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Buy in the country or in a 2017 Florida version of Levittown?
Old 11-23-2017, 07:44 AM   #1
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Buy in the country or in a 2017 Florida version of Levittown?

Our first trip to the Sister-in-laws new digs was long anticipated as It has been nearly 2 years since we visited Florida. The invite was for dinner and we entered the gated community around 6PM and it was dark- A clicker to open the gate had been dropped off the day before.

We found the right block and after 5 minutes of driving the sense that we had entered the Matrix was overwhelming. Hundreds of house that looked the same. In the daytime we would see that there were subtle differences. Beige, light beige, dark beige- there is something ominous too many houses that all look the same. Although this was not officially a retirement community few locals have just under $500K to plunk down on a house. [Florida is a land of countless $250,000 and under what i call cinder block ranchers.]. The oldsters were out in force No offense intended as I am one. Dog walkers, walkers, cyclist etc.,

The amenities included 10 ft ceilings, crown moldings, stone counter tops, giant kitchen island, to ceiling cabinets, pool with attached hotub, walk in showers and visually striking stone work. Club house with fully stocked exercise room, tennis courts and a couple of pools. Whats not to like- right? You can get a membership in the golf club for $12,000 to join and a several grand each year thereafter. Members have their own clubhouse. MY BIL loves to golf but does so at public courses.

We sat out in covered portion of the Lanai and watch some football. And had a great meal of Ziti. The next day my brother in law would text me a picture of “his girl” A seven foot gator sunning itself on the shore of the lake behind the house.

1. I generally like gated communities while nothing is perfect you just dont see anyone here that doesnt belong. Garage doors are often left open all day.
2. The artificial lakes are chock full of fish. For a guy who loves to fish..well it helps. This community is about 20 minutes from some awesome gulf beaches.
3. The oldsters are very friendly.. For a guy who spent nearly 50 years in New York it is surprising and frankly a delight.
4. Oldsters are organizers and there are tons of clubs and activities.
5. It is late November and the sliders are open because it is 70 outside — at home in PA it is in the low thirties. I walked the pooch for 20 minutes in my PJs this morning as many do. Note: I did comb my hair as there is no point in scaring anyone. The Gray PA winters wear on me.
6. There is something very artificial about these communities - too scripted perhaps.

A rock farmhouse on 5 Acres in western PA or more south with a tractor, pickup, greenhouse and quad with snow birding for a few months each year or the the Florida Matrix?

As always please feel free to chime in.
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Old 11-23-2017, 08:02 AM   #2
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We live in a 55+ community in Texas just north of Houston. It was 80 the other day. I am a Yankee from Connecticut having left in 1981 for a job in California which eventually led to Texas.

Our community is about the same as the one you describe in Florida except no one leaves their garage door open for a long period, especially at night. We are bordering Houston and crime is migrating north (woops, it's here!). However, most here don't have much to steal as the money's in the bank and who wants old furniture and old TVs?

I walk the dog daily (5 walks or so) starting at about 7:30 AM and meet several other old farts doing the same thing. Most dog walkers are women here as most men have figured how to pass that off; most except me, however. At least I get to chat with the ladies....

We have a community center with all the goodies and a place to play bridge, checkers, etc. When I walk past that area, most people are napping until it's their turn. It's a depressing place to me as I am an outdoors kind of guy.

No golf course here and that's a blessing from a cost standpoint. Lots of courses near by though.

Active social calendar and the usual bus trips which we don't participate in. I see enough of the old farts walking the dog.

One nice feature of this place is the ambulance drivers are trained to shut their sirens off at the gate when heading in. Kind of like a non-invasive blood pressure treatment.

DW likes it here because there are three major hospitals one mile away. Plus, her kids from a previous marriage are around the area. They only seem to show up when they need something. I have an engaged daughter living 5 miles away and she is very self sufficient.

Me, I like the thought of the acreage, a farm house, lots of privacy and no freaking TRAFFIC, which we have the market cornered on here.
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Old 11-23-2017, 08:08 AM   #3
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There are plenty of places in FL when you can buy acreage for $3K an acre. It's jungle, but can be cleared.

I am gong to snow-bird for a while.
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Old 11-23-2017, 08:22 AM   #4
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We live in a 55+ community on the border in south Texas which mostly caters to the "Winter Texan" community. By November things are hopping here, and get quiet by the end of April. We enjoy both periods.

We do not participate much in the community activities - that's not why we built here (location was the deciding factor). But I do enjoy seeing folks out, active, obviously enjoying themselves. It's inspiring as most folks are older than us. And we do know many, many folks which is nice. And many folks know us and our habits - "oh, those are the butterfly experts". I do participate in the community Facebook group letting people know about certain nearby (outside of the community) happenings they might be interested in, or letting them know what's happening nature wise.

Snowbirds are a filtered group because the less active or ill ones aren't going to be willing to change locations twice a year, and the active ines come for the nice winter weather and are going to be out doing stuff.

