Condo Hunting in SouthWest Florida: Considerations Before You Buy

You’re on vacation in Fort Myers (or Naples or Cape Coral or Sanibel) and you fall in love with SouthWest Florida. You know you’ll come back to explore all the things you did not see the first time and to revisit your favorite spots. You and your partner are paying $325 per night for your 350 square foot room and the couple you are traveling with is paying the same ($4550 per couple for a two week stay).

While on the beach or the golf course, you strike up conversations with several people and you learn that they live “up north” (undoubtedly you meet Minnesotans and Michiganders), they visit 2 or 3 times every year, and they own vacation condos in the area.

The 3 R’s

So you talk it over and decide to start exploring the idea of purchasing a vacation condo in SouthWest Florida. Why not, after all, combine the best of all worlds: Rest, Recreation, and Return on investment? Why give the money to someone else when you could be helping yourself with an investment and be vacationing in the comfort of your own home? And how about that difference in space and convenience? A two bedroom, two bath condo with a full kitchen, lanai, and great view is quite a bit more comfortable than a tiny hotel room with a 2 cup coffee maker. It makes sense, you think you’re quite brilliant, and so you dive into the search.

It sounds simple at first, but alas you soon discover there are so many factors involved. Buying a vacation condo–even for experienced buyers–can be a bit overwhelming at first. What location is best? Beach? Golf? Boating? What features are most important to you? What about condominium fees and policies? Can you rent out the condo when you are not using it? Can you bring Sparky the family dog?

Location, Amenities, View, and Price

The first step is determining which type of view and location is the priority for you. You can always drive to the beach or a golf course or a marina or boat ramp or shopping center or amusement park. If your priority is beach, sunsets, and expansive water views you’ll be in the category of beach condo buyer. You of course still go boating or golfing, it’s just that the boat is not in your backyard or the golf course is not in your front yard. Likewise, if you are an avid boater or angler, but just a casual golfer, then your priority is a waterfront property on a canal or in a community with marina facilities.

To keep it simple, let’s generalize three classifications of condominium properties:

Planned gated communities: There are many gated communities that offer a wonderful blend of all the amenities many condo shoppers are looking for: golf, tennis, clubhouse, fitness rooms, walking trails, and the like. These communities are a mixture of single-family homes, villas, and condos. Some also have marinas, boat storage, and on-premise restaurants. In this category, properties on the waterfront will have views of the Caloosahatchee River, Charlotte Harbor, or a large lake-like saltwater basin.
High-rises: In SouthWest Florida, the majority of high-rise condo towers are found in downtown Fort Myers along the Caloosahatchee River and on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico (Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Beach, Naples). Additionally, some gated communities have high rises among other property types. Examples are Tarpon Point and Cape Harbour in Cape Coral, Gulf Harbour and Mastique in Fort Myers, and Burnt Store Marina on the Charlotte Harbour.
Smaller condo complexes: Smaller complexes, say 8 to 100 total residences and 3-5 stories high, are available in centrally-located areas such as central Fort Myers, along the waterfront (canals, the Caloosahatchee River, and the Gulf of Mexico) and are common on Sanibel and Captiva islands. There are also small waterfront complexes on canal systems, often with boat docks for use by residents or their tenants. On the beaches, there are corporate-owned condo-hotels and small owner-association operated condo-hotels.