Keys to Florida: Sunshine, sport and low prices make this state a must for the retired
American dream: Master the red tape and a luxurious Florida home, such as this one in Palm Beach, beckons
Sunny Florida's relaxed, outdoor lifestyle has long been a draw for senior citizens. So now, with prices low and the exchange rate more favourable than it was 12 months ago, is now the time to buy in the sunshine state?
Loxley McKenzie, managing director at Colordarcy Investment, which sells properties in Florida as well as Brazil, Portugal, Greece and Turkey, says: 'Florida is by far our most popular location. Where else can buyers pick up a three-bedroom villa of 2,000sqft with a pool for $120,000 to $140,000, ten minutes from Disney World?'
But he warns investors that some rental yields in resort communities have dropped by 50 per cent. 'Investment properties won't make you a profit in the short term, but you should be able to cover your costs,' he says.
Mike and Lucia Holmes retired from Norfolk to Sarasota on Florida's south-west coast six years ago to escape the miserable winters in England.
'We're fortunate,' says Mike. 'We have a nice house with a pool, we like the neighbours and the beach is 15 minutes away. It'd take a lot to move us back to the UK.'
Stuart Johnson, new business manager at Experience International, says: 'There are quality properties at very reduced rates on the market.'
But like everywhere, the main barrier is finance. In 2006, Florida had one of the highest number of foreclosures in the U.S. and an oversupply of housing. Goldman Sachs estimates that property prices in Miami have fallen by 50 per cent since then.
If you're thinking about buying in a resort, James Wyatt, of Barton Wyatt, suggests focusing on quality.
'You should do this not just in terms of construction but location and facilities too,' he says. 'There are numerous resorts which may remain ghost towns for some time to come.
'Use a UK agent with property industry accreditation.' Graham Thorpe plans to move to Windermere, Orlando, with his wife and six-year-old daughter. He is currently awaiting the result of his E-2 visa application, which allows Britons to stay and work in the U.S. if they invest at least $200,000 in a business.
Mr Thorpe invested in a pool maintenance company last April. The process has been slower than he expected and he and his family are still living in Reading, Berks.
'We won't be out in Florida until December. I've had to employ someone to run the business,' he says. The E-2 visa must be renewed every two years. Another option is the EB- 5 visa. It is also an immigrant investor visa, but is very risky - applicants must invest $500,000 in a U.S. government-approved programme.
On the plus side, it's an arm's length commitment and, if the investment goes well, you get your money back after three years.
Five years ago, Brian Thompson and his wife Jane were living in Hadley, Essex, and considering retiring to Devon or Cornwall. With the cost of property in the South West, Florida began to look a brighter prospect.
Mr Thompson says that, as he wanted to retire, the E-2 visa was not an option. After visits to some of the approved investment programmes and consultations with visa specialists and lawyers, he put his money into a real estate company based in Seattle in order to get an EB-5 visa.
'I felt as confident as you can,' he says. 'It was a lifetime's work building up that capital.'
Thompson and his wife moved to Sarasota in May. They have another two years before they can recoup their investment and it is possible the money may be lost.
'That is the ultimate risk - no money and no Green Card,' says Thompson.
Andrew Bartlett, an independent relocation and property consultant, worries that Britons looking to emigrate on an EB-5 visa can fall prey to unscrupulous operators.
'The major problem is the number of scams,' he says, recommending that investors looking to apply for an EB- 5, travel to the States and thoroughly investigate their options.
It's important for applicants of E-2 or EB-5 visas to be aware that buying a company or investing in a regional centre does not automatically guarantee their visa application will be successful.
Mike and Lucia Holmes were able to move to the U.S. because Mike's sister is an American citizen. She sponsored them for a Green Card, but they had to wait ten years between applying for their visa and being interviewed.
When the visa letter arrived in the post, they had a year to sell their house, cars and stocks and shares before setting off. 'We came to Florida with a container full of furniture and a big cheque.'
They have found the day-to-day cost of living in the U.S. far lower than in Britain. But they've had to factor in expenses such as health insurance - the U.S. doesn't have a national health system - and county taxes.
They also have to pay a higher rate for house insurance because their home is in a hurricane zone. While Sarasota hasn't seen a hurricane in 40 years, they have had to install hurricane-proof windows and shutters, just in case.
Overall the exchange rate and the cost of living tends to favour Britons. James Wyatt says: 'We have seen a lot of Brits returning from France and Spain, and yet I've never heard of the same for Florida, even when the dollar was heading to parity with the pound.'
Mike and Lucia Holmes took up tennis when they moved. 'The weather is so good, we play six days a week.'
If the Holmeses are anything to go by, a move to Florida's balmier climes could be the start of a new you.
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