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In Belgium, the weather is usually somber, almost always overcast and rainy. If a Belgian wishes to bask the old bones in the sun for his few remaining good years, he'd better look elsewhere...
However, when looking at alternatives, several simultaneous conditions seem to hamper the search for the perfect home in the perfect location. High on the wish list, at least for a Belgian, is of course a sunny and warm climate. But next to that comes the need to find a decent location in an interesting country, excellent connections and telecommunications, and security both when present and when absent. There is also a need for interesting physical and social activities, in order to remain as active as possible.
Last but not least, the whole project has to remain affordable...
The first consideration is the climate. Even though Belgian weather is rather moderate, without hurricanes or tornadoes, every Belgian yearns for that single and unfortunately rare day of sunshine...
France has been a top location for years. Connections are excellent with an extended network of well maintained highways and main roads. If however you wish to enjoy warm temperatures during the winter, you better head all the way to the south. Unfortunately, southern France real estate has been inflated so much through years of speculation, that ridiculous amounts are asked for the tiniest "shack", and even very old and incredibly small houses fetch incredible prices...
Spain is another possibility, but as in France, topnotch locations have become almost unaffordable through demand and speculation. The quality of construction is sadly low, local infrastructures such as water, electricity, phone and postal services drag along laboriously, and sometimes the local administration blunders terribly, with all the misery that this entails. A decent home security is not always guaranteed, so that many an owner has discovered an empty house upon his return...
Both Italy and Portugal offer excellent climates, but alas, the popular locations carry the same astronomic price tags, and the quality of construction is usually not something to rave about. There are still opportunities in less densely populated areas, but they come at the price of poor connections and a lack of security.
As to more recent European additions such as Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Slovenia, and notwithstanding the promotional hype, we prefer to abstain for a few more years. The many unstable factors involved, such as local politics, standard of living, adventurous speculation, doubtful telecommunications and questionable security, don't really inspire too much confidence...
So why not take a peek over the ocean ?
Although the US political foreign image may not seem to shine very brilliantly in European media, this nation holds so many trump cards that it certainly merits a second look.
Right of ownership is simply ironclad, and as to legal protection there is an irreproachable legal network. Security and emergency help is shouldered by an extensive police force and highly developed medical institutions all over the nation. The standard of living is the highest in the world. There is a modern infrastructure, the roads, highways and interstates are excellent, and telecommunications and connections are impeccable.
English is prevalent in the whole of North America, and "John Smith" turns out to be quite similar to our Belgian "John-with-the-hat"... The possibilities for tourism, exploration and interesting visits are simply endless, and they are supported by an enormous tourist infrastructure. The United States offer unforgettable views and landscapes, and compared to the high European population density, the many wide and open spaces are a breath of fresh air. As a popular saying goes : "Seeing America is believing in America" !
A long term home rental is interesting, since the housing cost is most competitive with European prices. Another consideration is the present favorable exchange rate, through which one actually obtains some 30 % more value for a Euro. Even a purchase as a Florida investment remains interesting, if considered over a middle-long term, since its value will unavoidably increase due to the continuous immigration into this state (on average 300.000 people per year !). For a more realistic dollar exchange rate you'll just have to wait for the end of the present financial and political complications.
Florida is blessed with an extraordinary climate ; 260 to 300 days of sunshine, and a yearly average of 23°C. But what cannot be conveyed in dull figures is the power of the subtropic sun. Even in January, during the day you'll feel quite comfortable in shorts and T-shirt !
The perfect location is determined by the local climate, country layout, accessibility, road network, local traffic, connections, telecommunications, infrastructure, and the proximity of shops, restaurants and medical facilities.
In Central Florida, summer and winter temperatures are moderate, and there are far less spectacular extremes such as storms and hurricanes, as is sometimes the case along the coastline. It is no coincidence that all the large theme parks are located in this region !
After intensive research, we examined a pleasant location near Leesburg and Howey-in-the-Hills, in a picturesque, attractive and hilly area some 36 miles from Orlando. Since most of Central Florida is as flat as the Netherlands, these hills constitute an attractive alternative.
The presence of an accessible highway is important, as is the proximity to the Florida Turnpike, which allows an easy connection to all destinations.
The international airport of Orlando and popular destinations such as Disney World, MGM-Studios, Universal Studios, Sea World and Gatorland are just 45 min away. Shops, shopping centers and restaurants are less than 10 miles distant, as are several modern medical facilities.
Nobody likes to be surprised by unwanted visitors or to be harassed by salesmen, and after a temporary absence everyone wants to rediscover his home in the same condition as on the departure... We therefore preferred a gated community, a development formula that is quite popular in Florida. More recently, it has also begun to surface in many modern tourist destinations all over the world.
The entire domain is walled, and the access goes through staffed access gates. A full time Security Service continuously keeps an eye on things, and they can assist immediately if necessary. Salesmen or visitors get access only after the owner has agreed to receive them.
Communities come in all kinds of formulas. We considered their attributes and qualities, and examined the views, architecture and price of the homes, the landscaping, the infrastructure and road conditions, their maintenance, end even the average "standing" of the home owners. We also scrutinized the internal rules, the services offered, and the organized activities.
Finally we discovered a select Golf and Retirement Community of some 650 hectares, with guarded access gates and a full time Security Service. This Community has many amenities, usually only associated with exclusive multi-million-dollar resorts, and since many years it occupies an enviable spot in Florida's Top ten Communities ! The term Retirement Community reflects the statutes of the community, whereby 75% of the owners are 55-plus. The other 25% are younger couples, and about half of the owners are effectively "retired".
Upon access, you are greeted at a staffed guard gate (24/7), and continue through a well maintained and lush tropical landscape. There are three well equipped Activity Centers in the resort, with modern Fitness Centers, three large and heated swimming pools, tennis, volleyball, baseball and basketball courts, aerobics, meeting rooms, and even a full size theater.
The occupants do not have to worry about being bored, since three full-time and on-site social directors coordinate more than one hundred and fifty community activities ! This community also offers two magnificent 18-hole Golf courses, with full-time PGA golf professionals and assistants. At least another dozen other Golf courses can be found nearby. The community even has its own full-service restaurant.
A remarkable way of life !
*** Also read my articles about Florida real estate for Europeans A new American Residential Visa in the making ?