The best and most affordable areas in Florida

If you’re thinking about moving to Florida, then you’re probably envisioning sunny days, beautiful beaches, golf, tennis, horseback riding and a variety of other outdoor pursuits.

You also might be wondering whether or not living in such an idyllic place can ever be affordable especially in our current market. The reality is that Florida includes several cities that are surprisingly affordable. In addition, these cities offer strong job markets, beautiful neighborhoods, great schools and impressively high standards of living.

Let’s learn more about these beautiful communities.

Jacksonville

jacksonville bold new city of the south

Just to the south of the state line with Georgia sits Jacksonville. If you’re measuring by land area, Jacksonville is the largest city in the contiguous United States. Thanks to the presence of a number of beaches, it’s quick and convenient to travel from the bustling downtown to the beautiful beaches.

People who choose Jacksonville get all the perks and advantages of living in a big-city atmosphere. There are tons of things to do, and the job market is booming. Of course, like all big cities, there are some neighborhoods in which crime is prevalent. Also, because of the growing population, you can expect longer commutes and more traffic.

Aside from these drawbacks, Jacksonville is a fantastic place to live. It’s Florida’s financial and commercial center, and the downtown neighborhood is thriving. A wealth of quiet, well-designed suburban neighborhoods provide plenty of options that range from the ultra-affordable to multi-million dollar mansions.

Moreover, Jacksonville consistently is ranked as one of the best cities for engaging in outdoor activities. It boasts numerous parks and state forests in addition to many beaches. Some of the most popular stretches of coastline in the region include Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach.

With a cost of living that is about six-and-a-half percent more affordable than anywhere else in the U.S., it’s easy to see why so many people are considering a move to Jacksonville. It’s helpful that there are so many trendy, up-and-coming neighborhoods in the city. Some of the most popular are San Marco, Five Points, Riverside and Springfield.

We also have a great blog outlining the 6 best neighborhoods in Jacksonville.

Ocala

Ocala real estate for sale

This lovely inland city, which is known as the Horse Capital of the World, is an idyllic place to call home. It also features some incredibly beautiful yet affordable properties, many of which come with extensive acreage.

Despite its burgeoning size, Ocala still manages to retain a small-town feel that is enormously attractive to residents. The neighbors are friendly, and low crime rates are the norm across the city. It doesn’t have the same type of nightlife that may be found in larger cities, but for people who are focused on nature, parks and wildlife, it’s a perfect place to call home.

Ocala has a fantastic downtown district and a lively arts and cultural scene. There’s always plenty to do, and beaches as well as bigger cities easily can be reached by car.

US News and World Report routinely names Ocala to its Best Places to Live list based on the availability of activities like golf and tennis as well as its natural attractions. The publication also notes the city’s low cost of living and affordable home prices. Ocala further is a great place to work, with companies like AutoZone, Chewy and FedEx all having opened sizable distribution centers here in recent years. Ocala even boasts outstanding public and private schools.

Neighborhoods in Ocala are quiet and tree-lined. It resembles Southern cities rather than a Florida beach town. Some of the most desirable and popular neighborhoods include Meadow Wood Farms, Maricamp, Downtown and Westbury.

Being experts in the area, we have written a blog about the best areas in Ocala.

Gainesville

Gainesville homes for sale

As a college town, Gainesville is a great place to live if you’re looking for plenty of youthful energy and excitement. The cost of living is attractively low, and the city’s central location is certainly a big selling point.

There is sometimes a shortage of available real estate with so much of the market being centered on student housing, and the weather can get very hot and humid. However, for the people who love all of the activity that comes with living in a college town, these drawbacks are no hindrance.

Gainesville really is ideally located in the center of the state. Reaching large cities like Orlando or Jacksonville is possible with a two-hour drive, and the beaches are just as close.

Of course, the center of activity in Gainesville is the University of Florida. The Florida Gators play a wide variety of sports throughout the year, and with museums, the arts and cultural performances, there is always something fun happening.

Downtown Gainesville is another great place to spend time. It boasts plenty of live theater venues, restaurants, bars and shops. The outdoors also has numerous attractions including forests and lakes.

The cost of living is affordable here, and the public transportation system is excellent. Duckpond is the city’s oldest and most venerated neighborhood, but you can still buy an inexpensive home here. Other attractive options include Haile Plantation, Suburban Heights, University Park and Pleasant Street Historic District.

Another great blog about the 9 best neighborhoods in Gainesville.

