certainly think that there's bargains to be had. If you're after making a quick buck, as it were, purchasing in Florida clearly isn't for you at the moment. However, if you're after a lovely vacation home and are prepared to accept that prices will most likely continue falling a bit further in the near future, now may well be the time to strike.

There's also plenty of supply. If you head out to Florida on a property tour, you will probably get shown twice or three times as many different properties as you may have done a few years back. Some vendors are desperate to sell; I've heard of property notices even being posted up on electricity posts in a clear "must sell" situation. All of this means buyers are in a much stronger position to negotiate better prices for themselves.

Ultimately, your own situation and financial position will dictate whether or not you can afford a holiday home in Florida. But if it's something you've been considering for a while, you might like to take the plunge sooner rather than later!

Article: Condo crunch in S. Florida good news for bargain hunters (Sun Sentinel, 18th May 2008)

Article: Collateral Foreclosure Damage For Condo Owners

The New York Times recently featured an article on how condo properties that have foreclosed affect other owners in the same development. It's something I've written about before (Article: Unpaid Fees Trouble Condos) and the NY Times article highlights the experiences of condo owners in Miami, San Diego and Chicago.

In particular, it mentions the experience of a lady, Ms Sanz, that bought a condo in a Miami high-rise four years ago. She's now being asked for fork out more per month in maintenance fees, yet still finds the building in a state of disrepair. In her case, nearly 1 out of 6 of her neighbours are facing foreclosure and struggling to make maintenance payments. A buyer taken to look at apartments in the development wants a written guarantee that he would not have to pay more in fees if he bought a unit. An interesting idea, but is it one that would really work? I understand his nervousness but if he's concerned about the building, he might be better off looking to buy elsewhere.

The NY Times also speaks of a condo development in Chicago - one that contains relatively few units. In such a situation, even if one owner gets into financial difficulties or forecloses, everyone else is affected. And in a worse case scenario in a small development, if 50-75% of units foreclose, the condo association may decide to disband entirely.

Article: Collateral Foreclosure Damage for Condo Owners (The New York Times, 15th May 2008)

Friday, 16 May 2008

Article: Median Home Prices Fall In Broward, Palm Beach Counties

The Sun Sentinel reports that median house prices in the U.S. fell for the first quarter of 2008, compared to the same time period last year - a trend reflected in Broward and Palm Beach counties in southeast Florida. The median of house prices refers to the point where half of properties were priced above, and half below.

So what where the actual statistics? Broward county saw a 15% fall to a median house price of $311,100, whilst Palm Beach county had a fall of 12% to $334,500. To put this in perspective, the whole of the U.S. saw a fall of 7.7% to a median house price of $196,300. By these figures, it appears that prices in some areas of southeast Florida are falling faster than the rest of the country!

Go check out the article and, more interestingly, check out the comments on it from local residents. Sure, there's some stupid comments, but for the most part it's quite a healthy debate!

Article: Median home prices fall in Broward, Palm Beach counties (13th May 2008, Sun Sentinel)

Monday, 12 May 2008

Article: Look At That Pig In Lipstick

No, I haven't gone mad - that really is the title of an article on south Florida property...

The Broward/Palm Beach version of the New Times, a local south Florida newspaper, gives more details on inventive approaches from realtors - and vendors themselves - to help shift property.

The article starts by mentioning a lady who's selling her rather plush home in Ocala (in northern Florida) - a house with a couple of 50-foot terraces and two acres of land that's worth $1.25 million. Or rather, she's not selling it - she's giving it away. That's right. Giving it away. This lady will give her home away to the winner of a contest that she's running, in which entrants must write a 100 to 300 word essay on a pet. Sounds crazy? Not really. All entries much be accompanied by a $200 fee, and if the contest doesn't draw 6,250 entries then the lady reserves the right to cancel the whole thing, refunding $180 to each person. And yes, $200 multiplied by 6,250 equals $1.25 million, the value of the house. If she gets more than that number of entries, it will be pure profit to her. Sounds pretty clever to me!

Real estate agents and developers are also offering extras in order to help sell their properties, from designer furniture to one year leases on cars (fancy a new Mercedes?) to spa memberships at up-market hotels. Some developers offer these extras because if they've already sold a number of units at a development, they don't want to lower the value of remaining flats. Instead of lowering prices, they offer purchasers additional benefits.

The article also mentions in particular how one agent, Zach Finn, is coping with the market downturn - he's marketing overseas, particularly in London and Paris. Finn states "the dollar is down and prices are down... Europeans are coming over to America on real estate spending sprees."

