Tuesday, January 23, 2018

55+ Communities in Florida

I've recently started looking at some of the other 55+ communities in Florida ... for several reasons. We love our home here, but the lot fees in our park are increasing at a rapid pace, and for those enormous increases we receive little ... what the resort does for us is nothing more than cut our grass once a week and collect our garbage.

The clubhouse building a Cypress Lakes resort 55+ community in Lakeland, Florida.
We pay our own utility fees. Yes, there is a clubhouse with a lot of activities, but many of those activities aren't hosted by the resort - they're hosted and produced by the Homeowners Association, which charges additional fees (very minor compared to our lot fees).  In the last 2 winters I didn't use the clubhouse at all ... swam in the pool twice, and have never used the hot tub or any other facilities. I'm not a fan of restricted usage in the gym, so I don't use it any more. I walk outdoors, and work out with weights in my livingroom.

The only thing I feel is worth what we pay is the park security ... the guardhouse is manned 24/7 and nobody gets in here that shouldn't be in here. That does provide a lot of peace of mind, but in all honesty, lots of parks provide similar security and have lower lot fees.

Of course they pay the office staff (who are very helpful, can't really complain about that), and for some of the exercise classes offered free (which we don't use), so I suppose I can't say we get nothing at all...just that we have no use for some of the things we seem to pay for.

One of the golf course ponds at Cypress Lakes Report, Lakeland Florida.
There are 2 tournament quality golf courses right up there at the clubhouse but ... and this is a big BUT, they certainly aren't free and so aren't part of what we pay our lot fees for. The cost to golf on those courses is expensive, and yearly membership at the golf club is incredibly expensive, and only slightly reduces how much you still have to pay each time you golf. I don't see the golf courses as a bonus to us ... neither of us golf.

So thinking over the monthly costs, I've begun to wonder what else is out there. There are a lot, though some of them look as though they'd be equally expensive in terms of lot fees, and many of the ones that don't seem so expensive also don't provide the things my husband enjoys. It's really a toss-up.  He says we can afford this, probably for the next five years but to me it's not a matter of affording it ... it's more a matter of the value we get for the money we spend.

A bridge for golf carts on the course at Cypress Lakes Resort, Lakeland Florida.
Golf Course Bridge
Looking through some of the other parks and resorts online is interesting, and some look very similar to where we are, but none list actual lot fees. That probably means most of them are close to what we're paying, and some of the housing prices are a lot more than what we paid for ours.

Scotland Yards looks pretty nice, but the housing prices are a lot more than ours and some of the houses are older like ours. The new units are beautiful though, and don't look like MH homes. The same company that manages that one also has two in North Fort Meyers, and one in Bonita Springs (my husband's cousin and his wife live there). I like the one in Bonita Springs for a simple reason ... it's close to a real, actual beach on the ocean.

The beach at New Smyrna Beach.
New Smyrna Beach
That's what I came to Florida for, but ... we are not close to a beach (40 mins from Bradenton Beach, 70 minutes from Smyrna Beach, 40 mins to Tampa) and so I've yet to step foot into the ocean ... 3 years later. I wonder if I ever will?  The problem with Bonita Springs is the same as Scotland Yards ... expensive housing compared to ours, and no idea what the lot fees would be.

A Palm Harbour maufactured home in Lakeland, florida.
Palm Harbour Manufactured Home
That's the other issue ... if you decide to move, are you going to be able to sell your own place?  Not with the lot fees what they are, or if you do, you'll be selling for a lot less than the house is worth BECAUSE the lot fees are so high. It's a bit of a catch-22.

We did know what we were getting into when we bought. We spent time researching everything before we decided, but we didn't expect our lot fees to soar to prices so high they top any mortgage payment we've ever made in our lives. Seems a lot for what we get. I think I'd rather pay the city taxes than the park lot fees. According to the tax calculator, we'd be paying roughly 2 months worth of what we pay for our lot fees for an entire year of taxes.

That could only happen if were to buy the lot our house sits on, and of course we could only do that if the park opted to sell it to us, and at a fee commensurate with other similar properties.

The small backyard behind a manufactured home in Lakeland, Florida.
To be fair, I can't say we don't love it here, because we do. The lot fees would probably be less of a bother if it was our only home, but it isn't. The lot fees we pay are more than twice what we pay for our property taxes back in Canada, and we are pretty highly taxed there (and have more house, and more property than what we have in Florida). Our "back yard" in Florida isn't much, and lacks anything, but we do have some plans for a deck or something back there.

Something seems really wrong with that. At least back in Canada, we know our taxes cover city services, and high expense items like snowploughing the roads, and the education system. Not so much here. Lot fees cover very little.

The rumour this year in the resort is that they're trying to sell it, though to me that's just a rumour that has no confirmation. I have no idea what the cost of running the resort is, but a very small portion of the park encompasses about 200 lots with houses on it ... a SMALL portion. Most of them (the majority) have either a golf-course lot (backs onto the golf course); a "waterfront" lot (backs onto a pond), or a "waterview" (no access to the pond but you can see it from your windows or yard), and all of these homes pay a premium fee. We have a waterview ... whether a waterfront or golf-course lot actually costs more than we pay, I don't know but if so ... judging by the number of lots with homes in resort they make enough from the residents that it doesn't make sense to sell it off.

One of the many ponds in Cypress Lakes Resort, Lakeland, florida.
Cypress Lakes 55+ Community, Lakeland, florida
And the resort's about page says the group that owns the resort also owns others, and has never sold even one of them, so ... a rumour is just a rumour and is something to ignore unless it happens.

Anyway, I think I'll push my husband to go looking at other places - maybe we'll find the costs are similar, or maybe we'll find we don't like the places as much, but at least it will give us something to compare with our community.

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