Southwest Florida Real Estate FAQ Sheet
As a Realtor, there are some questions that I get asked over and over and over again. Usually they are the kind of questions that people want to hear "from the horse's mouth"; that is to say that they don't trust their Aunt Sally or AskJeeves.com, they want to know the answer from a Realtor. There are also questions that I get asked less frequently that I have added to this list because I think they are pertinent and things that you, the Southwest Florida homebuyer or homeseller, should know the answer to.
Q. My cousin lives in Florida and said that they get a Homestead Exemption on their taxes. What is the Homestead Exemption and how does one get it?
A. I hear this question, or a variant of it, quite often. The answer seems simple, but it can get a little complex if you're trying to figure out precisely how the Homestead Exemption applies to you directly. Simply stated, homestead exemption can apply to you IF you a) own a property in Florida, b) live in or on the property on January 1st, and c) live in this home a majority of the year.
If you meet all three of these restrictions, you are eligible for the $25,000 homestead exemption. It places a cap of 3% per year on the amount of property tax the appraiser can place on your property, which can come in handy. As long as you meet the three requirements stated above, all that's needed to apply for the exemption is a copy of your deed, your voter's registration and a Florida driver's license. Not too shabby, huh?
Q. I am trying to sell my home. Why should I use a Realtor?
A. It is possible to sell your home yourself, so why would you want to pay commission to someone to do it for you?
Strictly speaking, Realtors make a living by knowing their market inside and out. Realtors have the ability to list your home on the MLS or Multiple Listing Service, which is a way for all the other realtors to see your home and present it to their buyers. A Realtor will be so in tune with the market in a given area that they will be able to take a look at your home and give you a price range in which it would sell easily. They do this by using their knowledge of the area and the current market conditions combined with the data the MLS gives them.
You might be able to put your home up for sale for what YOU think it is worth, but if nobody else agrees then you may have that "for sale" sign up in your yard for many more seasons than you intended. A Realtor will be working for you to get your home sold for the most amount of money in the shortest amount of time. If someone makes an offer on your home that is less than what you are asking for it, they will give you their experienced advice on whether or not to accept the offer, and negotiate the deal on your behalf.
They also ensure that all the paperwork is done correctly and that you are not getting stepped on during any part of the process. When you use a Realtor, you have a built-in network of people working for you, both directly and indirectly. Directly, you have your Realtor and their team of staff/assistants. Indirectly, you have hundreds or even thousands of Realtors searching the MLS for homes to present to their buyers - Realtors will not present a "for sale by owner" home to their buyers for one primary reason: There's NO commission promised! The MLS system promises Realtors a certain percentage of commission.
In conclusion, if you are willing to do all the footwork, physical labor, research and information gathering yourself, then you may not need a Realtor. Just be aware that you'll have to find your own buyers...what are the chances that one will just drive past your home-made sign and dial the number on it?
Q. I've been trying to sell my home for what feels like eternity. I've done everything I can - cleaned it out, fixed the (fill in blank), I even listed it with a Realtor! What am I doing wrong?
A. If your home is listed with a Realtor and it's not selling, there are a few things you should consider. First, is your Realtor doing his job? Your Realtor should be doing the following online marketing AT MINIMUM:
•· The Realtor's company website (i.e. Remax.com)
•· The Realtor's own website (if he has one, which he should, and a good one!)
If all of these avenues are being taken advantage of, then your next step is to lower your price. Ask your Realtor for a suggestion, but if the price is as low as it goes and there's not even any offers being made, maybe the condition of your property is not as pristine as you think. Get an outside opinion, and when someone gives you advice, take it! Even if it means ripping down wallpaper, replacing carpet or painting the walls; it may seem like a lot of work now, but it will be well worth your time, effort and money when you are sitting at the closing table.
Q. What is Southwest Florida like? Why do I want to live there?
A. Why WOULDN'T you?!? Southwest Florida, for those of you who aren't familiar with the layout of the state, is a section that runs from Tampa down to Naples, roughly. It encompasses some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and definitely the best cities in the state of Florida.
From North to South, the more notable cities in Southwest Florida are Tampa, St. Petersburg, Brandon, Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, North Port, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, Fort Myers and Naples.
The weather is perfection - the year-round average is about 72 degrees, which is the perfect weather for all those beaches I mentioned earlier. There is a LOT of stuff to do; if you like baseball, catch a Tampa Bay Rays game. There plenty of shopping around with everything from awesome thrift stores to high-end department stores and outlet malls. Sarasota is a hub for arts and cultural events, and sprinkled in amongst all the larger metropolitan areas are the smaller cities that make excellent places to live, such as North Port, Port Charlotte, Venice and Punta Gorda.
If you like golf, tennis, boating or social events, then pretty much every city in Southwest Florida has a place nearby that you can participate in one or more of these activities. They're everywhere! State Parks abound also, as the Florida Park Service boasts 32 state parks in the Southwest Florida region, which is more than any other region in the state! This means that a great portion of the area is protected forests, trails, waterways and beaches, all of which translate into more "Real Florida" for you to explore.
Q. I would like to buy a home. Why should I use a Realtor?
A. First, drive around the whole area you would like to live in and pick out a few neighborhoods or communities that you like. That already sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? Why not just call a Realtor, who will explain to you all the areas of the city and even provide you with data, statistics, typical home pricing and local amenities? Besides, if you buy a home through a Realtor, it's not costing YOU anything extra; the Realtor gets a percentage of the sale!