So put it this way - buy a property in Florida, and you could enjoy lots of additional goodies on the side!

Article: Look at That Pig in Lipstick (New Times, 8th May 2008)

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Article: Floridians Feel Heat...

A recent Sun Sentinel article reveals that the number of foreclosure homes in the U.S. continuing to rise - double the number of homes foreclosed in the first quarter of this year than for the same quarter last year. The most affected states are California, Nevada and yes, Florida.

The article states that alleviating the foreclose problem would need people to start buying again. Many respectable buyers can't do so, however, because of the unavailability of suitable loans.

If you're raising financing from the UK or, even better, don't need to acquire a loan, you'll be in a much better position than many Florida purchasers and, as such, be a much stronger buyer.

The article also has an interesting map for Broward and Palm Beach counties showing subprime loan and foreclosure areas.

Article: Floridians feel heat as homes facing foreclosure nationwide more than double (Sun Sentinel, 29th April 2008)

Opening A US Dollars Account

Whilst setting up my various utility and maintenance accounts for my new flat in Florida, it seemed quite clear that almost all of them would only accept payment from a US bank account or payment by US dollars cheque (check). Here in the UK, it's possible to pay for some utility accounts by credit card (even paying online) or by transferring funds from your bank account. This doesn't seem possible in the U.S.

I therefore needed to set up a US bank account. Whilst I believe this would be simple enough to do if you're actually out in Florida, it's not so straightfoward how to do it from the UK!

So what's the solution? I'd advise checking with your local bank in your home country to see if they can help - they may have branches in the U.S. I bank with HSBC in the UK, and they have a pretty large presence in the U.S.

As such, my local HSBC branch were able to help me set up a US bank account. I was sent various forms that I had to fill in and then submit to my branch...and then simply wait for the account to be set up. In fact, the whole process was much simpler than I was expecting.

A few things to note, however:
  • I believe you can specify a US branch - this hopefully means you can specify a branch close to your property! If not, you may a general branch (e.g. based in New York state, as mine is) which can be reached by telephone banking, 24 hours a day. If you have Internet banking, a local branch may also not be that important.
  • You may have to pay a fee to your bank for setting up a US bank account.
  • You will definitely have to pay to get a cheque (check) book on the US account. I didn't know this (I don't pay for this in the UK!) and waited a good few weeks for my cheque book to come through, not realising they weren't sending it to me because I didn't have any money in my account (and therefore couldn't pay for the book). Except I didn't have any money in my account because I was waiting for the cheque book to reach me first!
  • The easiest account to set up is the most basic - a current account. You'll probably be able to get a debit card for this type of account, though, which might be useful!

If your home bank can't help, I'd advise to set up an account the next time you're in the U.S. Other banks in the UK may be able to set up an account for you, but are likely to have restrictions - e.g. Citibank in the UK can open up a US current account for you, but you'll either need to be an existing customer, or maintain a monthly balance of £2,000 in the account - otherwise you'll have to pay monthly fees.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Telphones & Mobile Phones

The first time I went out to visit my flat in Florida, my communication options were somewhat limited - all I had was my British mobile! Although this did work out there, it cost me an awful lot to make and receive calls on it.

I'd done some research in the UK about setting up a landline telephone account. I couldn't quite seem to figure out who all the telephone providers in the U.S. were, but I knew that one of the largest was A T & T.

When I got to Florida, given that I only had six days to buy furniture and set up various utilities and so forth for my flat, I was somewhat in a frazzle with the thought of having to get a telephone connection to my flat. Rather than setting up a landline account, therefore, I came across a much simpler solution - buying a mobile phone. (Or cell phone, as they're called in the U.S.) And it wasn't even a particularly expensive option, either!

There are three mobile phone operators in America - A T & T, T Mobile and Verizon. I believe that the following would apply for all three companies, but I can only really speak of my expereince with A T & T.

The absolute cheapest option would be to bring a handset from the UK (we all have old handsets lying around) and then buy a sim card in the U.S. Pop it in the phone, and away you go. You'd have to make sure that your "old" handset is tri-band, however, so that it works in America.

Alternatively, you can do what I did: buy a simple, pay-as-you-go phone. The different companies label these types of phones differently; T Mobile call it "Prepaid", A T & T call it "GoPhone". There's a variety of pay-as-you-phones, from very basic to reasonably decent. I bought a $60 Samsung pay-as-you-go phone from A T & T.

Some "free" minutes were included on my phone (about $10), but it's possible to top-up by buying cards from supermarkets, pharmacies, newsagents and so on.

Each call I make on the phone - whether it's to a local Florida number, or back to the U.K. - costs only $0.10. Not bad!

