Florida Real Estate

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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A hundred miles south of California and 1,700 miles north of the equator, the Sunshine State deserves its nickname (though it has, interestingly, no official motto). It is also altogether appropriate that the city of St. Augustine, founded in 1565, was the first permanent European settlement within the continental United States. The peninsula that is Florida, after all, was a strategic crossroads in many respects--between the northern and southern American continents and the old and the new western worlds.

But all that was then and now Florida is simply a beautiful place to live with a world-renowned balmy climate. There are essentially two zones. The tropical half is below Lake Okeechobee and the subtropical above it. From the Georgia and Alabama borders down the Keys, seasons are fairly consistent across the state. Winter lows range from about 50 to the mid-60s Fahrenheit. Summer average highs run from the 70s to the 80s Fahrenheit. Rainfall is heaviest in summer.

Florida Real Estate

With the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Atlantic on the other, there is certainly no shortage of coastline. All in all, Florida offers some 663 miles of beaches and 2,276 miles of shoreline. Lake Okeechobee is the second largest freshwater lake in the country. Nearly half the state is forested, primarily with pine, oak, cypress, palms, and mangroves. All this and the Everglades National Park make Florida a haven for wildlife as well as people.

But there are other attractions in Florida that have nothing to do with alligators, climate, geography, Disney, Epcot, the Daytona Raceway, or the Keys. The state, for example, ranks 45th out of 50 when it comes to taxes. That's good news, not bad. It translates to a six percent sales tax, a 5.5 percent corporate tax, and no income tax whatsoever. Only four states offer their residents a lower tax burden than Florida.

On the flip side of the tax ranking is population. Florida falls fourth highest in the nation behind California, Texas, and New York. The estimate for 2003 was 17 million people, which is a roughly 24 percent increase over 1990 and equates to about 200 people per square mile (the national average is 80). Six metropolitan areas--in order, top down, Tampa-St. Pete, Miami, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, and West Palm Beach-Boca--are home to more than a million people. The most densely populated city is Jacksonville, with three-quarters of a million residents, and then Miami, with just over one-third of a million.

Regional Character

Clearly, north and south Florida have somewhat different personalities, as, for that matter, do the Gulf and the Atlantic coasts. In looking at the state from a real estate perspective, there are eight basic regions. The northwest is the panhandle and home to the state capital of Tallahassee. North central is home to Gainesville, and northeast to Jacksonville. Together they comprise the eastern coastal lowlands and contain most of Florida's citrus acreage. They also boast a low cost of living, rich natural resources, and less crime than elsewhere in the state. When frost and snow come to Florida, they come here.

Central Florida encompasses the Space Coast on the east (Atlantic) and Tampa Bay on the west (Gulf). The state's high-tech area, it is also home to the NASA Space Flight Center. Anchored on one side by Tampa and St. Petersburg, in the middle by Orlando, and on the other by Daytona, this region is strong, vital, and growing rapidly. Despite this, the area is for the time being rather more affordable than less. Figures from 2003 put the median home price ($125.000) at 21 percent lower than the state average. The Tampa area is marginally higher, with the median ($144,000) at 9 percent lower.

The bottom half of the state, below Lake Okeechobee, are the Heartland, the Southwest, and the Southeast. The Heartland has the benefit of equally easy access to several metropolitan areas and numerous tax incentives. On the Gulf coast--a jewel in the landscape that Forbes ranks as among the top places to live for business and career--are Punta Gorda to the north, Fort Myers in the middle, and Naples to the south. On the Atlantic (or Internet) coast are Fort Pierce, West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami (recognized as the business capital of Latin America). To the south, of course, are the Everglades and the Keys.

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