St. Augustine

St. Augustine real estate for sale

A center of culture and history, St. Augustine boasts one of Florida’s most charming downtown areas and fascinating museums. The beaches are fantastic, and you’ll certainly find that the cost of living is competitive when compared with other Florida cities.

You will have to contend with a lot of tourists in St. Augustine, but you can hardly blame them. This is an incredibly scenic and interesting destination. Plenty of publications have named this community as one of the best places to live in America as well as one of America’s most beautiful towns.

In the memorable and gorgeous downtown, you’ll find 144 square blocks filled with quaint coffee shops, cozy bars, delectable restaurants and unique shops. Live music spills out into the streets, and it seems like there’s a historic site on every corner. With plenty of theater and arts venues as well, there is something for everyone in St. Augustine.

The city has a booming job market with some of the largest employers including Amazon, Bank of America, Mayo Clinic and Fidelity Investments.

If you’re looking for a neighborhood in St. Augustine, consider top options such as Picolata, Mizell Road, Butler Beach, Dupont Center and Elwood Whites Ford.

The best areas to live in St. Augustine.

Learn More with Florida’s Choice Realty

Are you ready to call one of the best affordable areas in Florida your new home? Jacksonville, Ocala, Gainesville, St. Augustine and others all offer outstanding neighborhoods with homes that are incredibly affordable.

Let the experts at Florida’s Choice Realty introduce you to these and other beautiful Florida cities. Our intimate knowledge of the local real estate market makes us the obvious choice when you’re ready to buy a home.

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Flood Zone Information Ocala

When the weather forecast hints that there is a chance of flooding in the Ocala area, most homeowners take note.

That’s because many residential and commercial properties in the region are located in so-called flood zones. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, produced revised Flood Insurance Rate Maps in 2017 that placed many of the properties in Ocala within Special Flood Hazard Areas, or SFHA.

This doesn’t mean that buying property in Ocala is a bad idea. However, it does mean that it’s sensible for buyers to be aware of whether or not the property they are interested in is in a flood zone. If that property is in a flood zone, then they will want to know more about the property’s flood zone classification and the requirement to carry flood insurance.

What Is a Flood Zone?

FEMA is responsible for identifying geographic areas that are at some risk for flooding. Some properties are in high-risk flood zones that have a one-percent or greater chance of flooding each year. Other properties may be in low to moderate risk level areas that have an approximately 0.2 percent or less chance of flooding on an annual basis.

Is the Property You’re Looking at on a Flood Plain?

It’s definitely wise to know whether or not a home that you’re thinking about buying is on a flood plain. In Ocala, your Realtor will let you know if this is a consideration for the property you have in mind. You also have the option of visiting the FEMA website, which has a Flood Map Service Center. All you have to do is enter the address or coordinates in the search bar to determine whether or not that particular home is on a flood plain.

Ocala & Marion County Flood Zone Map Links

  • City of Ocala FEMA Flood Maps- Click Here
  • FEMA Informational Handout- Click Here
  • About the Mandatory Purchase of Flood Insurance- Click Here
  • The National Flood Insurance Program Website: Click Here
  • Marion County Sheriff’s Office – (Division of Emergency Management): Click Here
  • Florida Division of Emergency Management- (Financial Assistance and other related programs): Click Here
  • View/Print: Home Protection Tips

Tips for Buying Property in a Flood Zone

Every year, many people in Ocala buy homes and commercial properties that are located in flood zones. They do so only after preparing themselves for the considerations that go along with owning property on a flood plain.

High-Risk Flood Zones

If you look at the FEMA maps, you’ll see that some properties are labeled with the letter “A” or “V.” Considered the highest-risk areas for flooding, you’ll usually find these designations along coastlines and rivers. Frequently, these regions are referred to as Special Flood Hazard Areas, and Ocala does have some of these designations.

If you buy a home in a Special Flood Hazard Area, then you are required to carry flood insurance. This is because there is an approximately 25 percent chance that you will experience a flood within the next three decades.

In addition to having flood insurance, you can install a backup battery for your home’s sump pump to ensure that you’re prepared if that big flood ever arrives.

Low- to Moderate-Risk Zones

Properties in these lower-risk zones are marked with “B,” “C” and “X” on FEMA maps. B is used for properties in a moderate-risk area. Although flood insurance is not required for properties in these areas, it’s still wise to protect yourself with a policy. According to the National Flood Insurance Program, as many as 25 percent of the claims they review come from “B” zones.

