Best Cities for Homeownership in Florida

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By Erik Martinez

Beginning in 2005, hurricanes and the housing bust depressed homeownership rates in Florida, and they’ve stayed down ever since.

But the scores of foreclosures have kept housing prices low, so there are plenty of opportunities to become a new Florida homeowner without breaking the bank. NerdWallet has compiled a list of the best areas for homeownership in the sun-kissed state of Florida. We analyzed 179 places in the state to determine which have characteristics that are favorable to homebuyers. Our analysis answers three main questions:

1. Are homes available?  We looked at the area’s homeownership rate to determine the availability of homes. A low homeownership rate is likely a signal of competitive inventory, more options for renters rather than buyers and expensive housing. Areas with a high homeownership rate led to a higher overall score.

 2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at median household income and monthly homeowner costs to assess whether residents could live comfortably in the area. We used monthly homeowner costs to measure cost of living. Areas with high median incomes and a low cost of living scored higher. Thinking of buying a home yourself? Check out our mortgage tool to find the best rate.

3. Is the area growing? We measured population growth to ensure that the area is attracting new residents and showing signs of solid growth. This is likely a signal of a robust local economy, which is another attractive characteristic for homebuyers.

1.    Oakleaf Plantation

Less than 20 miles from Jacksonville, this relatively new residential community, with the earliest homes built in 2009, has the third-highest population growth rate in our top 10 list at 16.2%. With amenities including two multimillion-dollar athletic centers, state-of-the-art waterparks and private function spaces, it is no surprise to see people choosing to move here. Also, the town has been designed to be incredibly family friendly. Everything is within walking distance in this tight-knit community, and the easy accessibility to five schools, shopping centers, and a public library means that most things you’ll need will be right in your neighborhood.

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2.    Keystone

With the highest homeownership rate on our list at 93.8% and homeowner costs accounting for just 26.7% of monthly household income, Keystone’s numbers show it’s easy to be a homeowner in the area. Just north of Tampa’s metropolitan area, Keystone provides the getaway feeling without ever being too far away. Close by are Keystone Park and Keystone Lake, both areas of easily accessible recreation for the entire family. It’s also a great access point for higher education with 33 colleges within 50 miles of Keystone.

3.    Fruit Cove

This fast-growing “upscale area with a small town feel” attracts people who want to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind. Locally known as “Northwest St. Johns,” it has a homeownership rate of 90%, and homeowner costs take up 26.1% of the median monthly household income. It is located within 20 miles of Jacksonville, which provides a wide range of employment from law enforcement to education. It is also a great place for families as it has some of the highest-rated schools both in Florida and in the nation.

4.    Wesley Chapel

This community, part of the Tampa metro area, is only a 25-minute commute north of the city. It has a homeownership rate of 75.4%, and its population grew at a rate of 10.1% between 2010 and 2012. It has a 120-acre park and will see expansion of State Road 56 in the next few years, which will make commutes easier. Wesley Chapel also has its own chamber of commerce and center for the arts. And if it’s a place of leisure you’re seeking, look no further. Wesley Chapel is home to Saddlebrook Resort, which provides a relaxing getaway without having to leave your own community.

5.    Pace

The unincorporated area within Santa Rosa County is one of west Florida’s fastest growing areas, according to data crunched by NerdWallet. Highly rated schools, recreation areas, law enforcement, and its close proximity to Pensacola make Pace a highly desirable place to live. Though many commute to the bigger cities for work, employment can be found locally through Wal-Mart Super-Center, Home Depot, Office Depot, Publix, Lowes, Sears, Target and many other local businesses. It is home to the “picturesque community” of Stonebrook Golf and Country Club, which offers a public 18-hole course. It is also home to many military personnel and civilian employees from NAS Whiting Field and NAS Pensacola. The airfields in Pensacola are considered the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” and are home to the famous Blue Angels naval pilots.

6.    Valrico

With a population of 35,765 in the 2012 census, Valrico grew 3.3% between 2010 and 2012 and has a high ownership rate of 86%. It is located less than 20 minutes east of Tampa right off FL 60-E, which means easy access to the amenities of the city. Its schools scored highly on standardized tests and earned a 7 out of 10 ranking from GreatSchools.org.

7. Cooper City­

Cooper City has a high ownership rate of 88%, and its population grew 3.2% between 2010 and 2012. It has 22 neighborhood parks, a community center, a pool and tennis center, and tennis pro shop. It is also home to the Optimist Club, which offers eight sports leagues for members of the community. The city also has a comprehensive plan for the expansion of the city and population. It is in close proximity to both Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood, which offer activities for the entire family. Class I crimes (homicide, robbery, assault, larceny, etc.) are lower in Cooper City than in the surrounding cities of Davie, Pembroke Pines or Plantation. It also prides itself in hurricane and flood disaster preparedness.

