Welcome to Part Two of my relocation series! If you missed the beginning of this series where I interview fellow TouringPlans bloggers, Julia Mascardo and Natalie Reinert about weather and finances, read Part One to hear more about relocating to Florida.
Today, we’re going to discuss housing and living within close proximity to Walt Disney World. Let’s begin!
Buying property is some serious business, so take your time finding your own fairytale castle. First, decide what type of home you want. Do you fancy a condo? Apartment? House?
Also, decide what to do with your old home. Will you wait until your house sells before moving, or will you keep both your old house and new Florida property? Finding a new home is a big deal, so do your research and enjoy the exciting experience!
Julia: If you’re only staying a few months out of the year, it is probably better to just rent a vacation home so you’re not paying condo fees year-round. The other really good option is to buy a vacation home and rent it out for the months you aren’t living there. (That’s if you can afford to own two houses, that is!)
One funny thing is that when you say you’re moving to Florida, everyone says that they will come down and visit – but in reality, people don’t come down here as often as you’d think. I guess people just feel weird about mooching a place to stay when they are on vacation and you have to work. 🙂
Below are three popular websites to help you with your home search. We’ve even used these when finding a home here in Minnesota. Just be sure to do a walk through. As we’ve learned, pictures can sometimes be deceiving!
Finding the Right Community
Consider spending some extended time in Florida before making any decisions about relocating. It’s one thing to visit twice a year and quite another to reside full time. On vacation, you’re isolated from the day to day traffic, homelessness, crime, temperament of the locals, etc. Spend some time in the areas you’re considering and get comfortable. Go to the grocery store, check out the parks, eat at a few restaurants.
If you know Florida residents in the community, talk with them about the area. If you don’t know anyone, scour the internet. City-data.com is a great resource to find information such as population demographics, crime statistics and even hospitals and colleges nearby.
Did you know anyone in the area already?
Natalie: I grew up here, so my family is nearby and I have quite a few friends and colleagues here.
Julia: We had some friends in the area, which is very helpful for getting settled. Because so many people are transplants, the area is very accepting for new people coming in.
For a more in-depth research opportunity, you can attend a police academy citizens course. This is an eight week experience where you can do drive alongs (including at night) with different officers and get the chance to really learn about the neighborhoods and community. It’s a lesser known option, but is a sure way to discover which areas are safe and which to avoid.
Julia: I’ve never heard of the citizen’s course, but it sounds like a neat program. Down here, it is pretty clear what’s a good neighborhood and what is an area to avoid just by driving through, but the quirky thing is that the good neighborhood and the bad neighborhood are usually only a few blocks from each other. Everything is really mixed here.
What did you look for when finding a school for your children?
Natalie: I would say parents have to do the same thing in central Florida that they have to do in NYC – research the schools and buy/rent into the very best school district that they can. For some people this will be Lake Mary, or Windermere, or Bay Hill. We are going with Celebration.
Julia: My husband and I have a daughter (age 4), and part of the reason we left the DC area for Florida is because the schools in our area up north were one degree away from horrendous. The schools in Florida are incredibly hit or miss, and we did a lot of research on sites like GreatSchools and SchoolDigger before we moved.
Overall, Seminole County has the best average of schools. While there are some better and worse, it is hard to find a bad school in Seminole County, although the area with the most buzz is Lake Mary.
Orange County is a huge place, so you’ve got exceptional schools and you’ve got miserable schools. Like Natalie said, what you’ll hear most often is people suggesting Winter Park, Dr. Phillips, and Windermere as the better areas and everything else going from okay to bad.
Moving on to Osceola County, it can vary wildly. Celebration isn’t as awesome as it once was, but it still is good. When you get out towards areas like Poinciana, some of the schools decline in quality. Out towards Clermont, Lake County schools aren’t bad. The only area where I would avoid like the plague is Polk County. I have never heard anyone say anything positive about the schools down there, and their test scores show a certain….lack of quality.