A Realtor can help out in a lot of different ways when you are a buyer looking for somewhere to land. First of all, they have access to the MLS, which is not just a list of homes for sale, but also a link to important data that will help you decide what you will and won't pay for a home. Let's say that you saw a condo for sale for $200,000. The very next condo is exactly the same - same interior features, same location, same everything, but it sold for $179k about 2 weeks ago. If you had the MLS on your side and knew that the condo next door sold for only $179k, would you be as thrilled to pay $200k for this condo? NO! You would probably offer much less, because you are armed with the knowledge of a recent sale.
Additionally, a Realtor will represent you in hairy situations such as negotiations and at the closing table. Using a Realtor, there shouldn't be any surprises when you get to closing, and you will be protected in your agreement with the seller. What about taxes? Insurance? Home warranties? Your Realtor can help you with all of these things.
Q. I'm buying a home soon. Do minor home problems (such as leaks, cracks, things not working) have to be disclosed to me? OR I am selling my home - do I have to disclose all the little things that are wrong with my home?
A. YES and YES! Here in the sunshine state, it is required by law that all KNOWN problems with the home be disclosed by the seller in a document known as the Seller's Property Disclosure. It is a 3-6 page document which asks detailed questions. If you're the seller, just answer all the questions as honestly as possible and things will be fine. If you're the buyer, you should be able to trust that the Seller's Property Disclosure is accurate. The accuracy of this document is so important that if something is not disclosed, the Realtor could lose his or her license, the seller could be taken to court, and needless to say, your contract for purchase will probably be null and void.
Q. When negotiating, is there a limit? Is there such a thing as an offer that is "too low"?
A. Yes. Generally speaking, I wouldn't offer less than 5% less than the asking price. That being said, you have more wiggle room on a higher priced home than a lower priced home. As I said, this is a general rule - there are times when you can offer 15% or 20% less than the asking price, like when you have the data to prove that that is what the home is worth. Likewise, there are times in certain markets when offers are made that are more than the asking price. The thing to keep in mind is that you want your initial offer to be lower than the asking price, but not SO MUCH lower that the seller is offended and doesn't even make a counter-offer. The counter-offer is your goal, because that is the process that helps you bridge the gap between what you are willing to pay and what they are willing to accept.
Something else to keep in mind with negotiating is that there is a lot of other things available to negotiate besides just the price! You can negotiate closing costs and fees, home warranties, even the closing date and plenty of other things that your Realtor will be able to outline for you.
Q. What is the difference between a Short Sale and a Foreclosure?
A. A Short Sale is when the amount owed on the home is more than the home is actually worth. It's like being "upside down" in your home. It could also be called a distress sale, because the owners of the home are surely in distress to sell the home as soon as possible while they are still able to make payments. However, when they stop making payments, then it becomes a Foreclosure. A Foreclosure is when the owner has stopped making payments and the bank has taken over the property.
Q. What are the different types of construction that is typical in Southwest Florida?
A. In many parts of the United States and even in other regions of Florida, it is common to see brick homes built on a wood frame. This is not so common in Southwest Florida, most homes here are stucco on the outside, concrete block on the inside. The reason for this is simple: generally, when a home is built, there is a desire for some type of brick/cement/block involved in the primary framing. This is so the home stands better to wood destroying organisms, strong winds that may come from storms such as hurricanes and tornados, and is more resistant to fire. So, having either a brick home with a wood frame or a stucco home with a concrete block frame is a solid home!
What isn't the best idea is having a stucco home with a wood frame. Stucco and wood, when used together with no bricks/cement/blocks of any kind is a dream come true for wood destroying organisms. It also doesn't stand as strong in high winds, and during a fire it will burn faster and lose its structurally integrity quickly.
Often these stucco and wood frame homes are reinforced in other ways, which certainly helps, but there's just no substitute for some kind of hefty brick!
Q. What is a CDD Fee?
A. CDD stands for "Community Development District". It is basically something that was written into Florida law that allows for an additional amount to be owed on your taxes if you live in one of the CDD areas. It is commonly used in large communities to pay for infrastructure or amenities. It is easy to find out what the CDD Fee will be prior to even submitting an offer on a home, as well as what the fee helps fund. In some cases, a CDD Fee may be well worth it if it provides things to your community that you believe in funding. Likewise, in some cases, CDD Fees are seen as a waste of money.
Personally, I would recommend finding out exactly how much the CDD Fee will be, and then finding out for yourself whether or not it's worth it. If you are living in an area with a CDD Fee, you should be able to reap the benefits!
Q. Who do I call for water/sewage/garbage/electric/internet/phone service?
A. This depends largerly on where you live, so here's a quick breakdown for North Port and Port Charlotte:
- Comcast Cable: 941-625-6000
- Florida Power & Light: 1-800-226-3545
- Verizon Phone & Internet Service: 1-800-483-3000
- Embarq Phone & Internet Service: 1-800-339-1811
- City of North Port Utilities: 941-426-9500
- Charlotte County Utilities: 941-764-4300
- Garbage Recycling Pickup: 941-423-7220
- Vehicle Registration: 941-627-4262
- North Port City Hall: 941-429-7000
- North Port Chamber of Commerce: 941-423-5040
Now you're armed with some basic knowledge! Have other real estate questions? Why not ask an expert?