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Julie Bentley
REALTOR®, GRI, U.S. Military on the Move® Certified Military Specialist, Senior Real Estate Specialist®, LeadingRE Marketing Specialist, LeadingRE Relocation Specialist, LeadingRE Sales Specialist, LeadingRE Service Expert, e-PRO®, C2EX
Cell: (904) 576-0706
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Articles Tagged "buying a home"

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June
30

Hurricane season begins on June 1st and goes all the way through November. If you're new to Florida, that thought can be unsettling. My advice? Prepare, don't panic. Here's a checklist to help you. And don't make the same mistake I did after moving here and experiencing my first hurricane season: I let mysefl get some serious 'storm fatigue.' Once a hurricane is spotted, no matter how far away, it becomes big news and you'll hear or read about the approaching storm for a couple of weeks before it is even near northeast FL. Don't let the hysteria worry you, but don't be complacent either. Be prepared. 

One more pro trip: if you decide to leave the area before the storm hits and will be traveling with pets, identify pet-friendly hotels (or friends!) in advance and make reservations. Also be sure to have a copy of your pet's vaccination records with you.

Prepare, don't panic. You'll have plenty of time.

hurricane preparation checklist

September
20

New homes in St. Johns, FL continue to be built and sold at a rate of hundreds per month. I'm often asked what a real estate agent could possibly do to enhance the buyer's experience when there is already a builder's site agent to help. The answer is - plenty! Whether you are buying a builder's inventory home or having one built from the dirt up, consider the following advantages to having a Realtor® guide you through the process.

Real estate agents with new construction experience know the builders and the communities in which they are building. An experienced agent knows the reputation of the builders, their pricing structure, what upgrades and incentives different builders have offered in the past, how often they meet their build deadlines, how well they respond to warranty items and much more. 

Real estate agents can put you in touch with a builder's past customers for references. Yes, a builder's site agent can provide you with references from past customers and will most likely select customers who were happy with their experience. A real estate agent who has sold new construction will be able to connect you with a builder's past customers irrespective of that customer's level of satisfaction with the builder. Wouldn't you prefer to hear unfiltered feedback?

An upgrade is not always an upgrade. I once spoke with someone who was considering purchasing a new construction home and was thrilled to hear from a site agent that the builder offered granite countertops as a standard feature while most other builders charge a premium for them. This was simply not true. There were a nuGranite Countertopmber of builders in that particular community and all but one of them included granite as a standard feature. Of course the quality of the granite used may vary among builders but the fact is that granite was the standard, not an upgrade.

One of the most important things a Realtor® does is help you negotiate price, terms and conditions of a home purchase. An agent with new construction experience is familiar with the builder's lengthy sales contract and should know what kind of flexibility there may be in the price or upgrades of a home based upon current market conditions. They also know how quickly builders are looking to sell their inventory/spec homes and may therefore offer great pricing incentives. Agents specializing in new construction will have their 'ear to the ground' so they know if a builder is about to release new floor plans, buy lots in a particular community or pull out of a community or area. This is helpful info for buyers to know.

How does the house you are considering building compare with others in the community? A real estate agent will help you think about things that will affect the future resale value of your home such as the location of the lot, how long it will take for the community to be built out, the upgrades you are considering and how the size of your home compares with that of others in the neighborhood. An agent can and should do a comparative market analysis for you before you sign your contract so you can see how your home compares to others in the neighborhood. Unless you are certain that you will live in the new house indefinitely, you don't want to end up buying a home substantially more expensive than the neighborhood can support or you may have a difficult time selling it.

Are there resale homes that will provide you with the same things you are seeking from new construction? Unless you are determined to build new construction you may find that you can get the same features, floor plan and upgrades in an existing home being sold by the owner as you can in a brand new home, often at a less expensive price. The resale home may be in the same community or even on the same street. A builder's site agent is unlikely to have previewed the resale home and may not even be aware that it is being sold; a Realtor® working with a buyer should.

Believe it or not, there are many builders who prefer that buyers use their own agent! Educating home buyers about things like lot selection, permits, the phases of construction, standard features in a home, certificates of occupancy, closing costs and punch lists is time-consuming. Many builders would prefer to work with buyers who have an agent to help them navigate through and understand these things. This frees the builder's sales agent to do what he or she was hired to do: sell homes for the builder.