Friday, 25 April 2008

Article: Strong Euro And Credit Crunch Impact Overseas Property Buyers

Last weekend's (UK) Sunday Times had a general article on purchasing property overseas, and the problems associated with buying and selling in a variety of countries popular with Brits. The overall conclusion is that those looking to buy in Europe - Spain, Tuscany, the Dordogne region - can expect a fair amount of choice as some areas have an oversupply of properties. The strong Euro, however, will probably negate chances of buyers finding absolute bargains.

In the case of Florida, the Sunday Times writes that "buyers are in a good position" and that they should do their research and "drive a hard bargain". Overall, it comments that the property market in Florida is in crisis, but reveals that the exception to this is Palm Beach Country where, according to estate agency Savills, property "has not done down one iota".

Article: Strong Euro and credit crunch impact overseas property buyers (The Sunday Times, 20th April 2008)

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Article: The Brighter Side Of Housing

A number of you are probably drawn to buying a holiday home in Florida now or in the new future because of the downturn in real estate prices in the U.S. and the current weak dollar. The question is, however, is now really a good time to buy? Or will be an even better time in six months, nine months, a year's time?

Today's Wall Street Journal writes that the current housing bust in the U.S. is helping many buy the kind of homes that they previously thought unaffordable. The same may well apply to you if you're thinking of buying a holiday home. However, prices in Florida and the U.S. are generally predicted to continue sliding - until a predicted levelling off in late 2009 - which puts some in a bit of a conundrum about the timing of a property purchase.

What's best for you really depends on your situation. I purchased a holiday home in December 2007 as my family and I had been considering it for a number of years, and finally decided to take the plunge. Bagging an absolute bargain, or buying for investment wasn't really relevant to us. Over the medium to long term, our property may well increase in value, which of course will be great. What's most important to us, however, is that we have a beautiful vacation place in Florida that we can enjoy at any time.

Remember too that currency values will also dictate how "cheap" your purchase will be. It's hard to predict the future pound value against the dollar, but some forecasters believe that the pound will weaken in the next six months to a year.

Article: The Brighter Side of Housing (Wall Street Journal, 24th April 2008)

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Article: Some Hope: Home Sales Go Up A Bit

Today's Miami Herald has an article that uncovers a little bit of promise for the south Florida property market - possibly. Author Jim Wyss reveals that figures for March released by the Florida Assoication of Realtors show an increase in the number of properties being sold, the first such increase of the year.

This increase in sales may be largely down to the fact that property prices in the region have dropped, and continue to do so. As vendors become more keen (perhaps even more desparate) to sell, they agree to list their properties at a more realistic price.

The article goes on to mention that the some analysts do not believe that this increase reflects any kind of general upturn of the market; they feel that it's more likely that prices will continue to fall. Add that to the fact that mortgages and loans are harder to come by, and it will be a while before all those properties do eventually get sold.

Article: Some hope: S. Florida home sales go up a bit (Miami Herald, 23rd April 2008)

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Article: Unpaid Fees Trouble Condos

If you're the owner of a condo in Florida - or are thinking of buying one - then be sure to pay attention to this article! The Miami Herald writes today that condo properties that have foreclosed can greatly affect other owners within the same association or development - and it's all to do with maintenance fees.

If you're part of a condominium association, you'll have to pay monthly maintenance fees for the upkeep of common parts: hallways, stairwells, lifts, gardens, pool, that kind of thing. If a condo owner finds themselves in trouble financially, they may well stop paying their maintenance fees. (Although, more likely, they'll fall behind in their mortgage payments.) In a worse-case scenario, the property may foreclose - and banks aren't in a hurry to pay off outstanding fees.

If there's a significant number of condos which aren't contributing to monthly payments - whether the condos are foreclosed or not - condo associations may increase fees to cover the shortfall. This increase in fees may then have a significant knock-on affect on other owners: they may start having trouble paying these higher fees each month.

If fees aren't increased, then it might mean that associations may not have the money to pay for the full upkeep of their development. The article tells how some condo owners now do the work themselves. In some cases, a lack of funds may be more worrying than simply an infrequently mown lawn; a lack of insurance isn't to be recommended in a state with a hurricane season.

Now, this article may seem all doom and gloom, but I'd advise you not to think entirely that way. It's really just a gentle reminder of something that may happen as a worse case scenario, but it doesn't mean that it will. The best thing is to do your research and ask your agent detailed questions about the condo association you're interested in. In other words, as in many other cases, buyer beware!

