Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jumping the Gun

OK, I was going along all nice and chronological, and my next post was supposed to be about how I house shopped from far and near, but I am here in Titusville right now, and I just have to post a bit about the here and now.

The weather is a bit unsettled, with some storm fronts scudding across, yet it is also sunny in between, and the temperatures are balmy, in the low 80s. The weather man says we have some fronts to get by before we come up with perfect weather for the weekend.  In Detroit it is cold and gloomy and windy and rainy, and the power has been knocked out a time or two. I am glad to be here! 

Florida Today is predicting Winter Weather tonight.  Here is what they call winter weather:

Temperatures tonight will dip into the mid-50s and only rise to about 72 tomorrow. These temperatures will be the norm through the weekend, NWS forecasters said.

Bring it on!

My faithful dog Ginger is busy chasing lizards in the fenced yard.  It is her new mission in life to exorcise the world of chameleons and geckos or whatever they are.  I, on the other hand, having watched them expertly catch many gnats on the screen in front of me here, really wish to preserve the little creatures, as they are performing a valuable service. Anyone trying to enjoy an evening walk while surrounded by a cloud of gnats will doubtless agree with me.

There was a huge ominous black cloud going over and a lot of wind.  The temperature dropped a lot, into the 70s it feels like.   It's lightening up now, looks like it missed us, at least this part of it.

Back to the Chronological Order of the Tale

I left off the story heading home from Titusville in March 2009, with plans to return the next February.  Back home in Detroit, I was interested in what kind of homes were for sale, as the real estate market was really starting to change.  I wanted to keep track of the market in Titusville, and see if anything really interesting came up.  Researching on the Web, I found listings on several different sites, and subscribed to some of them:

Realtytrac monitors the foreclosures, preforeclosures and auctions in any given area.  You can sign up for a seven day free trial, and after that, there is a monthly fee, or you can cancel.  This site seemed most helpful in identifying distressed property, so if you are interested in that, it's a great resource.

Zillow is another site that will show you what is available in any given neighborhood.  It might not be the most up to date, but it has a lot of information on some of the houses in any given neighborhood.  I found this one most helpful, because I could use their maps to explore an area and then narrow it to look at a specific block.  This is a free site.

Florida Today is a local news site for Brevard County, of which Titusville is county seat.  Their real estate search is powered by and you can customize the search to fit your interests. It is another free site.

The Brevard County Property Assessor provides full information about any particular property you want to look up.  Program the search engine for Real Estate Records by Property Address in most cases. You can find the owner name and information, square footage, tax information and more. Plus they have great aerial maps of the homes.  With a little practice, you can look up places by tax ID number if that is the only info you can find on the property.  Some sales sites will hide the address and just give the tax ID number.

I had a few other sites I looked at but these were the workhorses for my search.  They helped me identify which neighborhoods I might be interested in, by proximity to shopping, the Indian River, exits off I-95,  and more.  I also used the map programs, like Google maps, and Bing, to look more closely at homes that caught my interest, and to identify resources in the neighborhood. You can program Google Map to show you restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, churches in the area of the home in the Search Nearby field.   I liked the Bird's Eye view on the one site, and I liked to "drive" up and down the streets to look at the neighboring houses in the Street View feature.  Next best thing to actually being there.

Over the course of the summer, I compiled a list of houses I might like to see.  I contacted a realtor who sent me listings from her company's site, Tropical Realty.  These were very helpful as well.  The realtor told me that I could not expect to find these same houses still for sale in February, but she would help me whenever I needed help to see a listing or find out more about one, or any way she could help me.  She has now moved on to Re/Max which also has great listing information available. I recommend this realtor, Anita Lytle, for any realty issues in Brevard County.  She is very knowledgeable of the area and real estate in general.

To make a long story a bit shorter, come the next February, I did get in touch with Ms. Lytle, and we looked at some of the very houses I had listed in the summer. Real estate was not moving so much.  We came up with the same objections from Dear Husband, the ones in the neighborhoods I like were "too cheap."  Well, we can keep looking.

Next time:  We find The House in The Neighborhood that DH wants!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy

The worst thing about Michigan in February is the darkness.  It really seems as though the are no sunny days from sometime in late January through early March.  It's all dreary darkness with cold and slush and ice thrown in to make a mix of misery.  In Florida, it really seemed that there was sun on every single day. Even on days when it rained, it only rained for a couple of hours, and the sun was out the rest of the day.  My spirits improved so much, and my dog and I got to walk outside a lot more than we would in cold slippery sloppy Michigan. 

My sister came to spend two weeks with me in Titusville, from cold, dark and icy Seward, Alaska.  She spent nearly 24 hours in flight and layovers to get to Orlando.  All the same she felt it was worth it.   We ate oranges and walked out in the sun, took convertible rides in the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, and rode the airboat.  We also tested many of the local eateries.  Among our favorites were Dixie Crossroads, Corky Bell's, Catfish Cabin.  Check them all out and see the different offerings. The fish is so fresh, it is nothing like what we can get in most parts of the midwest.

