Lee Weaver, Director of Operations for the British Homes Group in Orlando, Florida, has lived in Central Florida for the last 14 years. He is an ex-pat, owns a vacation home in The Manors at Westridge on Highway 27 and has been involved with thousands of British investors buying or financing property throughout Florida.
We asked Lee for his opinions on the current Real Estate market in Florida and what are some of the options available to existing owners…
As you have mentioned I have lived in and around Orlando for the last 14 years. The past 4 years have been dedicated to providing real estate, mortgage and other related property services to fellow Brits buying anywhere in Florida. I own a buy-to-let villa myself in the Westridge community, close to Walt Disney World. It was originally mortgaged with a U.K. Sterling home loan from GE Money’s U.K. subsidiary, British Mortgages Abroad, but it was recently re-financed to the innovative Lloyds TSB multi-currency mortgage. The home was previously used as short-term rental villa but now has a 2 year tenant.
Our company, The British Homes Group (www.britishhomesgroup.com) and staff members are well respected throughout the industry, both in the U.K. and in Florida and our General Manager, Chris Doran, appears in the ‘Buyers Guide to Florida’ on Real Estate TV’s home page.
Our customer philosophy has always been to ‘advise in the best interest of the client’. This basic principle, along with our British backgrounds, local Florida expertise and genuine concern for our clients’ satisfaction has enabled us to be recognized as the UK’s favourite one-stop shop for British villa owners in Florida since 2001.
The current market condition for Florida, quite simply put, is – great if you are a buyer – particularly if you are buying with British pounds at a current 26 year high against the U.S. dollar – but not so great if you NEED to sell.
One of the strongest factors driving this market turnaround has been inventory levels. 23,500 homes were on the market for sale in March of 2007. Compare that with the 2,500 available in March of 2005, and it’s easy to understand how this huge swing in the supply and demand ratios has influenced current market conditions.
For the buyers the benefits are readily apparent – greater flexibility in negotiations with the sellers, contributions towards closings costs, upgrades and incentives from builders and (although mostly from U.S. owners due to high loan to value ratios) foreclosure opportunities from defaulting borrowers.
Add in a 2 to 1 exchange rate and a settling (or in some cases a reduction) of prices and you can see why purchase enquiries are even stronger than ‘normal’. The scenarios are almost returning to that of about 2 years ago where you could buy a 4 bedroomed pool home for about £125,000. By the time you have paid the 20% deposit, payments can be as low as £600.00 per month and the costs are much more manageable.
Of course the flip side of ‘all that is good’ for the Florida buyer creates an unfortunate condition for the seller. Nearly all of the owners we talk to want to retain their Florida asset and therefore should not be affected in this short-term lull. At the very least they want to be able to maintain ownership for at least the next couple of years and then re-assess, and there are a number of ways to achieve that goal:
Evaluate your current mortgage position
If you currently have a U.S. mortgage consider a U.K. Sterling home loan while the exchange rate is so strong – you can always switch back to a U.S. product at a later date.
Don’t forget, with the new multi-currency mortgage, you can go through these same currency conversions without paying recurring switching fees and/or closing costs!
Don’t just leave it up to your management company for rentals
Get more involved with the booking of your villa. We consistently talk to owners who are booking to capacity and the underlying element is always that they are actively involved in the marketing of their Florida rental property themselves – not just through U.K. papers and outlets but also through U.S. ones. Americans are increasingly warming to the idea of spending their vacations in a private villa, just as we Brits have done in Europe for years, and there are hundreds of free online and print listing opportunities when you start to consider the U.S. holiday maker. The British Homes Group also has an online rental programme to help our customers rent their properties as well.
Be creative in your property fixtures and fittings to encourage repeat bookings – use the latest ‘Accreditation Services’ for an independent assessment and rating of your property – find out how you compare to other villas and what you can do to improve the guest’s experience during their stay.
Think long term as well
Long-term rentals are becoming more popular – Kissimmee, Davenport, Clermont and Haines City are the four most popular areas for British short-term rental owners – all four also have large residential communities that provide 1 to 2 year long-term rental options for property owners.
Assess your management company
What are their average number of bookings per year? How do they advertise their homes for rent? Do they have a lot of add on fees? What do they charge to process your bookings? How do they compare with others?
There is a wealth of information on our website to keep all of our customers updated with Florida news and information – our Florida Blog (blog.britishhomesgroup.com), Property Sales and Rental Portals, Advisory Panel contacts and Newsletter subscriptions are all free and are excellent Florida resources.
We have established a freephone number from the UK to Florida – 0800 096 5989 – and welcome questions, comments and enquiries from existing Florida property owners or anyone that is considering entering the Florida real estate market.
Needless to say, all calls are in confidence and without obligation, and our advice, estimates and recommendations are always unbiased and free.
Phone within UK: 0800 096 59 89 (Freephone)
Phone within US: 407 396 9914 (8 lines)