I’ve always loved the beach and dreamed of owning a home steps from the shore someday. I moved as close to the New Jersey beaches as I could when my husband and I started our family. We regularly made the 30-minute drive with our children during the summer. I was happy being that close, but I wished I could be even closer. Last January, my husband had an extended work trip to Sarasota, Florida. I joined him and worked remotely. It was life-changing for us. Little did I know that my childhood dream would become a reality in retirement.
Sarasota is on the west side of Florida along the Gulf of Mexico, about an hour south of Tampa. It’s known for world-class shopping, golf, and stunning beaches with soft white sand and beautiful sunsets. Visitors can fly directly into Sarasota as the city has an airport. The convenience of flying in, renting a car, and driving the short distance to our hotel was fantastic. We stayed for 2 weeks at the end of January 2021, and to my surprise, it was warm and sunny during my stay. The temperatures hovered around the mid-70s and rose to almost 80 degrees. After that trip, I knew I had to make this place my forever home. Here are five reasons I am starting my retirement by renting instead of buying first.
1. The Pandemic Made Real Estate Prices Soar
After that trip in 2021, I made an appointment with a realtor. We stayed in touch throughout the year, and I received regular updates and emails from her regarding the real estate market. As soon as a house went on the market, it was under contract. Sadly, homes and neighborhoods previously in my budget became way too expensive as the year went on because I wasn’t ready to purchase. We needed to sell our house first to make a move and know what we could afford.
According to Sarasota Magazine, Sarasota County is second to Collier County (Naples, Florida) in attracting wealthy home buyers. In a recent article, the reason for this is, “The tsunami of new buyers from New York, New Jersey, California, and Washington state has raised the bar of what defines luxury. Luxury was a million-plus, then $2 million. Now, we take listings for $5 million, $9 million, and $14 million every month. To some, this is a bargain. It’s an unimaginable demand-driven market.”
In January 2022, the real estate website Realtor.com shows that Sarasota’s median listing home price was $475,000, trending up 19.9 percent year over year. I am not sure I want to invest in this mad market right now, but I still want to live in Sarasota.
2. Home Inventory Is Low
The jury is out on when the housing market will cool off. Some real estate professionals believe this is a phase and that what goes up must come down. Others say this trend has no end. While I’ve visited Sarasota on multiple occasions, my stay was for a few days or weeks at a time. I have never lived here. I rented an apartment in January 2022 to house hunt, and we explored the various neighborhoods. Sadly, the inventory was so low that I hardly saw any listings. My realtor set me up on a Saturday to see one home, but she called me back a few minutes later to say it was under contract. I never got the chance to check it out.
We did tour one home in our price range on the last weekend of my month-long stay. I wasn’t in love with it, so I didn’t make an offer. It was under contract a few hours later. According to Sarasota Magazine, “Record low inventory has resulted in record-high prices.” And data from the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee from May 2021 shows an increase in home sales, up 84 percent from the same month in 2020. The good news is that I’m not in a rush, and I don’t have to put kids in school or meet a deadline for any specific timeline. I want to be sure before I jump into the housing market.
3. I Don’t Want Buyer’s Remorse
I saw a few properties on my realtor’s website that I was dying to own early last year. This year, I find there are fewer to consider. I don’t want to buy something in a rush and find that I’m not happy with the home or the location. I also don’t want to renovate every room. Some of the properties for sale need a lot of work. With the cost of materials and the construction shortages, I won’t have the funds to improve the home if I buy in a seller’s market. And while a fixer-upper might be cheaper initially, the construction costs make it less affordable as you tick up the items you need to improve.
Some buyers purchase a home and then “scrape” it. That means you buy the house for the lot or the neighborhood, knowing you will tear it down and build new. According to the website Houwzer, newly constructed homes in South Florida have surged 113 percent this year compared to last. The article states that, on the one hand, Florida has strict building requirements due to the extreme weather conditions you’ll experience. The state requires all blueprints to be examined by an engineer. You will need to pay for better construction materials to meet the newest requirements. On the other hand, while this is a good thing and will make for a sturdy home, it’s costly.
4. I Am Not Sure Where I Want To Live
I love living out my retirement fantasy while in Sarasota for a visit. Some days, I envision myself out on Long Boat Key, and other days I want to be right in the heart of downtown. Either way, the area has so much to offer, especially if you love the outdoors. There are 160 parks and preserves in Sarasota County encompassing 575 square miles, including 35 plus miles of gorgeous shoreline. Sarasota, Venice, North Port, and Long Boat Key are the four municipalities. Over 400,000 full-time residents (median age of 57) call Sarasota County home, while around 96,000 are seasonal residents.
It’s a beautiful place to live, but where do I want to buy a home? It’s hard to decide because my love affair with the beach beckons me to live close. Still, the busy northeasterner in me wants to live where the action is, close to restaurants and cultural experiences.
5. I’m Prioritizing Walkability
To get our retirement started, my husband and I opted to rent a two-bedroom apartment near downtown Sarasota for a year. We looked at luxury buildings with fantastic amenities further from town. Still, we decided we didn’t want or need all those bells and whistles. We wanted more walkability and less driving, so we narrowed our choices near downtown. We walked everywhere when we first got married and lived in Hoboken, New Jersey. Keeping this in mind, we chose a modern walk-up apartment in the Rosemary District. The Rosemary District is experiencing a renaissance. It’s now a trendy neighborhood with a few restaurants and a café around the corner. If we want to head into town, It’s a five-block walk to the heart of the city. Now we can enjoy the opera, the ballet, the boutiques, or dine in the various restaurants without having to drive or look for parking each time. If we want to visit the beach, we can hop in our car and be on Lido Key in 12 minutes. We hope that friends and family will stay, but we also have a lot of engagements that will have us traveling back North this summer and fall.
A low-maintenance existence will work perfectly for us this year. That’s why we love the proximity to Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. We can be at the airport in 11 minutes from our new place. Our landlord is flexible and has a clause that would let us break the lease if we needed or rent month to month after the year is over. I like the flexibility and the location of our new residence.
Pro Tip: While renting is not for everyone, there are perks. Many young professionals and retirees choose to rent in the luxury highrises surrounding downtown Sarasota. We visited Arcos, The District At Rosemary, and one building slightly further from town, the Lyra. These buildings have a variety of apartment configurations and price points. They have beautiful common areas, office suites, and outdoor amenities like pools, grills, dog runs, and gathering spaces.
I love having the opportunity to start my dream and not wait for the perfect house to come along. If that doesn’t happen, I may rent a place right on the beach if I can’t find a home to buy by next year. I want to consider all my options to pick wisely for the future.
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