The builder is using the services of an agent; why shouldn't you? A builder's site agent is paid by the builder to sell homes at a profit to the builder, which is as it should be. As a buyer do you know enough about the current real estate market, the building process, design and style trends and industry standards to protect your own interests? A real estate agent with experience selling new construction does.

New construction home

Your agent will continue to work for you even after the home is under contract. An agent with new construction experience can be invaluable in the building process. He or she can check on the progress of your home periodically and report back to you. If you do not live near where your home is being built your agent can send you pictures of the different stages of the building process and can arrange to meet an independent inspector at your home site if you've chosen to hire one. Some agents will accompany their customers to the builder's design center as well to give input on the styles, trends and designs that are currently being incorporated into new homes.

Warranty items aren't always the highest priority for a builder. Most new construction homes come with a warranty and before the warranty period is up homeowners submit a list of items for the builder to address. By this time the builder has sold other houses and is probably continuing to build. As a result, as well-intentioned as he may be, he may not place the highest priority on addressing minor warranty items. Your agent can be invaluable in helping you get the necessary attention to resolve this. While your only leverage with the builder after purchasing your home is your ability to boost or tarnish his reputation, an agent is a direct source of current and future business and most builders will not risk losing that source over a repair.

There is simply no downside to having an experienced agent guide you through the process of buying a new construction home. Knowledge is power and working with an agent will help you become aware of what to expect and become fully informed on the entire process. Where else can you get professional advice without paying an hourly rate or retainer? If you're considering buying a new construction home, do yourself a favor and speak to a real estate agent with new construction experience first!



 



Julie Bentley is a FL licensed Realtor® who has been selling new construction and resale homes in St. Johns, FL since 2012. She has helped many people buy new construction homes from a variety of builders in the greater Jacksonville, FL area. Let her leverage her new construction experience to your advantage! (904) 576-0706  www.jbentley.watsonrealtycorp.com

November
13

One of the questions I am most often asked by people buying a home in St. Johns, FL is about CDDs and CDD fees. While many communities in and around the area have CDDs, people moving from other areas often haven't heard of them. 

What is a CDD? A Community Development District (CDD) is an independent, special purpose government entity typically established by a developer with governmental approval. CDDs were created by Florida Legislature in the 1980s and are governed by Florida State Statute, Chapter 190.Site Development

Why are CDDs created? CDDs are a cost-effective way for developers to  acquire, operate and maintain infrastructure systems, improvements and services for planned communities. The use of CDDs helps create and maintain infrastructure without overburdening local governments and taxpayers.

How do CDDs work? A CDD has the authority to finance, construct and maintain public infrastructure required by population or commercial growth. CDDs also provide some assurance to local governments and permitting agencies that the infrastructure will continue to be maintained even after the developer has moved on to another project. As a government entity, most CDDs are authorized to issue long-term tax exempt bonds for certain facilities.  Through bond issuance the developer can put in infrastructure such as roads, underground utilities, bridges, water and sewer facilities, retention ponds and streetlights. As homes or parcels in the development are sold, the Buyers pay for the bonds through an Ad Valorem tax over a specified time period. Bonds are commonly issued for 20 or 30 years so, for example, if a CDD issued a 20-year bond in 2010 and you purchase a home in that community in 2015, you would continue paying the bond for the remaining 15 years of the bond life.

Site DevelopmentWho manages a CDD? By law CDDs are governed by a Board of Supervisors. In most cases, when a CDD is first established the Board is comprised of the developer and his/her chosen, qualifed representatives. As the district grows in population, Board seats begin to be filled by property owners of the district until eventually the Board is comprised solely of property owners. 

How much are CDD fees and how do I pay them? CDD fees vary depending upon the community and sometimes within communities depending upon the size of the individual property. The range of CDD fees is from about $500/year to $4,000+ per year. Your Realtor(R) can tell you what the fee is for a specific property or you can look it up in county tax records.  CDD fees are an Ad Valorem tax and are collected by the county tax collector along with your Property Taxes. If you have a mortgage on your home and use an escrow account for taxes and insurance, the CDD fee will likely be escrowed there as well. If you do not have an escrow account you will be expected to pay your CDD fees annually along with your property taxes.

Do you stop paying CDD fees once the bond is paid off?  No. The CDD fee is comprised of two parts: the debt (bond) portion and an Operations and Maintenance (O&M) fee. The bond portion will eventually be paid off but the O&M fee will continue to be assessed to cover the costs of maintaining CDD property, facilities and services.