I love the lack of commuter traffic and the nearby yard maintenance noises confined to one half day a week.

Location was our first consideration, followed by yard maintenance taken care of by the HOA, and the community had great native landscaping. The houses are close, but we bought a lot with enough room for a great butterfly garden in the back. DH wishes he had more space, but then he'd be taking care of it!

No one leaves garages open here - at least not at night. Unfortunately we have "international visitors" occasionally crossing the community in the dark of night.

Oh yeah - around here if you're not in an HOA community things can look pretty rough. We have areas that look like old Mexico. There are sections with huge mansions next to a dumps surrounded by a chain link fence.
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Old 11-23-2017, 08:22 AM   #5
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We live in a Gated community in NE Florida. All homes in our development are pretty much custom, although some are "loosely" based on similar models. They vary from 1700sqft to over 6000sqft, so a good variety. Most are Mediterranean style, we like that. There are a lot of unique ones too. They are not all the same styles or the same colors. We have 600 homes in our Development. I lived in gated communities in SoCAL too and honestly for all their issues (Namely Demi god like attitude of the board, which a lot of folk completely ignore) I much prefer them. We live in the only private golf course community in the general area and they do keep the place looking nice and up to date. I think I will always live in a Gated community.

I especially like the fact that Billy Bob cannot put his old sofa and sad unpainted truck up on axel stands in front of his half built Algerian Ruin in our neighborhood.

You can just go a few miles across the bridge and down the mainland if you like that. It is Florida after all.

If the OP would not mind sharing the general area he described that would be nice. such as nearest big town, closest Costco, Hospitals, that kind of thing.
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Old 11-23-2017, 08:24 AM   #6
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....A rock farmhouse on 5 Acres in western PA or more south with a tractor, pickup, greenhouse and quad with snow birding for a few months each year or the the Florida Matrix?...
My answer: Yes... an loving it!

Ours is a little different... a lakeside home on 0.7 acres in Vermont with a lawn tractor, pickup, gardens, jet-ski, pontoon boat, sailboats, with snowbirding for 6 months in our Florida condo.

I really like condo living... if we want to go away we turn off the lights, turn off the water, close and lock the door and walk away.
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Old 11-23-2017, 08:31 AM   #7
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Both states skip taxes on retirement income. Florida doesn't tax other income, either. I think that is probably the main reason retired people move there. The job market tends to be up and down, and they don't need to find jobs.

Unless you live on a coast, or stay indoors all day with the a/c on, Florida's climate can be pretty hard to take, 7 months a year.

Not every FL community is an old-people community. Younger people are allowed to live there, too; I used to be married to a Florida native. I spent my adolescence in a "cinderblock rancher" with neighbors of all ages from little kids to 70's. Last time I drove by the old homestead, a young family was living in it. Somebody had installed a pool in the back yard. The place looked almost exactly as it had when my parents owned it - that's the beauty of CBS construction; it lasts and lasts.
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Old 11-23-2017, 08:40 AM   #8
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That's the beauty of CBS construction; it lasts and lasts.
I think it is a mistake to buy a "stick" house on Florida, especially on the coast. Oh, and make sure you it is at least 9' above sea level too. Also built after 2001 helps with insurance costs.

We only look[ed] at concrete or concrete block homes when we first came, and now that we are thinking of downsizing. Ours is CBS with rebar and filled with concrete. Very challenging to drill through the wall, but one does not do that very often. I did though to install a tankless water heater.
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Old 11-23-2017, 08:45 AM   #9
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I think it is a mistake to buy a "stick" house on Florida, especially on the coast. Oh, and make sure you it is at least 9' above sea level too. Also built after 2001 helps with insurance costs.

We only look[ed] at concrete or concrete block homes when we first came, and now that we are thinking of downsizing. Ours is CBS with rebar and filled with concrete. Very challenging to drill through the wall, but one does not do that very often. I did though to install a tankless water heater.
To boot of course termites are quite active year round in the south, so a cinder block house means that they have to get to the roof to find wood, cinder block is not to their taste. (otherwise you need to have the house treated and pay every year to renew the service who come out and treat any infestation that is found)
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Old 11-23-2017, 08:52 AM   #10
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Our strategy has been to have several very different homes. Small mountain town near Banff, very rural lake house 20 minutes from nearest village, downtown condo in Toronto, and finally Arizona house (not gated). Obviously everybody couldn’t do this or want to, but we really enjoy the different envireonments. Dont think we would like to be with “oldsters” although at 67 I am certainly old. Just dont look, act, or feel old.
My advice would be to get very different places if you decide to snowbird. Maybe you could handle a place like you describe if you had another place that was very different?
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Old 11-23-2017, 08:56 AM   #11
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I think it is just a matter of adjusting. MIL lived in a townhouse development for many years. Every one looked the same (gray) and they had to get approval to put a mailbox outside. They lived there happily for 25 years. It was not gated because there were less security issues in those days.