Article: Unpaid fees trouble condos (Miami Herald, 22nd April 2008)

Monday, 21 April 2008

Article: The Condo Boom Moves On To Latin America

Given the downturn in the housing market in Florida and the U.S., what are all those real estate brokers to do? You might have thought a large number would be worrying about their jobs - some may well be, but not all.

A number of brokers have now started marketing new condominium developments "south of the border" as it were - namely in Mexico, but also in the Latin American countries of Panama, Colombia and Argentina - where developers have started building units.

The Miami Herald today writes about these brokers, and how market conditions in Latin America are currently more positive than in the U.S.:

"Latin America has emerged as a place of opportunity during the U.S. downturn. A recent report by consultancy Ernst & Young cited the region for its steady economic growth yet relative affordability when compared to the United States and Europe."

Mexico is favourable to buyers not only for its lower prices, comparatively, but also because it hasn't experienced mass construction as in some places in Florida. Add to the fact that it's easily reachable from America and Europe, and you can see why the demand for property there exists.

Some brokers look on this situation as a temporary one, as a means of maintaining their income while the south Florida housing market remains cool. Developer and broker Edgardo Defortuna has a stronger opinion:

"For the young and aggressive, it's a great opportunity. It's a good place to be for the moment.''

Article: The condo boom moves on to Latin America (Miami Herald, 21st April 2008)

Friday, 18 April 2008

Article: Road To Foreclosure In South Florida

Today's Sun Sentinel has an article on foreclosure homes in southeast Florida - or rather, an interesting spin on how foreclosure homes are being marketed. Some real estate firms are now offering "foreclosure tours" whereby they take groups of people out to see about eight or so of these properties. In some cases, potential buyers (who are sometimes required to pay - perhaps $30 - to take part in a tour) are ferried around in a limo for an all-day trek, with lunch and drinks included.

The article also has some enlightening statistics about foreclosure homes in southeast Florida. In Broward County, in March 2008, 3,133 people were about to foreclose. For Palm Beach County, that figure was 1,992 homeowners.

The article also tells of some of the myths of foreclosure properties, namely that incredible bargains are to be had. Whilst foreclosed homes may go for well under their listing price (or their value a year or two ago) if one person is interested in buying, they're likely to be bidding against several others. Furthermore, some foreclosed homes may be in very poor condition and will require extensive work after purchase.

Article: Road to foreclosure in S. Fla.: A closeup of available homes (Sun Sentinel, 18th April 2008)

Paying Your Electricty Bill

I've spoken before about setting up an electricity account - now comes the time to start paying those bills!

If you live in a flat, your electricty meter will most likely be in a communal part of the building. FPL (Florida Power & Light) will come to read your meter automatically each month. You will also be billed each month. Remember that you will also have to pay a initial deposit when you open up your account.

If you don't have a US bank account - a topic I'll cover in another post - you'll find paying for electricity bills (and, indeed, other bills) slightly tricky. Most companies will want payment by US dollars cheque (check). Alternatively, it may be possible to pay online - but only by supplying your current (checking) account details, such as the acccount and routing numbers.

FPL, however, do also provide a third option. It is possible to pay your bill by debit or credit card through a service they offer with Western Union Speedpay. This does incur a processing fee, however of $3. The website will also say that you'll need to provide your billing address, which must be a U.S. one - but I've found that entering my UK address works fine and that payments definitely do get processed.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Article: How the Beach Ball Burst

The latest edition of Businessweek contains an interesting article entitled "How the Beach Ball Burst" by Roben Farzad. The article, told in a timeline style about the period March 2001 to March 2008, tells of the boom and bust of the property market in southeast Florida, particularly in Miami. It's especially interesting because it depicts the massive growth in the region in the early part of this decade - with cranes rising high above the city skyline; developments appearing everywhere - even on a former landfill site, in one case; and everyone and their dog becoming property investors or estate agents (realtors). Farzad even tells how, during one check-up, his hygenist promoted her new sideline business she was starting as an independent real estate agent by tucking a stack of her business cards into his shirt pocket.

Whilst the majority of you will certainly appreciate the favourable market conditions (weak property market, weak dollar) Brits can enjoy when buying in Florida nowadays, it's engaging to read how it was all so different only a few years ago.

Here's the article: How the Beach Ball Burst (Businessweek, 10th April 2008)

Monday, 14 April 2008

Buying Furniture For Your Property - Part 3: Stores

I thought it would be useful to provide a list of various stores that you will find helpful when furnishing your property in Florida. Here it is:

Furniture Stores

Department Stores
Here you'll find a wide selection of, well, pretty much everything - from beds, sofas, kitchen appliances, TVs, bed linen, crockery...the list goes on.

