Jim de Bree | Grass Always Greener Somewhere Else

Jim de Bree
Jim de Bree

As Governors Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom debated, we were in Florida visiting my daughter’s in-laws who live in the Orlando area. Although we enjoyed a fabulous week, we concluded that Florida may not be the nirvana people make it out to be. 

I especially enjoyed the Kennedy Space Center, which demonstrates how much America can accomplish if we work together and remain focused on progress. The sheer size of the Saturn V rocket used in the Apollo program is unbelievable.  

We also visited the Disney venues, which were up to Disney’s usual standards despite their war with Florida’s governor. It was 30 years since our family last visited the Disney theme parks and they certainly are much improved, particularly Epcot. 

Our daughter’s in-laws introduced us to several of their friends — all of whom seem to love living in Florida in the winter. Many of them live elsewhere in summer because of the oppressive weather and humidity. 

We met a number of Floridians who always seemed to ask, “Why are you still living in California?” They claim Florida is so much cheaper and desirable. When I asked these folks if they have ever been to California, none of them had.  

Whether Florida is more desirable is in the eyes of the beholder, but the accountant in me wanted to evaluate whether Florida’s purported cost effectiveness lived up to the hype. 

One day we decided to look at new houses and compare them with new housing being built in Valencia. My daughter and son-in-law have been house hunting for a larger home and are very familiar with local Santa Clarita Valley house prices. 

New homes in the Orlando area are built by the same home builders who are building in the SCV. The floor plans were nearly identical, but the construction techniques varied from those in California because first stories in Florida are built to better withstand flooding. 

We observed that the home builders advertised a 5% reduction in the listed prices of new homes. My son-in-law noted that those reduced prices were only about 10% lower than comparable homes in Valencia. All of the homes are in master-planned communities with HOAs whose monthly fees range between $700 and $1,000. 

Many new condos are being built, most of which have no garages. Many do not even have a designated parking spot, so owners have to park on the street. Many streets are lined with parked cars.  

If you want to fill the tank, gas costs about $3 per gallon — considerably less than what Californians pay. But if you want to drive anywhere outside your local community, you have to get on a toll road. By the time you pay the tolls, the cost of driving approaches what Californians pay. 

We went to a local grocery store, which was very similar to markets in L.A. Prices were 10%-20% higher than what we pay locally. The produce quality seemed inferior and the selection of meats was not as robust. 

The one big benefit of living in Florida is that is that taxes are lower. Florida has no personal income tax. Sales taxes vary by county and average about 7.7%. Property taxes are about 1% of assessed value, but unlike California’s Proposition 13, properties are reassessed at market value periodically. 

From an economic perspective, because of lower taxes, I suspect living in Florida is somewhat cheaper if you are retired and have a fixed income. If you are still working, wages and salaries are also commensurately lower, thereby offsetting potential savings opportunities. 

From an everyday living perspective, you have to adapt to humidity, bugs and alligators — all of which are ubiquitous.  

Our hotel was built on the edge of a small lake. After we checked out, there was considerable commotion in front of the hotel because an alligator was consuming its prey in front of a number of people who were disturbed by the alligator’s ferocity. I walked over to the area and took a picture of nature in action. As the accompanying picture shows, the prey was a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy that the alligator had trouble ingesting.  

While we were in Florida, the DeSantis/Disney feud was the subject of much conversation and I thought the picture was a perfect metaphor for that dispute.  

My takeaway is that living in Florida has its tradeoffs. I doubt that it’s the panacea that many believe it to be. But then, the grass always appears greener elsewhere.  

Jim de Bree is a Valencia resident who is happy living in the SCV with no plans to move out of state.

The gator and the mouse. Photo courtesy of Jim de Bree.
The gator and the mouse. Photo courtesy of Jim de Bree.

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