We enjoyed some shopping expeditions, too. Ron Jon's Surf Shop was a lot of fun, featuring two big floors of surf and beach gear and decor and fun items.  We also had a wonderful time at Cocoa Village, which is a beautiful old fashioned style shopping area sited right in old downtown Cocoa.  There are gift shops, home decor, clothing, linens, crafts, artists and a hardware store that is over a century old.  One shop has items made from recycled materials like pop tabs, gum wrappers, tin.  Ice cream, coffee, sandwiches, and sit down fare can all be obtained.  We tried Ossorio for the ice cream and coffee, and they also have nice pizzas and sandwiches.  You order at the counter and wait while your food is prepared. There are lots of tables both inside and outside.  Murdock's is also really good.

You might guess that I was getting pretty attached to the place.  I originally planned to try Titusville for one winter, and then try another place the next winter. I was flirting with the idea of Tubac Village, an old town reviving as an artist colony south of Tucson.   We've been in Arizona and really liked the Tucson area a lot.  But as the month went on, I was having a hard time sticking to that.  Titusville had its hooks in me already.

Titusville is a good sized small town, something over 40,000 residents.  It started in the 1850s as Sand Point, but the post office was short lived. After the Civil War, Confederate Col Henry Titus arrived to settle on land owned by his wife Mary Hopkins, laying out streets and building a hotel and donating land for four churches and a courthouse. Railroads arrived and a station was built in 1892.  Citrus produce was a prime product shipped from the area.  The town grew up and down the river bank.  Indian River City was four miles south.  The railroad ran north and south a short distance west of the river, and much of the development hugged the shoreline.   US Highway 1, Washington Avenue, follows the shoreline and carries city traffic.  You can drive north on Highway 1 up past St. Augustine and Jacksonville, and on up to the Canadian border in Aroostook County, Maine.  South it will take you to Miami and beyond to Key West. Nowadays I-95 will speed you along the same general route about five miles west of US 1. 

Mmy rental house is in old Indian River City.  The house was built in the 20s.  Many of the houses standing in the area today date from the teens and 20s.   I was comfortable with the area, and on our walks, my sister and I would look for houses for sale, just for fun.  We didn't see many, and none were from the older era.  There are a lot of what I would call infill house that came along later, in the 50s and 60s, producing a uniform look in lot size, with a few of the older large farm style lots remaining.
I started to explore other neighborhoods, just to expand my house hunting territory.  Houses on the other side of the tracks were newer, 50s and 60s, and as you head west and north, you come into 70s, 80s, 90s and 21st century neighborhoods. Midway to downtown, there is the La Cita Country Club neighborhood, quite upscale, beautiful houses, with neighborhood rules on property maintenance.  La Cita is a beautiful private golf course where you can be a member whether you live in the neighborhood or not.  Likewise, living in the neighborhood doesn't make you a member.  Nearby is Royal Oak Country Club, a municipal golf course.  It has fewer amenities but is still very nice, with homes in the neighborhood ranging from about  $90,000 to $300,000.   There are no restrictions.  I was thinking maybe a golf community would be a good investment.  There is easy access to shopping from both of these two communities, and the golf courses would be attractive to retirees wanting to improve their winter options.

This first year I was there, February 2009, the housing markets were still near the top of the bubble range of pricing. Sellers were beginning to realize they could not recoup the value of their home as established during the bubble, so prices were coming down.  The shuttle program shutdown was in the offing, and people were beginning to worry about being able to sell if they needed to move.

We were feeling like we could get a nice house for a reasonable amount if we could agree on the neighborhood and kind of house.  We did have some serious disagreements on those points.  I wanted a three bedroom one story house in "the neighborhoods" between US 1 and the tracks.  Hubby wanted more space, a bigger house, and a HUGE garage.  Or did he?  "Tis true,. every house we looked at in my target neighborhood, he nixed as "too small" or "built too cheap."  Every house in the golf neighborhoods was "too costly" or "not the right look."  I was partial to some houses built as a community just south of St. Theresa's Church, off Court Street, on Royal Palm Court, Citrus Court, Flamingo Court.  They were all built in the 1950s, from the same plan, three bedrooms, 1.5 baths, carport.  The baths were really creative. One opened off the master bedroom, just the toilet and sink.  Another door opened to the tub with shower. In that room, a door opened to the other half bath which opened to the hall.  I've been told this is called a Jack & Jill bath, with private facilities and a shared tub.  There were lots of palm trees, nice big lots, and most had big Florida rooms on the back.  They were also "too small and too cheap."

Hubby liked some houses up along Indian River Avenue south of downtown.   Of course, they were listed for upwards of $600,000, and most were two story Victorian style, with 1.5 baths.  I nixed those because we couldn't afford them, and I wanted a one story house.  I did love the neighborhood, but couldn't see how we could afford it at all.

And so we left Titusville to return to Michigan, our appetites whetted but no sign of agreement.  Our landlord offered us the Spanish house for the next February, and all I had to do was leave the deposit.  Done!  We will be back!

Next,  how we continued to house hunt and plan expeditions for February 2010.