There are a variety of magnet school programs in the counties, and private schools are available as well. One nice benefit down here that we found is that voluntary Pre-K is free. If it ends up that the public school in your area that offers Pre-K is full, you get a voucher to send your child to private school for that year. We had our daughter in private school up north, and it was a massive savings to move down here with that. So far, the quality of education has also been exceptional.
On the off chance that a brick-and-mortar school doesn’t work for our daughter as she gets older, Florida does a lot more with having good options for virtual education and online programs than is available up here at present.
Looking very long term, should our daughter decide to go to college, Florida has a greater number of really good in-state tuition options than Maryland, just because of the size of the state. If college is not where she wants to go, there are many more good options for trade schools in a variety of disciplines. There’s also good options for continuing education options for my husband and I. (And not just at Disney Institute, although….)
Natalie: While the overall rating of Florida schools is terrible (we all know this) and while the curriculum of the Florida schools is not as fast-paced as some northeastern schools, there are still plenty of excellent schools where students excel. I went to school for much of my education in Brevard County (the county to the east of Orlando) and had good experiences. I was even able to do dual enrollment starting in my junior year of high school and left high school with a year’s worth of college credits. No complaints here. And yes, Florida does have an excellent state university system.
Julia: In the end, it all comes down to doing some research. Because schools are desirable, expect to pay a bit more for housing to get into a community with a better school system.
The Disney Distance
Is there a higher density of homes the closer you get to Walt Disney World?
Julia: Like almost everything in Florida, it is a big ol’ it depends. On the north side of property (Winter Garden/Horizon West and Windermere, and even up into Dr. Phillips), there are some apartments and condos, but it is largely single-family homes.
If you head west out of property, once you get beyond the tourist bubble (Taking 192 out past 27), there is a lot of empty space with a few pop-up housing communities until you get back to civilization in Clermont.
Going south, you’ll run into places like Reunion and other vacation home areas, and then places like Celebration and eventually Davenport, which are mostly single-family homes.
The only place where you’ll see a lot of high-density apartment living near Disney is in the 192 Kissimmee corridor, and a lot of that is mixed in with hotels and tourist services. Now if you actually want rural land, you will have to go at least 15 minutes from Disney for that.
If you’re moving to be closer to Disney, how close should you live?
Natalie: When I lived five minutes away from the parks, I went constantly, and we loved it. When I moved to a rural area so that I could have horses at home, we lived 35 minutes away, we never went, and we were sad. However, we could still see the fireworks from the roof of my barn, in Polk City.
If people want to visit the parks for an hour after work here, a couple hours on Saturday there, they should really consider living in the western reaches of Orlando, as Julia is doing. There are options at every price point, including tons of apartments in Lake Buena Vista.
Julia: If you’re moving here because you really want to be close to Disney, you’d probably want to find a place about 15 or 20 minutes from any edge of property. Some people may live 30 minutes away, and some will live an hour or two away. There’s no magic location for where Disney folks live, but it does seem to be that the closer you are, the more likely you’ll pop into the parks for a few minutes here or there in the evenings.
We live about five minutes from the back entrance to the Magic Kingdom. From this distance, we can both see and hear the fireworks at night (and if the weather is right, we can hear IllumiNations and any fireworks shows over at Hollywood Studios). I know that people in Celebration can often hear fireworks from the Studios.
Natalie: We are spending some time along the beach now, but we’re in the process of settling permanently in the Celebration area. Then we’ll go from weekly visits for much more frequent ones — a few hours at a park here, an evening at the Boardwalk there.
When you finally take the leap and buy a home, you’ll need to start making moving arrangements. Moving is physically demanding, so make sure you have plenty of help! You can request assistance from friends and family or hire a moving company. How far you’re traveling might determine your mode of transportation. Will you drive a moving truck or fly and have your belongings shipped? If you have a lot of things, it may take multiple trips back and forth to get everything. Hey, no one said relocating was a cake walk!
We’ve wrapped up Part Two. Do you have any tips to consider when buying property in Florida? Let me know in the comments, and stay tuned for Part Three where we’ll delve into the Florida difference and touring the parks as a local!