How is a CDD different than a Homeowners Association (HOA)?  Nocatee PoolA CDD is a government entity and must comply with Florida state law. An HOA is typically self-governed. Some communities have both a CDD and an HOA with separate and distinct responsibilities.  Other communities may have either a  CDD or an HOA or neither. 

Why would I move into a community that has CDD fees?  Most communities with CDDs also have amenities such as pools, tennis courts, a clubhouse, parks, a gym or recreation programs for resident use and enjoyment. CDD fees help build and maintain those. If your family is going to take advantage of having some of those amenities within the neighborhood you may find the CDD fee less expensive than swim club, gym or social club fees. If you don't envision your family taking advantage of those things then a community with a CDD may not be for you. 

How can I learn more about CDDs? Do you really want to? If so, more info about Community Development Districts can be found at Florida Statute Chapter 190 - Community Development DistrictsOr call me at 904-576-0706 and I'll answer your questions if I'm able, or  connect you with someone who can.



 

Julie Bentley has been helping people buy and sell homes in St. Johns and Jacksonville, FL since 2012. She knows which communities have CDDs, how much the fees are and enough other information about them to either help people or bore them, depending upon your perspective. Contact her at 904-576-0706 or through her website, jbentley.watsonrealtycorp.com, for more info.

July
8

There are so many reasons that people choose to live in St. Johns, FL that listing them all would be nearly impossible. Here are ten of the most common.

LocationLocation, Location  St. Johns is within easy commuting distance of both downtown Jacksonville to the north and historic St. Augustine to the south. By automobile you can travel less than 2 hours to Amelia Island, Savannah, Hilton Head, Daytona Beach, Orlando, and the University of Florida. Destinations like Atlanta, Charleston, Miami and Florida's gulf coast are also within a half day's drive.

family at the beachBeaches and River St. Johns boasts 40+ miles of beautiful beaches which provide opportunities for surfing, fishing, swimming, wildlife-viewing, paddle boarding, picnicking, shell and shark tooth collecting and relaxing. Many beaches have picnic areas and rest room facilities and you can even drive your car on some of them. The St. Johns River also passes through St. Johns County on its journey north and is widely used for boating, tubing, kayaking and fishing.

Award Winning Public Schools The St. Johns County School District is the highest rated school system in the state of Florida based upon student achievement. Among other distinctions, SJCSD also ranked first overall out of the 67 FL school districts on FCAT (state assesments) for several consecutive years and is the only district in Florida that has remained "A" rated from 2010 through the present (2021). 

Homes for All Budgets and Tastes No matter what your dream home looks like it can likely be found in St. Johns County. From apartments, townhomes and condos to waterfront estate homes and everything in between, St Johns, FL has a wide variety of housing options. Horse property? Yes. A family home in a planned community with resort-style amenities? Sure thing. A home on the golf course? Yup. A home in a small community with no HOA fees? You bet. Active Adult Communities? Mmm Hmm. Ocean or riverfront property? We have that too. The possibilities are endless and I invite you to begin your search here.

Access To Top-Notch Medical Facilities In addition to St. Johns' own award winning Flagler Hospital, there are 17 hospitals and medical centers in the greater Jacksonville area covering a wide array of medical specialties. Each of these hospitals is an easy commute from St. Johns County and 5 of the 17  are nationally ranked: Mayo Clinic, surgeon and teamBaptist Medical Center, Shands Jacksonville, Wolfson Children's Hospital, Memorial Hospital, St. Vincent's Medical Center.

Weather The climate in Saint Johns, FL offers the best of both worlds: mostly warm weather but with just enough temperature and humidity fluctuations that you can actually experience changes of seasons. January is the coldest month with an average low temp. of 47° F and average high of 64° F; July is the hottest month with an average low of 75° F and average high of 90° F. Yes, it is hot and humid in the summer, but the weather during the rest of the year makes up for it and outdoor activities can be enjoyed year-round.

Outdoor Activities Water sports are abundant in St. Johns but there are plenty of things to do on land as well. Without ever leaving St. Johns County you can golf, go horseback riding, run and ride bicycles, hike on trails and through parks and participate in recreational adult sports leagues. Got kids? There are also manfarmers market produce stallyouth sports leagues in St. Johns County catering to kids of all ages and abilities.

Festivals, Fairs, Markets and Concerts On most weekends throughout the year you can find a fair, festival, farmer's market or concert in St. Johns. Art walks, food festivals, craft fairs, pirate gatherings, charity runs and boat parades are just some of the fun weekend events scattered throughout the county. If you enjoy music you will also want to check out the Music By The Sea Concert Series, St. Augustine Ampitheatre and Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.