8.    Fleming Island

Just south of Jacksonville, Fleming Island is not actually an island but a wetland that has been developed into several golf courses and suburbs. It has a population of 28,493 with a homeownership rate of 81.3%. It prides itself in having a great school system, and its properties are valued higher than the state and national average. Its location offers short commutes to Jacksonville, which provides both higher education opportunities and job opportunities.

9.    Oviedo

Oviedo is located in Seminole County, just north of Orlando. With a population of 32,894, the homeownership rate is 81%. Besides commuting to the city of Orlando for work, local employers are Publix Supermarkets, A. Duda and Sons Inc., a major sod-grower, the Oviedo Marketplace shopping mall, Seminole County College, and the City of Oviedo itself. Oviedo is currently growing and expects to expand its downtown by 50 acres. Also, its recently opened ER room has seen so much traffic that it is looking to expand, which could mean better health care closer to home. It is a tight-knit community with 12 community organizations, three fire stations, sports facilities and many parks.

10.  Estero

Located on Florida’s southern Gulf Coast, Estero offers a beach lifestyle at an affordable price. This growing city has a homeownership rate of 86.3% and homeowner costs take up 35.5% of the median monthly household income, according to data crunched by NerdWallet. The city is home to Florida Gulf Coast University and offers loads of outdoor activities, including ocean kayaking, protected beaches, fishing and boating.

 

Rank City Nearest Big City Home Ownership Rate Median Selected Monthly Homeowner Costs Median Monthly Household Income Homeowner Costs as a Percentage of Household Income 2010-2012 Population Growth Overall Score for Home Owners
1 Oakleaf Plantation Jacksonville 82.1% $1,789 $6,013 29.8% 16.2% 71.7
2 Keystone Tampa 93.8% $2,371 $8,890 26.7% 1.9% 71.4
3 Fruit Cove Jacksonville 90.0% $2,111 $8,101 26.1% -1.4% 68.6
4 Wesley Chapel Tampa 75.4% $1,658 $6,153 26.9% 10.8% 68.1
5 Pace Pensacola 80.4% $1,463 $5,268 27.8% 5.0% 66.8
6 Valrico Tampa 86.0% $1,882 $6,234 30.2% 3.3% 66.7
7 Cooper City Fort Lauderdale 88.0% $2,321 $7,372 31.5% 3.2% 66.6
8 Fleming Island Jacksonville 81.3% $1,938 $7,209 26.9% 2.1% 66.3
9 Oviedo Orlando 81.0% $1,957 $6,847 28.6% 4.0% 66.0
10 Estero Fort Myers 86.3% $2,020 $5,685 35.5% 8.1% 65.8
11 Bloomingdale Tampa 84.1% $1,819 $6,480 28.1% -0.5% 65.4
12 Riverview Tampa 76.6% $1,628 $5,494 29.6% 7.2% 65.2
13 Lakeside Jacksonville 77.1% $1,393 $5,049 27.6% 4.2% 65.1
14 Wekiwa Springs Orlando 81.2% $1,823 $6,317 28.9% 1.4% 64.7
15 North Port Fort Myers 77.5% $1,330 $4,103 32.4% 8.0% 64.2
16 Land O’ Lakes Tampa 82.8% $1,733 $5,582 31.0% 1.2% 63.8
17 Palmetto Bay Miami 82.9% $2,781 $8,938 31.1% 1.0% 63.7
18 Parkland Fort Lauderdale 82.0% $3,541 $9,978 35.5% 7.2% 63.6
19 Apopka Orlando 79.4% $1,633 $4,915 33.2% 6.1% 63.5
20 Rockledge Melbourne 81.0% $1,520 $4,882 31.1% 2.0% 63.4

 

Methodology

The overall score for each city was derived from each of these measures:

1. Homeownership rate: U.S. Census (2010-2012 ACS)
2. Selected monthly owner costs: U.S. Census (2010-2012 ACS)
3. Median monthly household income: U.S. Census (2010-2012 ACS)
4. Population change from 2011 to 2012: U.S. Census (2012 ACS)

179 towns and cities with a population higher than 20,000 in Florida were included in this analysis. Communities with age restrictions and public health problems were excluded.

Photo: Satellite Beach, Florida, courtesy of Ricymar Photography http://flic.kr/p/d7yEAU