Finding a home in Touristburbia!
No, you can't move into Cinderella Castle. There is a rumor that a few special people might spend a night or two there. But it can't be your permanent residence! You need to find a house or apartment to rent or buy. Here is our experience.
We moved to Central Florida in the summer of 2012, after I accepted a job working at a major hospital system in Orlando. We wanted to live close to Disney, for fun on the weekends, and close to my work. We found a good realtor and started looking. We looked in downtown Orlando, and found that our budget would not pay for a house with everything we wanted. Our realtor showed us that houses further from town had more for the money. The further we went, the better house we could afford. Based on traffic patterns at that time, we decided on an area just southwest of the Disney exits, in Davenport, off the Champions Gate exit (Kissimee/Poinciana, exit 58.) We would be very close to Disney, for quick trips on the weekends. I could get to work in downtown Orlando in about 30 minutes on I-4.
Our realtor explained that some neighborhoods allowed vacation rentals, and some only allowed long term rentals. Neighborhoods zoned for vacation rentals have houses that tourists and visitors use for a quick trip to the area. It means the house or apartment is functioning as sort of a hotel, with new people coming in and out constantly. The owner of the property usually does not live there, but hires a company or individual to manage the rentals. The more residential neighborhoods have longer term residents. People who live there either own their home, or have a lease for a longer term, like a year.
Vacation homes can serve as a temporary home for the owner to use for an extended period, and then rent out for shorter periods when not there. Touristburbia is part of a larger area in Florida, and across the Southern United States, that is home to "snowbirds" who come here for the winter months only, returning to the northern U. S. or to Canada when the weather gets too warm in the South. Part time residents can enjoy their own home when they are here, and make money from it when they are not. We planned to live here permanently, so we focused our search on neighborhoods that did not allow vacation rentals. We enjoy getting to know our neighbors. You can't do that if you have new neighbors every week. People who live in their home full time tend to take better care of their property, and are more considerate of their neighbors.
Other factors that went into our purchase decision were not much different than buying a home anywhere else. We looked at the quality of construction, the quality of the neighborhood, whether or not there was a homeowners association (HOA). If there was an HOA, we looked at the fees and what they covered. We wanted a home with a private pool, so we didn't want to move into a neighborhood with higher HOA fees to cover the cost of a neighborhood pool. We didn't have any need for a neighborhood clubhouse. We knew we could get a lower HOA fee in a smaller neighborhood with fewer amenities like that. Friends advised us not to move into an HOA neighborhood. We knew from experience, though, that having a little oversight to require certain standards for the homes protected everyone's property value.
We also looked at commute times to work. I took the morning drive from the prospective home to my new workplace to see if the commute time was acceptable. The area around our neighborhood was mostly untouched wilderness. There was little traffic in the area. I could get on I-4 quickly, and had little traffic on the freeway until I got to downtown Orlando. After about two years, in 2014, our area recovered from the housing downturn. New subdivisions and apartment complexes sprouted all over the place, seemingly overnight. Suddenly there was a twenty minute wait on my access road just to get to the interstate entrance ramp. The traffic on the southwest side of Disney became heavier than the traffic in downtown Orlando! I will talk more about traffic and population growth in another blog. For now, though, I will caution anyone who plans to move to Touristburbia that this area is growing fast. Open spaces and undeveloped areas are disappearing fast. Be prepared!