Attractions Historic St. Augustine is the cultural center of St. Johns County and hosts museums, historic sites, galleries, restaurants, shopping, a winery and a variety of tours . Other St. Johns County attractions include the World Golf Hall of Fame, Marineland, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, Adventure Landing, and outlet malls.

Taxes There is no state income tax in Florida and many people relocating to St. Johns from other areas of the country are pleased to find that property taxes are considerably lower here. This last reason isn't a 'fun' one but the savings you may realize on taxes can sure help you have fun doing other things!

Are you ready to begin living the St. Johns, FL lifestyle? Call me at 904-576-0706 and let's get started by familiarizing you with the area and helping you find a great place to call home. 



Julie Bentley relocated to St. Johns, Florida in 2010 and joined Watson Realty Corp a year later. She and her family quickly grew to love all that Northeast Florida has to offer and she enjoys sharing those things with people not familair with the area. 

May
19

When you buy a new construction home one of the most exciting things you'll do is visit a design center to choose the feaPaint samples tures and finishes you want to incorporate. The experience can be fun, but also overwhelming. Here are some tips for your design center visit.

BEFORE YOU GO:

  • Consider what you like or dislike about your current home. Do you love your flooring, countertops or color scheme and want to replicate it? Are your cabinets not practical or is your lighting limited? In your new house you're starting from scratch, so consider using what works for you now and eliminating what doesn't.
  • Choose a color palette before you go. Having a color scheme in mind before you go to your design appointment will allow you to narrow your focus. You will likely be choosing flooring, cabinets, appliances, fixtures, lighting, wall coverings and more and you'll want complementary colors.
  • Establish your budget. Once you get to the design center the options and upgrades are unlimited. Builders I've spoken with tell me that the average customer spends an additional 10%-20% of the sale price on upgcabinet pullsrades. Setting your budget in advance may help you avoid costly temptations.
  • Consider your family's lifestyle and priorities. If the kitchen is the hub of your house perhaps that's the room you'll want to allocate most of your budget to. If you frequently watch movies together the media room might be the most important to you. Do you have pets? Consider the flooring that will be most durable and easy to clean.

 

AT YOUR APPOINTMENT:

  • Arrive on time. You'll have many decisions to make and the time will pass quickly. Show up on time and ready to get to work!
  • Bring a few photos to share with the designer. Many people bring photos from Pinterest, design sites or homes they like. This helps the designer get an idea of your style and preferences.
  • Resist the temptation to include features that are super-trendy. Unless you are likely to change things up in your home every couple of years be mindful of how quickly trends come and go. Remember sponge painted walls? Brass bath fixtures? Knotty pine cabinets? They had their day and will likely come
  • ceiling lights and ceiling fans back in style again. In the meantime, choose your options carefully so you won't mind living with them long term.
  • Consider what can be done after closing.  Because you are carefully sticking to a budget you may not be able to get every feature/upgrade you want. While you are choosing options keep in mind that some things can be done rather easily after closing and often at less expense, even if a handyman is needed. You may want to hold off on upgrades of things like ceiling fans, shower heads, wallpaper and closet organization systems and have them done after you buy the house.sink fixtures
  • Unless you are absolutely sure that you're buying your forever home, keep the resale value of your home in mind. You may love pink granite and tile but if you cover your master bath with it chances are it may turn off a future buyer.  
  • When in doubt, bail out! If you don't love something you've chosen or if you feel that you are settling, eliminate it and choose again.  
  •  Have fun! You and your Realtor have likely worked hard to get to this point - choosing a community, a builder and a floor plan. Now it is time to put the finishing design touches on what will soon be your beautiful new home. Enjoy every single minute at the design center! 


tile samples



Julie Bentley has been a St Johns, FL Realtor ® since 2012 and has visited the Design Centers of many builders in the area. Most often she has accompanied customers to their appointments, but from time-to-time she has been known to stop in just to see what is currently trending in new home design and what buyers are asking designers for. jbentley@watsonrealtycorp.com, 904-576-0706

April
5

You've found a house, submitted an offer and the Seller has accepted it. Now what? In Northeast Florida, once you have a signed Purchase & Sale Agreement, a Buyer has a set period of time in which to perform their due diligence. This time, also known as the inspection period, is often 10 days but may be shorter or longer depending upon what was agreed upon in the sales contract.  During the due diligence period, a Buyer should do whatever inspections and research they deem important. Before the period ends, a Buyer may either cancel the contract and have their escrow deposit returned to them, or proceed with the transaction and risk losing their escrow deposit if they don't purchase the home.