How Much Does Flood Insurance Cost?

Buying a property that is labeled with an “A” or a “V” is going to cost more in flood insurance premiums than a property in a “B” zone.

The good news is that most flood insurance policies are actually quite inexpensive. Because Ocala is classified as a Class 3 Community with properties in Special Flood Hazard Areas, homeowners in these regions are eligible for a 35 percent discount on flood insurance. Even if your home is not located in a Special Flood Hazard Area, you still qualify for a 10 percent discount.

Keep in mind that ordinary home insurance policies do not protect you in the event of a flood. Instead, it is necessary to carry an additional flood insurance policy to ensure that your property is truly protected.

Ask the Experts at Florida’s Choice Realty

If you are thinking about buying a home in Ocala, then you need to know if the home you’re considering is in a flood zone. Moreover, it’s imperative that you know if that home is in a high-risk or low- to moderate-risk zone. This will help you to determine how much flood insurance you may need and how much of a discount you are entitled to.

Contact the knowledgeable Realtors at Florida’s Choice Realty about Ocala’s flood zones.

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Best Neighborhoods in Amelia Island

Amelia Island is a favorite vacation destination for families across the country, so it’s no surprise that so many people would like to call it home. One of the chain of barrier islands known as the Sea Islands, Amelia Island is only 13 miles long, but it is loaded with golf courses, gorgeous beaches and luxurious resorts.

If you are considering a move to Amelia Island, then you’ll definitely want to learn more about the neighborhoods there. Here is an overview of some of the most desirable communities on the island.

Ocean Village

Families who are looking to escape the rat race are encouraged to consider Ocean Village. Found on Amelia Island’s South End, Ocean Village promises stunning ocean views along with quiet streets. Golf courses and tennis courts abound in this neighborhood, and there are two private pools here. With so much to do, you might think that this would be a bustling community. However, it is quiet and secluded, allowing residents a sense of calm.

Homeowners living in Ocean Village pay a low monthly fee that gives them extensive lawn service. The neighborhood consists of 111 single-family dwellings, most of which are spacious and expansive. Expect multiple bedrooms and bathrooms to accommodate the whole family.

Amelia Park

Located in Fernandina Beach, Amelia Park encompasses more than 300 single-family dwellings plus condos and townhouses. This neighborhood is widely considered to be one of the best on the island, and it is constantly growing. As you stroll through the streets, you’ll see homes with welcoming front porches, picturesque picket fences, mature landscaping and numerous walking paths. Informal and friendly, this is a wonderful place for families who want to get to know their neighbors.

The Town Square provides the ideal setting for holiday festivals, concerts and the Final Friday potluck dinners. With the beach an easy walking distance away, families have the option of splashing in the waves or playing on the shore whenever they wish. Most of the homes here are quite affordable, making this a good choice for those on a tight budget.

Azalea Pointe

This small, upscale development is on Amelia Island’s South End. Boasting just 30 unique homes, the entrance to this neighborhood is lined with ancient oaks. An azalea nursery once occupied this land, but now it holds a community without through streets so that there is never any unwanted traffic.

The developers of Azalea Pointe strived to keep the land’s natural beauty intact when designing this community. They excelled in their efforts, which means that this is a gorgeous, carefully developed area that you will be proud to call home.

Azalea Pointe may feel like it is worlds away from everything, but the historic downtown district in Fernandina is only a short drive away as are the beach and opportunities for hiking, dining and bicycling.

Old Town Fernandina

The city of Fernandina Beach sits on the north end of Amelia Island and boasts many charming neighborhoods. Perhaps the most desirable of these is Old Town Fernandina. It is located adjacent to the historic downtown area, and Old Town is recognized as being the final Spanish city ever to be platted in the Western hemisphere.

Old Town is the perfect place to buy a home if you are hoping to live on a river or have a love of historic homes. Perhaps the most famous house in the neighborhood is the Captain’s House, also known as the Pippi Longstocking house, but many homes here date back to the middle of the 19th century. These homes also share excellent proximity to the water, with many residents noting that they can go from bed to the water in just a few steps. Two marinas are located here too for people who want to get out on the water.

Seaside

Also located in Fernandina Beach is Seaside, a lovely, family-friendly community that was established in 1999. Most of the homes here were completed by 2003 and have four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Kids living in this neighborhood attend excellent schools and live in homes along tree-lined streets. Noted for its unusually spacious lots, Seaside is a great place to settle if you want a bit of space between your home and your neighbors’. The Atlantic Ocean is an easy stroll away as are the Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center and Fort Clinch State Park.