If I was there, I would get the HOA to prohibit garage doors being open except for cars ingress and exit. I remember a story about a MIL looking after the dog for a couple and getting killed by a croc down by the lake. The croc took her leg off and she bled out. The dog survived. Not for me.

But I understand why many people choose it. We have an independent place in Mexico and we are constantly reminded of the benefits of owning a condo. Independence comes at a price.
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Old 11-23-2017, 09:03 AM   #12
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We may end up getting a place in FL just by default as we have been there a bunch of times, and have not been to the West side of US much, so don't really know where to look.

Of course all of this is after some close relatives die, as they need our help right now.
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Old 11-23-2017, 09:51 AM   #13
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We're still in the same place as we raised the kids, so schools and proximity to j*b were the determining factors in location.

But as the kids are gone and other factors that keep us here dwindle, I have the same hesitancies with the cookie-cutter communities as the OP.

The programmed activities seem like maybe those on a cruise ship...kind of artificial and you often have to really apply yourself to have fun at them. I always thought I'd like to be a "land / tractor" guy, but never had the opportunity. One of my sisters has a place in central Florida with a bunch of land, long gravel driveway, several outbuildings, several sizes of lawn mowers, a golf cart and a gator. She loves getting out and doing the maintenance on the plot. I'm not sure I'd be so enthusiastic about that, so I might end-up in cookie-cutter-ville!
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Old 11-23-2017, 10:01 AM   #14
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A rock farmhouse on 5 Acres in western PA or more south with a tractor, pickup, greenhouse and quad with snow birding for a few months each year or the the Florida Matrix?

As always please feel free to chime in.
I'm sure there are valid reasons why people live up north and deal with snow to shovel, ice that you can slip on and break a leg, and freezing temperatures that can actually kill you if you don't have heat.

But to me it seems completely insane, especially for those of us who are comfortably retired and can afford to choose where to live. Friends and relatives are nice and that is why we have e-mail and airplanes IMO. People who live in the South have friends too, and relatives love to have someone in Florida to visit.

So, my "vote" among the two choices you give above, would be to sell the Pennsylvania house and move to Florida ASAP. Whether you live in a gated community or not once you are a Florida resident is another choice, that you can figure out once you are there.
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Old 11-23-2017, 10:03 AM   #15
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There are all kinds of 55+ communities, I assume they’re not all the same.

We looked seriously at Epcon communities and they’re smaller (80-150 lots?) with homes that aren’t as cookie cutter looking (though same color palette outside) and very nice inside. We could live in an Epcon community.

OTOH we also looked at several Del Webb communities (1000+ lots), much as the OP described, not for us. They had more models but they all looked VERY similar, like Stepford homes! And the median age in DW communities seem to hinge on when building started - if it’s a newer community the median age may be 65 or so but if it’s one that started 30 years ago the median age will be closer to 85.
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Old 11-23-2017, 10:16 AM   #16
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DH were actually considering a Levittown house when we first got married (as they were relatively affordable). Although when initially built they were all the same, many of the homes have had extensions built on them. Obviously, NOT a gated community, LOL.

Well, that PA house sounds just about perfect, other than the winter months.

That being said, I am from Long Island, and barring wind, am ok with temps in the 30's. It's just wind combined with cold temps, or ice that gets to me. (That reminds me, it's time to order my "spikes.") There is something about the crisp PA air in the fall and early spring, and walks outdoors that I don't think you are going to get in FL.

So, I guess my vote would be for snowbirding, (and maybe with a rental) at least to start. If you find you love it there, and want to stay year round, you can always sell the place in PA.
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Old 11-23-2017, 10:37 AM   #17
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Why not both?
I currently live on 7.5 acres in Oregon. I love it but the constant rain and gray skies over winter (and much of the rest of the year!) gets depressing.
I am seriously considering buying an inexpensive condo in a gated retirement community in Florida. At $85,00-$115,00 (or even less for a 1 bedroom) with all the amenities you described, it's a cheap way to snow bird.
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Old 11-23-2017, 11:04 AM   #18
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I am seriously considering buying an inexpensive condo in a gated retirement community in Florida. At $85,00-$115,00 (or even less for a 1 bedroom) with all the amenities you described, it's a cheap way to snow bird.
Which part of FL, if you don't mind me asking? We've considered a relocation to FL - mostly due to taxes and healthcare. A gated condo/townhouse community would be preferred.
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Old 11-23-2017, 11:31 AM   #19
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Sarasota....
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Old 11-23-2017, 11:59 AM   #20
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As to why some people stay in colder climates is that many don't like the heat or do not like having summer year round. Summer is my least favorite season. Family and friends also play a big role in where people live. All my friends that I knew when I lived in WI are staying even after retiring. Now we live in a mild 4 seasons so that is nicer then being in a colder climate. I have moved a lot and am happy to be settled and have established a good group of friends, etc.
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