Below are some things I encourage my customers to do as part of their due diligence.

Review Homeowner's Association (HOA) and Community Development District (CDD). Documents. Hourglass This should include governing documents, financial statements and covenants and restrictions. You may also want to contact the HOA to inquire if there is any pending litigation against the Association or any current or anticipated financial assessments to homeowners.  

Perform Inspections.  These should be done by licensed individuals or companies and may include  a home inspection, a Wood Destroying Organism (termite/bug) inspection and possibly evaluations of the foundation, pool, dock, sewer, septic or other features of the property.

Get Quotes for Homeowner's Insurance.  Your lender will require you to have homeowner's insurance in place before you purchase the home.  Shopping for it during due diligence will allow you to understand the requirements and cost of your policy and eliminate surprises later in the process. If flood insurance is either required or you choose to buy it, be sure you understand the current cost and whether to expect increases in the near future.

Visit Schools. If you have children who will be attending public or private school, the due diligence period is a great time to schedule a tour, obtain registration information and review school data and policies that are important to you.

Apply For Your Mortgage.  Buyers are required to make a formal mortgage application shortly after the contract is signed. If you haven't already done your research and compared mortgage rates, fees and services you'll need to do that quickly. As part of the process, be sure to talk with your lender about how to avoid delays or problems with getting your final loan approval. A good lender will give you a list of things to avoid prior to closing such as making large purchases, changing jobs, accepting cash gifts from relatives, etc.

Research Community and Local Expansion, Future Development and Zoning.  This is an often-overlooked but very important part of due diligence. Now is the time to understand what plans are on the drawing board for the future. Is there a "Phase II" being built in your neighborhood that my overburden roads, pools or schools? Are there plans for a gas station to be built adjacent to your community? Will a major roadway be widened, increasing traffic and noise? You will want to know these things prior to buying a home, not after you have moved in.

Review Local Crime and Sexual Offender Data. This info can often be found on local or state law enforcement websites or you can call or visit the area police or sheriff's department.

Talk to Neighbors. If practical, consider walking or driving through the community and speaking with residents. Nothing beats an insider's view!

While this may seem like a lot to do in a short period of time you have likely already done some of it when you began your search for a new home. If not, the time and energy you put into this now may help you avoid unpleasant surprises in the future and feel confident in your choice of a home and community.

 

Julie Bentley is a Realtor® who has been working with Buyers and Sellers in the St. Johns and Jacksonville, FL area since 2012. She is always willing to connect her customers with the authorities, contractors, businesses, sources and data they need to make fully-informed home-buying decisions. It's Your Move. 

October
18

Is it quite quiet in your home these days? And if you have children did you think that silence would ever come?! Over the past couple of years I've worked with a sharply increasing number of baby boomers who decided it was time to sell their homes. Most of them had become empty-nesters and decided they no longer needed the space (or the upkeep and pensive lady standing in house looking outsideexpense!) of it. They weren't concerned about the school district anymore, no longer needed to stay close to the studios, fields, courts and venues that they had been constantly commuting to and from with children, or didn't like how empty and quiet their homes had become and were ready to move on.  

Of the downsizing baby boomer families I've worked with so far most fall into 1 of 2 distinct groups: those who absolutely do not want to be in an active adult (55+) community and those who can't move into one soon enough. Most who chose not to move to an active adult community either bought a smaller home or condo, rented a home or lived with family as they decided what to do next or, in one case, stashed their goods in storage and moved onto their boat for the time being. Those who did move to an active adult community were attracted by not having to do their own yard work, the amenities and social activities available, a sense of security and the ability to "lock and go-" close up their house and travel without worrying about the upkeep and security of the house.

While helping these families sell their current houses I showed them many options for their next home. I've visited most of the active adult communities in the metro Jacksonville area, shown condos near the beach, helped with both new construction and resale homes in various communities, provided info about independent living communities and, in one case, helped someone find a manufactured home in a small community of retirees. 

