The main purpose behind our quick vacation to St. Pete Beach in Florida was to meet with a realtor and look at some condos. No, we aren't moving. This would be 99% an investment right now. The back story? When we were purchasing the cottage on Cape Cod, we thought that we would rent it out for a few weeks during the summer to defray the costs of owning it. However, after using the cottage last summer, I became adamantly opposed to the idea of renting it. We use it so much that I'm not really setting it up to be a rental. Meaning, if someone spilled something on something, I would be highly annoyed. It's also not in my personality to rent something so personal to me. For example, I see people online Airbnbing their homes so they can travel or while they're on vacation. Hell no. Never.
At the end of the summer, liking the idea of owning a vacation rental, we discussed purchasing a second cottage on Cape Cod that would be strictly rental. There are a few downsides to this. One, we would kind of be putting all of our eggs (well, all two of them) into one basket. If the Cape Cod market continues on its upswing, well, that's great. If not, we would have two properties in the same area not doing well appreciation-wise. Also, "in season" on Cape Cod is a very short time period. There are six months of the year when seasonal properties are completely shut down and unusable. Then you're looking at the end of June through mid-August as high season. Maybe, if you're lucky, you'll find renters for 12 weeks of a year.
September rolled around and while I still kept my eye on the Cape Cod real estate market, the idea of purchasing a rental property there faded as school and dance started back up. One evening, after winter hit, Rich commented, "I think we should buy something in Florida. That way when I retire, we'll have someplace to spend the winter." You guys know this is another dream of mine. I imagine my old lady self enjoying that warm Florida sun when it's freezing cold in New England.
We did a little research and settled on St. Pete Beach/Treasure Island. When they retired, Rich's parents used to spend a few months each winter renting a condo in this area so he's somewhat familiar with it. We reached out to our peeps and received recommendations for a mortgage broker and a real estate agent down there.
Over the past 15 years, we've purchased three houses and I've found all three myself online. For the first two, we did have a realtor but she was the one who haggled with the listing agent and dealt with the paperwork. With the cottage, we didn't even use an agent. For all three, it was easy because I know the area and the market.
I knew nothing about St. Pete Beach so I spent quite a bit of time studying maps and what was for sale and what had recently sold and what was renting and the cost of everything. We had a price range we were focusing on and I could see that it would be possible to buy a condo at the low end of that range if we gave up location. Obviously, closer to the beach means a higher price, but we could still be within a five minute drive to the beach but at a lower price. I could also see that at the top of our budget, rents were higher. Out of proportion higher.
Here's what we're looking for in a condo:
- 2 bedrooms
- 2 bathrooms (could settle for 1.5, maybe 1 if everything else was super awesome)
- Private balcony or Florida room
- Smaller condo complex
- Views of outdoor green space and not a parking lot
- Walking distance to beach (would sacrifice for lower cost)
- Shorter rental periods (ideally 30 days or less minimum)
Our realtor set out to find properties she thought would be a good fit while I provided her with others in which we had an interest. This is where she became an extremely important part of this process. She knows the area so she is aware of the better places to purchase. I am not. What I discovered during our visit is that while a condo may look decent on the internet, reality is much different.
We looked at seven condos during our trip. We had time to look at more but the market down there is hot and obviously we can't just up and fly down there to look at properties right when they come on the market. All of the condos on our interested list from January, February, March and early April were either no longer on the market or under contract.
The first condo we toured was found by our realtor. It had been on the market for three weeks and I know I passed over it because I was focusing on less expensive units at that point. This was listed at almost the top of our budget and for good reason. It's located just over a quarter of a mile to the beach and it met every item on our wish list above. I recognized the area when we drove in because whenever a townhouse across the way had come up, she had forwarded it to us. I wasn't a fan of the townhouses but had agreed to look at them because, obviously, you can't rule something out just from a few photos. Now I see why she had been focused on that area. It's quiet, all residential with a park, playground and tennis courts. And, best of all, within walking distance of the beach.
The kitchen looked like it may have been updated back in the '90s. Same with the bathrooms. I didn't mind the tile floor. I walked through and said to Rich and our realtor, "This could work." The balcony was really what did it for me. It overlooked an intracoastal waterways (I think that's what they're called) and green space. We even saw a dolphin swim by.
The next condo was in an area not within walking distance to the beach. Condos here were less expensive and as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, I could see why. There was a large church right next door which would mean extra traffic on the weekends. The condo that we did look at was dirty and very outdated. The kitchen was also awkward. The only thing I liked about the place was the balcony and the view. We went out the back door which had stairs leading down to the grass and a waterway. This is when I realized this was a big fat no. The stairway was littered with dead bugs and someone from that condo or the one sharing the back stairway had left a snub of a Cuban cigarette with a mouthpiece on the stairs. I don't know if it had been discarded or left there for a later smoke but I was done after that. This condo was one I had added to the list. When we left, I could see why our realtor had never suggested anything from this area.
We looked at three condos in the same complex and all of them were a no. There was also a condo in a high rise, which had been my find, along with the three in the same complex. Nope. The other condos we looked at were found by our realtor and we had more of a chance of purchasing those than anything I had found. This is all to say that having a good realtor is key.
Almost every condo we looked at aside from the first one was listed as having been updated in some way. I'm not a picky person, especially for investment properties, but I could not stand most of the updates. Fake wood floors that felt soft and bouncy, dark kitchens (hello, you are near a beach in Florida), bathrooms slapped together with whatever was on sale, mixing warms browns with grays and blacks. I liked how the first condo was functional but we could update later on however we wanted to. We wouldn't be paying more for tacky upgrades which would eventually be torn out.
On our way home, Rich and I both agreed that the first condo was probably our best bet. The next night, we asked our realtor if she could find out some information about its rental history. We told her the day after that we were thinking of placing an offer. At that point, she asked the listing agent for a disclosure form from the sellers. We do not do that here in Massachusetts. It's weird to me because, in my opinion, it puts the sellers at an advantage. They now know that someone is interested enough to ask for a disclosure. It took a day and a half to get the disclosure and the listing agent threw out that he was expecting a offer to come in from someone else. I still think that was BS but we had a range from our realtor and it was in line with what we were thinking so we put in an offer $15,000 less than asking. If the realtor hadn't mentioned another interested party, we were going to offer a few thousand less than that. Surprisingly, they accepted without a counteroffer, which I've never before experienced.
We still have many hurtles to jump over before we close. The inspection took place last week and I'll have to talk about that later because this is getting long and I'm tired tonight. I've lovingly named this Del Boca Vista not only because I'm a Seinfeld fan but because the condo association needs to approve the sale. More later!