Everyone knows Florida is a magnet for northern short-term vacationers (“tourists”) and long-term sojourners (“snowbirds”). Apart from the interlopers looking for a week or so of frivolity and indulgence there are those intent upon a 3 – 6 month respite from snow and cold. The demographics of the travelers generally reflects the age of the participants and retirement affords the critical demarcation. In addition to that distinction, the cost of the privilege to linger in Florida tends to escalate incrementally with each degree of decent along the peninsula.
There is another factor to bear in mind. The further south one travels, the more focussed are the logistics. Many places in Florida (especially the prime properties along the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast or along the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast) are importantly directed to different markets. The fundamental dissimilarity is between the visitor and the seasonal dweller. In many instances the real estate is not the distinguishing element. Some very elegant beach-front condominiums for example cater primarily to people spending time for a week or two. These properties can include what are ostensibly hotels which are in fact privately owned condominium apartments managed by the hotel. The “rooms” are booked and let through the customary reservation process. In some instances the distinction between short and long-term rentals is one without a difference. If however one is committed to a long-term stopover (say for 3 to 6 months) it can become off-putting to have to endure the constant rotation of inhabitants. Living in such ephemeral circumstances tends to diminish the fulfillment of a residential character and certainly mitigates against the formation of substantive social alliances.
Locating a hibernation residence is not always an easy matter particularly where the targeted environment caters mostly to short-term visitors. The significant factor is that the booking agents are trained only to manage short-term arrangements which translates into having to deal with people who are not in a position to negotiate the terms of a long-term lease. That is, the price of accommodation is the standard weekly rate multiplied by the number of weeks rather than a tailoring of the contract price to reflect the length of the stay. If however one has the fortune to deal with a dedicated property management company (which usually has a restricted client list of owners) then it is more probable that a deal can be negotiated. On the other hand there are not always exclusive property managers available. It may, for example, be necessary to search the area for real estate agents who, while generally bent upon the sale of properties only, may occasionally have a small inventory of rental units. Real estate agents normally lack the proficiency and support-staff of dedicated property managers. It is important to acknowledge too that real estate agents seldom get remunerated for rentals as well as property managers do – with obvious corollary repercussions.
In regions of Florida catering to so-called seasonal dwellers, the agencies often specialize in what one company describes as the “lease of distinctive properties to extraordinary people” emphasizing that it is a full-service property management company. These words have been carefully chosen and are packed with code. First, the properties are up-scale usually offering sea or canal views; second, you better have money to pay for it. The exception to this prescription is dealing with those circulating in places more celebrated for their Bohemian flavour than their “distinctive” element. Key West, for example, is a place where business threatens to trump the goal of purely residential needs. We have discovered for example that certain properties in Key West have the unfortunate coalition of expense and moderation; basically if you want to “waste away in Margaritaville” be prepared to pay handsomely.
As in all matters of choice, not everyone wants or likes the same thing. One of the foremost differentiations is that which broadly insinuates American real estate; namely, gated or not. After having spent seven years frequenting Hilton Head Island, SC I know for a fact that much of that vacation resort is gated, including the most notable “Sea Pines” where we stayed. The same preservation exits throughout Florida from Amelia Island to Longboat Key. As a distinction, gated communities proliferate among the barrier islands which have become the havens of seasonal resort. The barrier islands are traditionally small and flat; and as a result they are habitually quaint and commonly highly accessible by bicycle. The town of Longboat Key has a total area of 16 square miles of which 4.1 is land and 11.9 is water.
Gated communities are naturally largely isolated residential enclaves with very little if any commercial activity (at least apart from golf courses, tennis courts, marinas and waterfront dining establishments). The appeal of these resorts to families is commensurately limited. There is also undeniably a prominent racial overtone though it is largely ignored. Today I cycled on Longboat Key Road around the Longboat Key Club where there is a mixture of vacation rentals and seasonal private residences.
It is utterly impossible not to be captivated by the serenity of this distinctive territory. Like so many residential areas of this nature there is a remarkable lack of activity except during “the season” which is customarily devoted to the months of January, February, March and April. There are still many owners here who are themselves Floridians from other parts and who have taken advantage of the unlimited-in-value homestead exemption for principal residences from forced sale of former ½-acre modest homes (now demolished and replaced by ornate structures) provided to homesteaders under the Florida Constitution.