Southwest Florida. How did you get here and what does it cost to live here?

Southwest Florida. How did you get here and what does it cost to live here?

I moved here from Cincinnati, Ohio. From my house it was two left turns and one right to get on I75,  stay on I75 to the Fort Myers exit, then  five more turns and I was in Fort Myers Villas at my parents Rutenburg home.  But when I first came to visit them when I was in college, I drove my 1964 Ford Falcon from New Jersey. I 75 ended in Tampa, and then it was a series of local roads until I got on Route 41 to traverse  through Sarasota, Punta Gorda, and finally crossing the bridge into Fort Myers. I never remembered much about the ride from Tampa to Fort Myers because by the time I reached the terminus of I75  I had been up for at least 20 hours straight.  For a special treat like Christmas, Dad would send me a ticket to fly “Barbara”  or “Karen”  (National Airlines named their planes back then) into Page Field, then it was a short 15 minute drive to their house.

Today’s newcomers to Fort Myers, Sarasota, Naples, Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral  arrive by car on I75 from the Midwest ( I 75 begins in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and  reaches south to State Road 826 (Palmetto Expressway) and State Road 924 (Gratigny Parkway) in Hialeah, Florida, or they fly into RSW (Southwest Florida International Airport).  The West Coast of Florida is fed from the midwest and I75, the east coast of Florida has I 95 as a feeder from New England and the major East Coast Cities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  This is one of the reasons that Southwest Florida has a more Midwest feel while the East Coast is more “New Yorky”. Southwest Florida has more folks from Chicago, and other cities along I75 .

Arrival by air has only recently included non stop international flights and only Canada and Germany have direct, non stop flights to Southwest Florida. Atlanta and Miami provide many connections to the world from there, but the lack of non stop flights has somewhat shielded our area from more international tourism.

About 5 million people visited just Lee County in 2011 (Visitor Statistics here) and this grew about 5% in 2012 ( Final quarter report no released yet). Most residents here are from somewhere else. One notable exception in my life is Gail, whose mother, now in her 90’s, was born here. When people ask her if she has lived her whole life here, she replies with a smile, “Not Yet…”

Visiting is one thing – what about retiring here or having a second home?  Well, many vacationers first become part time and then full time residents.  My father and mother retired here in 1970. Dad used to keep an index card in his wallet: that card was meticulously updated once a month with his living costs. At the first sign of any interest from his friends from the north he would pull out that card and share his monthly costs of living in Florida. He was as proud of the numbers as he was of KNOWING the numbers.  Back then a common greeting from him was” HiWhereYaFrom”  sort of a one word greeting the got the conversation going.

For many of you that may be thinking of moving to Florida your first visits will be to see friends and you will learn from them about the joys as wells as the costs of living in Florida.  One of my recent columns was about housing choices in Florida for a second home or retirement and you may find it interesting to review before we talk about the cost of living here.

Housing costs vary from single family homes to condos, but it is feasible to buy a homes for under $135,000 .  If you want to look in new communities I suggest viewing this Website on New Homes and Communities, its one of the best summaries of all the new communities like The Plantation.

Now let’s get to the question of what does it cost to live in Florida with some very general statements:

While housing costs start at about $75 per square foot, and the average three bedroom, two bath home is about 1750 square feet,  I would not count on that low of a price. It costs today about $100/sf to build a home (plus land). The best search results on the internet for Southwest Florida are here. The site includes neighboring homes, walking tours, schools in the area, and a map search.   Since housing budgets and tastes vary so much I won’t bother commenting on the cost of your home, but get a good Realtor to help you find a home. (Find a top agent here)

In addition to the price of the house you must add:

Property Taxes:  a good estimate will be 1.5% of the purchase price paid annually.  ( Tax site for lee County)_

Homeowners Insurance: For non water front homes use 1% of the value of the home for a strating budget number.  For homes close to the water this could triple. The best place to get insurance quotes and help in Florida is here

Condo Fees:  Estimate from $.20 to $.38 per square foot per month for condos fees if you are buying a condo

Property Maintenance: depending on the age of the house this could be high.  The big ticket items here are  the roof and  the air-conditioning. On an older home a home owners warranty may be in order. For most homes I would  budget at least $200 a month plus yard maintenance of about $200/ Month

Water:  The water bills vary depending on whether or not you have a well, can use recycled water from the city for irrigation or just have normal water service.   For a two person family, without irrigation the bill could be from $60 to $150 per month. Gail and I have a well for irrigation and recently installed a water saving shower head and our average water bill went down to $60 per month from $90. I also have rain harvesting barrels for the garden needs.

Electric: On any house you are looking at ask your agent to call the utility company and get the last twelve months average electric costs. Here is an area that a new efficient house will more than pay for itself. Condos are much more efficient and can be cooled for as low as $50/month. Single family homes can go high – but the average electric bill is actually below $200/month. (An MA-Green home will be ZERO! ) I have friends that have electric bills upward of $500/month in the summer. Here is a report by FPL on the subject.  They report that half of the homes in Florida have bills under $100/month. 

Other costs.  Keep in mind we have no State income tax here in Florida and while our winter clothing costs are pretty darn low, the price of everything else is similar to the rest of the nation. Labor costs here are lower than much of the nation and so therefore is pay if you come looking for a job. The cost of insurance is not much higher than the rest of the nation unless you get on the water – then it still compares to waterfront up north.

Hope this helps!


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