5 Rules for Selling a House in Florida As Buyers Flock South

Home to sugar sand beaches, the Everglades, Art Deco, and rocket launches, Florida offers quite a few sights that are out of this world. Thanks to its theme parks and landmarks such as the “World’s Largest Orange,” the Sunshine State also has a reputation for being a bit wacky, including having real estate laws and disclosures you might not encounter elsewhere.

Florida closed 293,325 real estate sales in 2019 (an increase of 5.6% from 2018), with a median sale price of $264,500, according to statistics from the trade association Florida Realtors.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, new contracts for single-family homes and condominiums rose in five Florida counties as of September 2020, with gains at the higher price points in Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, and Pinellas counties, market reports say.

Real estate agents told The New York Times that many of these recent buyers relocated from northern cities, adding to the estimated 900 people that one industry report estimates move to Florida each day.

Selling a house in Florida for the best price involves knowing the best time to list, how to market your Florida home, and the particular fees and requirements you might face. Let’s kick off our flip-flops and take a look at some of these.

A beach near a house you can sell in Florida.
Source: (Pedro Bariak / Unsplash)

1. Time your sale from December to April for the best results.

Florida has the fourth largest economy in the nation, with tourism and agriculture among its major industries. Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 2019 hosted 20.96 million visitors, making it the most visited theme park in the world, according to an industry report.

That’s nearly the population of the entire state. So to get the most eyes on your property, real estate agents recommend timing your sale with the state’s tourist season from December to April, particularly to appeal to “snowbirds,” people who migrate south each year as for a toasty refuge from the winter chills in the North and the Northwest.

“It’s our peak season,” says Priscilla Arzivian, a veteran real estate agent in Daytona Beach, Florida, who sells properties in that area more than 37% quicker than the average agent. “Folks come down; they want to purchase real estate, escape the cold. I put two homes on the market in the past week just because of that.”

HomeLight’s Best Time to Sell data bears out this theory, showing that if you list a home in Tampa in March, you could fetch a closing price by June that’s 9.53% higher than the annual average in that city.

To close at about 5.89% higher than the annual average in Miami, put your home there on the market in March as well. As for Jacksonville, housing transaction data for that city shows December as the hottest month, so to close at about 6.29% higher, list your home there in September.

2. Market your home to Florida buyers.

The typical Florida homebuyer in 2019 was 37 years old and had a median income of $86,000 — about a decade younger and earning about $7,000 less than the average buyer nationwide, according to statistics from Florida Realtors and the National Association of Realtors.

Jill DiDonna, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Florida developer GL Homes, told The New York Times that buyers like Florida for its tax advantages — no state income or estate tax, and a homestead exemption of up to $50,000 on a primary residence. But she also attributed the 2020 uptick to the “desire to escape urban areas” and find more space for home offices, in-home dining, home gyms, and private pools.

Aside from a neutral gray palette and wood-like tile, buyers appreciate a screened-in porch; landscaping with tropical plants such as palm trees, hibiscus, and bougainvillea; and a fenced-in yard with a pool or room for a pool, Arzivian says. “That’s a very Florida thing,” she says, noting that a saltwater pool more gentle on swimmers’ skin has added appeal.

Volusia County, where Daytona Beach and Ormond-by-the-Sea are, is known for its archaeological sites, beaches, and rivers for canoeing and kayaking, Arzivian says. “A lot of people say, ‘I’d like to be 15 or 20 minutes from the beach.’ If they don’t want to be near the water, we go inland.”

3. Disclose what the state of Florida requires.

Florida has a number of standard real estate disclosures. The state requires sellers to note the presence of lead-based paint, asbestos, mold, or radon gas. But the Sunshine State also has disclosures that address particular environmental conditions.

For instance, the “AS IS” Residential Contract For Sale And Purchase” from the Florida Realtors and the Florida Bar states that buyers must receive a Florida Energy-Efficiency Rating Information Brochure, verify the property’s elevation, and check whether it requires flood insurance.

The Florida Realtors residential seller’s property disclosure form also asks questions related to the following:

  • Any hazards such as methamphetamine or any active or abandoned fuel or chemical storage tanks. Arzivian once had a listing with a buried oil tank that had not been properly filled with sand. “That poses an environmental hazard to the property because there could be leaking,” she says.
  • Any wetlands, archeological sites, conservation easements or buffers, or other “environmentally sensitive areas” on the property
  • Any restrictions governing reconstruction following casualty loss or damage (for instance, for properties on an oceanfront or in a historic district)
  • Any structural or personal property damage related to fire, wind, water, flood, hail, or sinkholes, a “common feature of Florida’s landscape,” according to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.