Accessory & Home Decor Stores
These do stock some furniture items, but they're usually "accent" pieces, such as fancy coffee tables and so on.

Entertainment & Home Appliances
Places you'll be able to buy TVs, stereos, computers...and kitchen & home appliances.

Even if you don't plan on doing much DIY, the following stores may be invaluable for picking up a few bits and pieces!

I hope this list has helped - if you think I've missed something off, do let me know.

N.B. I've compiled the above list from a southeast Florida perspective - all are featured in the region. However, some of these stores might not have locations all over Florida. The best idea would be to check the above websites to find where your nearest store is.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Buying Furniture For Your Property - Part 2: Buying It!

Having not succeeded in pre-ordering furniture from the UK (see yesterday's post), there was only one thing for it - going to Florida and furnishing my flat from scratch!

I went out in January with my mother (who I couldn't have done it without!) to furnish my holiday home as best as a could - quite a task, given that we only had six days! My flat was hooked up to water and electricity and - of course - had a fully-fitted kitchen and bathroom, but beyond that it contained nothing. That meant we had two options: a) either stay in a nearby hotel until our flat was a little bit more habitable, or b) camp in it!

We chose the later. Armed with a few pieces of bedding (blankets and pillows) that we'd brought from the UK it wasn't all that bad at all - the warm Florida weather helped somewhat, of course! And given that we'd just been on a nine-hour flight and were tired and jetlagged from travelling, we could have slept on anything - so sleeping on the floor was fine.

By day two we were able to buy ourselves an inflatable mattress - I believe we bought ours from Macy's. This was invaluable to us, providing a bit more comfort at night, and should prove great in the future if we have unexpected guests.

First Furniture
Our first port of call to stock on up some real furniture was Ikea. Luckily for us, a brand new store had opened in Sunrise, Florida - about a half hour drive away. There are also Ikea stores in Orlando and Tampa (as well as further locations across the US). You will be surprised (and at the same time, not) how identical Ikea stores in Florida are to the ones in the UK. Just with better car parking facilities and friendlier staff.

At Ikea, we didn't really stock up on any big furniture pieces - that was just our personal choice. We did, however, find the store invaluable for crockery, cutlery, glasses, floor lamps, table lamps, towels, coffee tables and so on. Plus a nice dining table and four chairs. Which at least now gave us something to sit on!

Kitchen Appliances
We found that kitchen appliances can be best found at stores such as Macy's, Sears or JC Penney. Your best bet is to go to your local shopping mall (the wonderful Aventura Mall, in our case) where you'll find at least a couple of these stores. One thing we found puzzling: electric kettles seem to be something of a rarity in the US. In the UK, I'm used to going to a store and having a choice of 20, maybe 25, different kettles. In each store we went to in Florida, they only ever stocked one! I guess people prefer to use stove kettles.

Best Buy also stock home appliances - we found a great compact vacuum cleaner there. (Given that we have tiled floors in our flat, we didn't need a heavy duty one!)

So, we now had stuff to sit on and stuff to eat with. The next thing we decided to buy was a sofa bed - which we choose Rooms To Go for. They have a reasonable selection of items, although they do seem to be quite keen on Laz-E-Boy recliners and massive leather sofas. (Both very popular in America, I guess!) We chose a nice, neutrally-coloured sofa-bed - or "sleeper" as they call them. We were given a choice of getting it delivered in four days' time - and being told a two-hour time slot for delivery - or in two days' time and being given no time slot - just sometime between 8am and 10pm. Given we were going back to the UK in four days, we had to choose the latter. Unlucky for us, the sofa arrived at 8.30pm, which meant a whole day waiting for it!

We didn't actually have time to buy a bed whilst we were out there (our comfy sofa-bed was enough for the time being, in any case) as most stores seemed to stipulate a one week/ten day delivery time.

Just a point of note, however: we're used to divan-type beds - or "platform" beds, as I believe they're called in the US - and many furniture stores didn't seem to sell these. We did find that Macy's had a good collection, however.

America is the land of the giant TV. Go to Best Buy or Circuit City and you'll find plenty of choice. We haven't yet chosen to sign up to cable - we're not going to holiday in Florida just to spend all day watching TV! I simply connected our TV to the aerial socket, and got about 10 free-t0-air channels including the main American ones such as NBC, ABC and CBS. (There's no such thing as a TV license in the US.)

In six days, we managed to furnish our flat almost entirely, and I'm sure you can do it too. It's relatively easy as there's so much choice. There's also so many superstores that exist all over the place, so you won't even have to travel far. Good luck!

Would you do the same as I did? Please do let me know!