By Andrew Bartlett

10 methods of buying property in Florida
Writing articles, advice columns and answering readers' queries for property magazines and newspapers inevitably leads to a postbag of antidotes and questions, as well as the odd phone call. These are often from someone who having recently arrived back from Florida, develop what the Americans term, 'buyers' remorse' but can sometimes be a return to realism, after being worn down by the particular sales method they have encountered or simply been unprepared. In most cases they wanted to own a property in Florida but felt let down by the limitations of advice provided and the range of locations and properties they were shown - sometimes they feel they paid too much or bought the wrong property in the wrong area!

The article below examines the implications of different Property buying methods in Florida.

From a for sale board or American property magazine or newspaper
Although this is often a routine method of buying property In the UK, it is certainly not the best method to use in Florida, why is this? Well, the home owner has selected the agent who is selling the property. That agent has advised the buyer on the recommended selling price of the property, they have access to information on comparable properties recently sold. That Agent can therefore not represent you in the most effective format to protect your interests - as a Buyers agent. There are significant legal implications emanating from these representation issues which are not always made apparent to the buyer.

Another problem; commission which is paid by the Seller in Florida is normally split between the Buyers and Sellers Agents. The fact that the Sellers agent is going to receive both commission cheques can occasionally motivate them to persuade you that the transaction should go through, even if you are having doubts. Whereas your own Agent working for you as a Buyers agent has a fiduciary responsibility, specifically to you.

One of the people, who wrote in to the expert's panel on one of the magazines I advise on, illustrates the potential problems that sometimes crop up. They saw a property they loved, went straight round to the Selling agent; put an offer in with them asking their advice. After moving in they discovered neighboring properties were coming on the market at 20% less than they had bought for, additionally their air conditioning, roof and pipes all had hidden defects requiring costly replacement - where was their representation? Ironically a Buyers agent would not have cost them one cent!

From a For Sale by Owner board
Unless you already live in Florida and know the neighbourhood the property is in, don't even go there - some property owners are notorious in charging above the market price for the property, you will have no one to point out the likely pitfalls to you such as does that property have any alterations which fail to qualify under building regulations, etc?

Straight from a Developer
An agent on a development site represents the developer; they are not there to look after your specific interests. You do not pay less for the house by not being represented by a Buyers broker indeed the expectation by most developers is that you will use one. By not using an agent you are vulnerable to one sided contract terms, all to often you will be cajoled into buying unnecessary extras which ratchet up the price and who will tell you that the discounted property being offered has the worst resale potential, due to its positioning - not obvious from the site plan. Thus rather than saving money in many cases you actually end up paying more!

From Paper/Magazine adverts in the UK
The glossiness of a property advert is never a guarantee to the quality and professionalism of that Companies service. Unfortunately this fact is not always picked up. This seems to be a particular factor with some Orlando developments, where sizable marketing budgets can in certain cases reflect large profits for the developer, rather than value for money or a sound investment for you. A particularly enticing photo does not guarantee a sound investment.

From a Guide Book
This is certainly a step in the right direction-but again caution. I am concerned with some of the guides I have been asked to contribute to are clearly outdated, with the original text written years ago and sometimes altered little on reprinting, this can lead to expensive misleading information, such as referring to being in a buyers market when it is very much a sellers market. A major problem is that they are often written a year before publication and some are not revised on at least a yearly basis, a particular problem in identifying market trends.

At an exhibition
My research seems to indicate this can be something of a lottery. Exhibition organizers make their profits from the number and size of stands they sell and visitor entrance fees; many do not monitor the background of the exhibitors.

Florida based companies tend to be under represented as they have to fly staff over as well as pay the exhibition fees, so those particularly outside Orlando do not believe there is enough specific interest to make attendance viable. I have also found visiting various stands incognito that a glossy stand does not necessarily correlate with honesty and accuracy. Some exhibitors may have very sharply dressed sales people, but are they licensed Florida real estate associates accountable to the State of Florida? Do they have knowledge of all locations and developments or focus on a few paying the highest commission rates? Be aware of marketing orientated sales people, selling off plan via a video link, stallholders who are only aware of a few developments or locations or indeed who have never visited Florida.

At a Seminar
Again as part of the research for magazine articles I have attended several of these: one was advertised extensively including in the Financial Times. Looking back on a recent one I attended, to say I was absolutely gob smacked would be an understatement. It consisted of over two hours of psychological babble and emotional twaddle intended to sell further courses - those attending those further courses say they were great motivational courses i.e. getting you to invest in property, but in many cases again there is the backdrop of cherry picked developments coincidentally paying the highest commission rates.

Do it yourself
I can understand why with the potential pitfalls some determined people read up on the facts and feel they could do better - my view is that's its like performing an operation yourself on your own in growing toe nail, you can read the book and understand the theory - buying a one off property in a foreign country without the benefit of free professional advise makes being fiercely independent seem pointless. Who is going to keep you updated on trends, where will you find details of recent transactions to ensure you are obtaining best value for money? I seem to receive a fair stream of queries from this group who have run into problems after buying, many which could have been avoided with a good buyer's agent.

Finding an Estate Agent (Realtor) yourself
It is not generally recognized by British buyers that the vast majority of Real Estate Companies in Florida ranging from the internationally known Coldwell Banker, Century 21, ReMax etc as well as smaller companies including franchise operations operate with self employed licensed agents. There are tens of thousands of licensed Florida agents selling property in Florida working on a self employed basis under the remit of managing brokers. These agents vary in terms of experience, expertise, knowledge, familiarity of locations outside their area, as well as awareness of the differences with real estate procedures in the UK.

When you walk into a Real estate companies office, in many cases you will be allocated the agent undertaking desk duty - how do they stack up in terms of the criteria above, some have just qualified, some have undertaken only a few transactions, many only work part time!

Safety First approach
If you would like to be put in touch with experienced well qualified real estate agents in Florida locations that you specify, ask Andrew Bartlett for independent Florida Property advice and I will advise you of appropriate licensed agents with the necessary qualifications and knowledge and - who have considerable experience of British clients. Many are Brits who settled in America several years ago, work for market leading companies in their respective areas and share my philosophy of providing clients with as much information as possible without the frankly irritating sales pressure that is so often a feature of buying a property in Florida.

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About the author: Andrew Bartlett a Certified International Realtor, member of Florida Association of British Businesses and Chamber of Commerce, writes articles on Florida property, locations and investment trends, for leading British and Overseas magazines and newspapers. He has constructed a Florida property consumer web guide www.AndrewBartlettFlorida.co.uk.