The Florida Geological Survey maintains a searchable map of sinkhole occurrences that residents and other agencies report, particularly after tropical storms or freezes.) “I do know of a couple of neighborhoods that have those issues,” Arzivian says, and she’s steered clients away from them. “I don’t sugarcoat things for a lot of people. If I know something, they’re going to know right away.”

In addition, if your property has gopher tortoises, you may have to either tell prospective buyers about them (the state considers them a threatened species protected by law), or obtain a permit for their safe capture and relocation before any remodeling that might impact their burrows, Florida Realtors advises. Talk to your real estate agent about any potential tortoise problems.

A notebook used to sell a house in Florida.
Source: (Lukas / Pexels)

4. Fill out any applicable addendums as necessary.

Just like California has a separate Natural Hazard Disclosure Statement, Florida has some protective addendums that might turn up during your real estate transaction, depending on the agent or brokerage that you use.

Arzivian’s brokerage, for instance, uses a “defective drywall addendum” addressing the building materials shortage circa 2004 to 2008 that caused builders to import defective drywall from China.

This drywall tests high in sulfur, strontium, iron and other compounds that can cause difficulty breathing, recurrent headaches, and skin and eye irritation, according to the National Center for Healthy Housing, a nonprofit advocacy group since 1992.

According to the News-Press, which serves Fort Myers and Cape Coral, Florida in 2014 had the highest number of homes with this drywall among 44 states reporting the problem, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the American Samoa.

The addendum notes that there may or may not be defective drywall present in a home built during that time frame. If a home inspection reveals the presence of such drywall — it can blacken and corrode copper and brass plumbing and air conditioning components, among other signs — “the buyer gets their deposit back,” she says.

Some contracts that Arzivian and other agents use also contain a “force majeure” clause allowing for a grace period of up to seven days to close the deal if a hurricane, flood, other extreme weather, or acts of terrorism interferes with either party. The potential buyer or seller may terminate the contract if the force majeure continues for more than 30 days.

A notebook used to sell a house in Florida.
Source: (Lukas / Pexels)

5. Expect to pay the following fees.

The closing table tends to reveal various fees added to the final settlement. Here are few that you might see:

Documentary stamp tax:
This real estate transfer fee generates money for a state, county, or municipality by recording the transfer of real property. In Florida, it’s 70 cents for each value or fraction of $100, negotiable between buyer and seller, although both are liable if it’s unpaid. If you’re in Miami-Dade County, you’ll pay 60 cents for each value or fraction of $100 plus 45 cents per $100 for all property that isn’t a single family dwelling.

Agent commissions:
The national average real estate commission sits at 5.8% of a property’s sale price, according to HomeLight’s Agent Commission Calculator. The average real estate commission in Miami is about 5.95%.

Prorated real estate taxes:
Florida’s real estate taxes are paid in arrears, or paid by Nov. 30 for the prior year, according to attorney Andrew R. Pardun of Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid, P.A., in St. Petersburg, Florida.

If a real estate transaction closes before that date, the seller gives the buyer a prorated credit to cover these taxes for the period of time when the seller owed the property, Pardun explains on the firm’s blog.

For instance, if your taxes were $1,000 for 2019 and you closed on a sale on May 1, 2020, you’d give a credit to the buyer of $333 for four months. (The buyer would then be responsible for the entire real estate tax bill when it came due.)

Title search fee:
In Florida, the seller typically pays a title company about $200 to $400 to check whether a property has any outstanding judgments, claims, or liens, says True Title of Florida, established in 1998.

Florida does not require a seller or buyer to hire a real estate attorney for closing, but some parties will hire an attorney if a property is part of an estate sale or involves several owners, which can add to your costs as well.

Selling a house in Florida might have a few more hoops than other areas, but real estate agents in this warm weather state are used to such ebbs and flows. Before you put your house on the market, connect with a top local agent about any concerns you have so that your Florida home can shine bright in this popular market.

Header Image Source: (Tessa Wilson / Unsplash)