Amelia Island Plantation

On the South End of the island is the Amelia Island Plantation neighborhood, a master-planned community and resort. It includes nearly 1,400 acres of marshes and maritime forests as well as miles of unspoiled beaches. In this secluded paradise are more than 900 single-family dwellings and 1,200 condominiums. In addition, the neighborhood is the home of the Omni Amelia Island Plantation & Resorts.

Residents in this community have unparalleled opportunities to view wildlife in its native habitat. At the same time, there is ready access to a fitness center, private club, tennis courts and three golf courses. The private club, known as The Amelia Island Club, also includes The Ocean Club located right on the beach and the private golf course at Long Point.

A gated entrance controls access to the neighborhood on a 24/7 basis. Grand, stately homes with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms await families who want to live in an exclusive, upscale community.

Contact Florida’s Choice Realty

If you would like to learn more about these and other desirable communities on Amelia Island, contact Florida’s Choice Realty today. Our expert local Realtors will help you immediately feel at home.

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6 Things to Know Before Buying a Rural Property

Have you ever thought about buying a rural property?

Country living isn’t for everyone, but if you think it might be perfect for your family, then there are definitely some things that you should know.

If you’re ready to get serious about your search for a home in Florida’s countryside, contact Florida’s Choice Realty today.

In the meantime, take a look at the following tips to make finding a rural home much easier and more rewarding.

1. Work with a Realtor Who’s Knowledgeable About Rural Property

Most Realtors excel at helping their clients buy and sell property. However, only a smaller number of them understand the heightened complexities that may come with buying a rural property. This is why it’s sensible for people who want to buy a country house to work with a Realtor who has experience with these transactions.

Buying a rural property can come with extra rules, regulations and paperwork that just don’t apply to homes that are purchased in a suburban or urban setting. Moreover, it can be really helpful to have a professional at your side who has already participated in dozens of similar transactions. They will be able to answer your questions and help you to avoid many of the most common pitfalls that are associated with buying a rural property.

2. Get Guidance from a Local Mortgage Lender

Did you know that when you buy a property in the country, you may have additional financing options that are not available to urban and suburban properties?

For example, the United States Department of Agriculture, or the USDA, actually provides financing for families who want to live in the country. USDA home loans do have some eligibility guidelines of which it’s helpful to be aware, but an experienced lender who frequently deals with this type of loan will be able to provide the guidance you need.

As a matter of fact, USDA home loans are incredibly popular for people who want to buy rural property. However, there are other options available to you. If you want to ensure that you get the mortgage that is best for you, then it’s wise to consult with a local mortgage lender who can lay out all of your choices for you.

3. How Much Property Is Enough?

Before they begin taking a closer look at the marketplace, many people who are interested in rural properties think that all parcels in the country must come with acres upon acres of land. This might even deter some people who think that country living is right for them because they just don’t want a parcel with 15 acres of land.

The reality is that there is a great deal more choices than you might realize. Some country properties have quite small parcels of land, just enough to give you a large yard compared to what you’d have in a suburban setting. On the other hand, you could opt for a property that has two or three acres or one that has 20 or more acres. The choice is really up to you.

How much land is enough for you? It really just depends on what you want to do with that land. If you’re looking to keep your neighbors at a good distance from you, even a small parcel could be perfect. Those of you who are considering options for development or other land use will want to do some additional research. How much “usable land” comes with the acreage that you’ve got your eye on? Land that is completely undeveloped takes a great deal of time and money to turn into something, so it’s wise to know what you’re getting into before making the leap.

4. Consider the Utilities

When you purchase a home in the city, you don’t have to think too much about utilities. Most of the time, everything is hooked up and more or less ready to go. You’ve got city or county water and sewer connections as well as electricity.

The country can be different. Many of these homes have a septic system rather than being connected to a commercial sewer. Having a septic system can save you money on property taxes, but it could potentially cost you more if it needs to be maintained or replaced. Before buying a property with a septic system, have it inspected by a professional to determine its age and condition.

It’s also possible that a rural home will have a well water system instead of being connected to public water. The water in the well is free, but the well does need to be maintained. Once again, it’s smart to have a well system inspected before you buy the property.

The same is true if you are contemplating buying a home with an oil or propane heating system. Weigh the cost of fuel and maintenance, and be certain to have a thorough inspection performed before you close the deal.

