Why We Liked, But Left, Sunny Sarasota
With white sandy beaches, a sunny climate and more cultural appeal than many other Floridian cities, Sarasota is a popular retirement destination- and with good reason. Haing lived there for a number of years, here are our lessons learned. While we ultimately chose to leave the sunshine state (and are very happy with our choice!) there are definitely some tempting draws.
First, the positives. With what has been voted the number one beach in America, Siesta Key’s white quartz sand and tropical blue waters offer year round family entertainment- free of charge... if you can get a parking place. The health care is great, downtown continues to undergo redevelopment and outlying communities offer easy proximity to golf courses, shopping (some of the malls offer concierge parking) and entertainment. The ballet, opera and West Coast Black Theatre Troupe are just a few of the cultural amenities on offer.
About 20 minutes drive from downtown, Lakewood Ranch has a number of gated communities and suburban developments with tennis courts, pools, and other modern amenities. Downtown Sarasota is walking distance to historic Laurel Park, which had traditionally been home to a number of quirky bungalows and older homes. Due to land prices, however, many of the cottages have now been razed in favor of McMansions. If Tony Soprano wanted to build a Miami style monstrosity, this would be where he’d do it. ‘West of the Trail’ (that’s Tamiami Trail, the equivalent of Sarasota’s railroad tracks) housing is traditionally more expensive. East of the trail are less impressive homes, more budget friendly, but still easily accessible to downtown.
Siesta Key, one of the nearby islands, is increasingly a vacation destination popular by Spring Break seekers, and traffic in summer can be monstrous- we’re talking one hour or more to get on and off island. By contrast, Lido Key is much more retirement oriented, with a quieter and more laid back ambience. Permits, however, can be sticky- at one point, you needed a permit even to paint the interior of your home a different color.
Also walking distance to downtown, Gillespie Park (where I lived) offered cute and funky bungalows. Unfortunately, the crime was above my comfort level. While you will always want to do your own research, much of downtown Sarasota remains affected. To a large extent, Sarasota remains racially segregated and tensions are palpable. Make sure you check out a neighborhood at night and walk the blocks, before writing an offer.
If you’re considering moving here, there are cons to consider. Traffic in summer swells significantly. Flood /hurricane insurance can equal or even exceed your mortgage, especially if you own an older home in an ‘at risk’ are. This is an additional coverage to your standard ‘homeowners’ insurance, and if you have a mortgage your lender may more than likely require both coverages. It is not uncommon to find older homes with homeowners insurance polices that are a fraction of the flood insurance coverage- for example, $2000 and $10,000, respectively. Yes, you read that right. ALWAYS be sure to obtain homeowners and flood insurance quotes personally for the home you are considering, before writing an offer or purchasing a home. I was licensed as both a real estate agent and a mortgage loan officer in this state; I cannot overestimate the importance of doing your research, before you buy.
In addition, make sure you are prepared for property tax sticker shock- not when you are looking at homes, but after you take title- your bill may double, triple, or increase even more so- and quickly. This is because Florida operates a Save Our Homes act, which limits the appreciation that an assessment of a property can be changed by. If memory serves, to 3% a year. So, if you are buying a home for 700,000 that has been owned by the same family for 30 years, their assessed value could conceivably be less than $150,000. When the property is re-assessed (the prior assessment does not transfer to the new owners as a grandfathered benefit) your assessment (and therefore your property taxes!) are likely to increase significantly. Further, Florida is one of the most expensive states to insure your vehicle in- always call your insurance carrier to get a quote of what your new premium will be, prior to making the move. My auto insurance doubled, moving from VT to FL- and I had a ‘perfect’ record.
Please always consult with a financial planner before moving. Yes, there is a savings in the state income tax- just make sure that the sticker shock of the other costs will not turn your budget upside down.
Ultimately, while we did love the sunshine and the beaches, both of us are working professionals. In our 30’s and 40’s, we wanted to be in an environment with many other couples our age- although very popular as a retirement destination, Sarasota is by no means a place to move for job mobility or if you are a young professional with a career focus outside of health care and the service industry generally.
Having travelled extensively both nationally and internationally, we were looking for historic neighborhoods that were affordably priced and walking distance to downtown. While we appreciate the befefits of gated living, we preferred kayaking to golfing. A fun and funky downtown, a preference for small independently owned shops, great eats, an abundance of dog parks and playgrounds- we found this all in Wilmington NC... and for far less than we would have paid in Sarasota. The open air concerts, and the laid back hippie vibe are a throwback of what Sarasota used to be, until so many of the areas changed hands.
Bottom line: If you enjoy boating, drinking, golf clubs and shopping, if chain restaurants (good ones) are a draw, if you are entering retirement and looking for a place in the sun to call home, Sarasota is a great contender. The gated communities often offer security on site, which many people appreciate. If, however, you favor more independently run cafes and coffee shops, if you enjoy walkable historic communities, if you’re looking for a fun and funky downtown, come check out the port city of Wilmington NC. The beaches are great, the prices are less and the local airport provides easy and reliable transport. There’s a reason we are one of the fastest growing cities in the USA.
Samira | Wilmington, NC