Thursday, February 9, 2017

Deciding on a Home - Cypress Lakes, Lakeland, Florida

While on holiday in Florida, we began wondering about owning our own place. After all, we figured that the rental fees for 3 or 4 months in a place like Cypress Lakes (as much as $2,500/mo) could almost cover the cost of the yearly fees to own a place. And for some folks, that could be very true. For us, after buying the yearly cost to keep things running there is a little less than a 4 month rental at $2,500/month.

One of the ponds on the golf course at Cypress Lakes.
If you can afford to buy your unit outright, without needing to borrow or have a mortgage, then depending on where in the park your unit is located ... you could probably own a place instead of renting a place. Whether you decide to rent or own is really a matter of individual needs and tastes - we like things that we feel comfortable changing, and feel comfortable inviting family or friends to come stay in. We wouldn't feel comfortable doing that in a rental because it is, after all, still someone else's property.

However, when you purchase your unit ... that's only the beginning. There are lot fees associated with each unit. For the most part, you own the "home", but not the property (although there are some properties in Cypress Lakes that are "owned", most are rented lots) so in some ways, it's a little like renting a camping space for your travel trailer or motor home, but more complicated because you also pay your utility fees separately.

The pond near the entrance of Cypress Lakes with the fountain.We pay hydro and water/sewer (to the City of Lakeland); we pay for our own cable TV, internet, and home phone (we used Brighthouse, and we're happy with them), we pay home insurance (just like a home in Canada) and service fees to have weeding, or yard spraying done. Garbage pickup is handled by the park, but it's a fee added onto the lot rental fee. And the park handles lawn cutting as well (just not weeding or gardening work).

The lot fees are not the same for every unit, either. Those whose properties back onto the golf course, or directly on a pond or have a pond view (water view they call it) are a different rate than those who don't have those views. Corner lots are different rates too. And once a year, you hike into the City of Lakeland to the Tax Collector's office and pay a fee for the licensing of your manufactured home - its a little like the way we license a car in Canada. You get tags to stick in the window of your unit.

This is the unit we purchased in Cypress Lakes.
This is our home in Cypress Lakes
And ... the park has rules. Lots of them. Oh, most of them are common sense things that you'd find in pretty much any community but because it's a 55+ community, there are rules about who can "live" there. You can rent a unit to someone under 55 for a short stay, but they can't be permanently ensconced in a unit and live there. You can have your under 55 kids and grandkids visit you, and your under 55 kids can use your home for a holiday (say for a couple of weeks). Children under the age of 18 can't use park facilities without an adult (like the pool or gym), and youngsters aren't allowed to roam around the park unaccompanied by an adult. Even when you are renting a unit, you will get a copy of the rules and you do need to follow them.

What we did before actually buying was to ask a lot of questions. We did our homework. We found out about the lot fees, the taxes, the utility fees ... all of that. We made a lot of phone calls, got information from the park offices, talked to Canadians who had bought. Before we actually looked at any units ... we had an idea of what we would be getting into.

Many people don't do that. They want a unit, put in an offer and only discover later that with all the added fees, it's more than they expected. We knew in advance what our fees would be. With that in mind, we decided we could only afford a unit if we could buy it without a loan. That limited us a little in terms of what was available in our price range, but we ended up being very lucky (blessed, really) in what we found.

An outdoor screened porch with a patio table and chairs.
The unit we had rented was actually what got us thinking about it - it was for sale, and although the price was a little higher than what we figured we could pay, it wasn't too far out of range. As we walked through the park (we walked a different area almost every afternoon before supper), we'd see units for sale - some come fully equipped (all the furniture, accessories, etc.) and some don't. Many with a "For Sale" sign also sported a clear acrylic box somewhere near the front of the house with a listing sheet. Often the sheet included a few interior photos of the unit, and all the information you'd find with any normal real estate listing. As we passed these places, we'd collect the listing sheets.

We'd go through them back at our rental unit, discarding ones that were just too far out of our price range, and comparing those left. We discarded some for a variety of reasons (if the furniture is not something you can live with, you need to consider their replacement an additional cost; if the unit isn't large enough for purposes, you probably don't want it either, etc.) and compiled the ones we'd saved.

Vintage sofa in an outdoor lanai.At the end of a week we had enough to really begin considering what unit(s) we wanted to go see. During this time we stopped at a unit that wasn't listed through the park, but privately. The price was about half the amount of some of the lower priced units we were considering (it was not furnished), but the listing sheet was just a paper tacked on the front door with a phone number. We took the number ... and eventually called. Made an appointment to go see the unit, and literally bought it (in our minds anyways) a few moments after stepping inside.

No, it isn't perfect by any means, but right away when I got in the front door I just knew ... anyone having bought a home that felt this way knows what I mean. I knew this was home ... it felt like home, even though it was completely empty. By the time I had walked from the front door to the kitchen I was wondering how I could talk my husband into this (he usually takes forever to make up his mind about anything). After walking the house (me with the wife of the owner, and my husband with the owner) we ended up back in the dining area. By the time the "boys" joined us, we were already old friends ... and so were they. A really unusual experience for us, but even more unusual was my husband's question to me (in front of these owners) ... "Do you want this place?"

I almost couldn't answer him. He NEVER does that sort of thing. It takes him months to decide whether to buy a certain car, never mind a house. He's the kind of person who deliberates over everything, but this time ... I think he felt the same as I did. Sometimes when you know, you just know.

Yes, we did have to furnish it, but ... even after paying for the home, and buying all the furniture and dishes and accessories (well ... no golf cart yet, but we'll get that eventually) this unit still ended up costing us less than the lowest priced unit we had on the listing sheets we'd kept. The house has changed some since I made that slideshow, but this is how it was when we left it last March (2016).

Mists hovering over the pond behind our house at Cypress Lakes. This is frequent in the early morning.
This is really our first year to spend the winter in Florida, so we still have a lot to learn about manufactured homes, but we love our place and I don't know that anything would change that. Sure, we will end up changing some things eventually (you know, like wall paint) but I can't tell you how lucky we were with this unit. It had new windows, and a 2 year old heating/ac unit; fairly new appliances (the dishwasher was a few years old but had only been used twice) ... we could pretty much move in right away (oh, once we had some furniture of course).

When we got the keys we spent our first night (March 1st) sleeping on the floor with zero furnishings.

Still ... this is home here for us ... at least during the winter months, and so far, we love it. Before we leave this year (in April) I'll run around the house taking some updated pictures to share. We've made a few changes (mostly furniture), but the biggest change between the video and now is that our home looks "lived-in" now ... like a home, instead of a rental unit.

Sunrise over Cypress Lakes, Florida

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