5. Location, Location, Location

Not all rural properties are surrounded by farmland. Some are located in wooded areas. Some don’t have a farm for miles around. You might find a piece of land with a lake or a pond.

Additionally, you don’t always have to go that far outside of the city to find a beautiful piece of property that feels like it’s way out in the sticks. Staying close into town means more convenient access to stores, gas stations and other services. On the other hand, maybe you want to be far removed from larger communities. That is certainly an option as well.

Before buying a parcel of land, thoroughly explore the surrounding countryside and determine how long it will take to reach ordinary destinations like grocery stores and your doctor’s office. How far are you willing to drive? Everyone’s answer will be different, but this is critical to helping you find a home that you’ll love.

6. Zoning

  • What are you wanting to do with the property?
  • Does the current zoning allow for those activities?
  • Can you get a variance to conduct those activities on the property?

These are all very important questions to understand because even as something a simple as building a home on a piece of land could be against current zoning for many different reasons.

Calling the local zoning office can start the process of getting the answers you need to make sure the property you want is the property where your vision can come to reality.

Ask Florida’s Choice Realty First

Are you considering buying a rural home in Florida? If so, then speak with the real estate experts at Florida’s Choice Realty. With our experience dealing directly with rural properties, we’ll be able to answer your questions and help you find the new home of your dreams.

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6 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Home with VA Loans

Buying a property with a VA loan is one of the smartest decisions qualified veterans can make. While the process works fairly similar to conventional mortgages, there are a few things that make using VA loans slightly different.

The Department of Veteran Affairs backs VA loans, which allow veterans to not pay a deposit on a property. This can be an excellent way into the property market but there are still ways it can go wrong.

To ensure you’re approaching the situation the relevant caution, here are 6 mistakes to avoid when buying a home using VA loans.

1. Not using a knowledgeable real estate agent

VA loans have numerous property restrictions that provide the Department of Veteran Affairs with confidence in the sale. It would be wrong to expect you to know these by heart, so rely on your real estate agent instead.

They should know the process intimately and should only show you properties that fit the criteria.

2. Buying above your means

Not needing to put down a deposit is great, right? Surely it means you have more money to spend on the property? Not necessarily. You’ll still need to make monthly payments to your lender on time regardless of your current financial situation.

Therefore, you should keep your budget well within your financial means and not overspend.

3. Don’t forget property is an investment

Just because you have access to a very competitive mortgage scheme doesn’t mean your property shouldn’t be a good one. Property is one of the most secure forms of financial investment and you should still shop around for an attractive home in a good area.

This way, when it comes time to sell you’ll get a much greater return on your investment.

4. Still monitor your credit score

Your credit score matters less for VA loans but it does still matter. While you’ll likely still qualify for a mortgage even if your score is bad, your interest rates will be higher.

If you’re not in a rush, consider working on your credit score before investigating your options.

5. Don’t forget to shop around

VA loans are a competitive market, just like standard home loans. You’ll find varying interest rates, some of which are more attractive than others. It pays to shop around to try and minimize your monthly repayments and interest rates.

You can find an evaluation of 9 of the top VA loan lenders here.

6. Don’t forget about the extra fees

Buying a home comes with lots of extra fees that aren’t included in the asking price. Regardless of the type of loan you take out, these often catch people out when it comes time to close.

Things like an inspection and appraisal cost, as do real estate fees. You should set aside as much as 10% of what the deposit would have been if using a standard loan provider.

7. Don’t overlook an inspection

Inspections aren’t required but they’re very useful. Learning about possible repairs before closing can help to adjust the price. Alternatively, you can get the seller to make the repairs before they leave. Either way, it’s useful to know about these issues before you move in.

If you get made aware of any repairs, ensure it’s written into the contract that they’ll either be sorted before you close or that the seller will reduce the asking price accordingly.

Conclusion

Using VA loans to buy a home can be an easier way into the property market for veterans. Even so, it’s worth treating the process as if your money was on the line because this will make you more cautious.

The most important advice is to find a real estate agent and a lender that works with your interests, as this will make the purchase much smoother.

Contact Florida’s Choice Realty

It is understandable to have additional questions and need further guidance. If so, give Florida’s Choice Realty a call. We can help you find the condo, townhouse or single-family dwelling of your dreams.

Begin your search for real estate in Jacksonville by working with a trusted Realtor from Florida’s Choice Realty. We’ll make your dream of home ownership a reality.