If your home is too quiet or no longer serves your needs I'd be happy to help you explore your selling and buying options. And I will confess now that although I will provide you with the service, info, time and communication you deserve throughout the process, I also have an ulterior motive: I'm a baby boomer with a recently emptied nest and am keeping an eye out for what may be my next home or community. Who knows, maybe someday we'll be neighbors!

Julie Bentley has been helping people buy and sell homes in northeast FL since 2012. As a Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES®), she has advanced training and experience working with those fortunate enough to be age 55 or greater. Check out her website at https://jbentley.watsonrealtycorp.com/

March
11

People looking to buy a home in a St. Johns County neighborhood are often overwhelmed by the many options available. In addition to the existing communities, there are dozens of new ones being developed and still others planned but not yet under construction. You many know exactly what size, style and features you want in your new home - that's the easy part - but unless you're looking for a truly unique home, it's likely that the home you're seeking can be found in any number of communities. When I work with buyers I encourage them to share their new home 'must have' and 'wish list' items with me, but then to spend time identifying the communities that most appeal to them. After all, if you find your dream home but it's in a setting that doesn't suit your lifestyle would you still buy it? Or is it more important to find a few communities that appeal to you and then look at the housing options within them?  In my experience working with buyers I find that those who end up being most satisfied with their buying decision first identified neighborhoods they were interested in, then found or built a house within it.

Here are some things to consider when choosing the right community for your family:

Location, location, location: Will someone in the family be commuting frequently to a job or airport? How important is it for you to live near the beach, a medical center, the interstate highway, a marina or shopping? Will you be spending a great deal of time at sports events, houses of worship or concert venues? Do you have family or friends in the area that you will visiting often?

Characteristics of the Community: Would you prefer to live in a neighborhood that offers events, sports, social activities and special interest clubs or are you more likely to make your own fun? Does a small, quiet community appeal to you or a larger one?  Gated or not? Does the thought of a Homeowners Association delight you or make you cringe?

Neighborhood Amenities: Many (most?) communities in northern St. Johns County have amenities. Would your family find value in having a community pool, kayak launch, gym, golf course, social hall, horseback riding trails, zip line, swim team, tennis program or restaurants within the neighborhood? 

How about a dog park, ball fields, a car wash station, pickleball courts, skateboard parks, RV and boat storage or a crystal lagoon? All of these (and more!) are options. Of course these amenities need to be maintained and staffed; be sure you ask your Realtor® about HOA and CDD fees for neighborhoods that interest you.

Schools: Many families choose to live in St. Johns County because of the excellent reputation of the school district and I would be remiss if I didn't mention schools as a consideration. Keep in mind that as the population in the county continues to grow, it occasionally becomes necessary for school zoning lines to be redrawn to alleviate overcrowding. When that happens some students may be moved to a different (but still nearby and highly ranked) SJC school. If for some reason it is extremely important to you that your attends a particular school, your best bet is to buy a home within a mile or two of that school. Otherwise rest assured that your child will go to one of the best public schools in the state, no matter which one it is!

HOA Bylaws: Love 'em or hate 'em, bylaws are a fact of life in most planned communities. Before making an offer on a home in anHOA community I highly recommend that you read the Homeowner's Association bylaws and make sure you can live with the HOA covenants and restrictions. Can you imagine buying a home with the intention of building a detached workshop or storing a boat in your driveway and finding out after you've spent money on inspections and appraisals or, worse, after closing, that those are prohibited in the community? A Realtor® can give you a copy of the bylaws for any community; READ THEM!

Once you've considered what aspects of community living are most important for your family your Realtor® will be able to help you explore some options that may appeal to you.

When I show customers around different neighborhoods and they think they've found "the one,"  I suggest that they drive through at different times of the day and even different days of the week if possible. Driving through on a weekend will show whether residents are outside socializing, working in the yard and gathering in parks or at pools, or if it is a quiet environment where people appear to keep to themselves. If you have children and wonder if there others around their age in the neighborhood I encourage you to drive through at times that children will typically be biking to school or getting on the school bus. If the community has ball courts, a dog park or a similar gathering area you may try to chat with some of the adults there to find out what they like (or dislike) about the neighborhood. 

While nothing beats actually spending time in a community that you are considering, if that's not possible you can ask your Realtor® if he/she can connect you with residents that would be willing to spend a few minutes talking with you about their experience. I have sold homes in many of the northern St. Johns communities and several of my past customers have generously taken time to speak with people considering moving there. I also like to provide a copy of the community newsletter or a link to the website to give potential buyers an idea of the kinds of issues and activities available.

As I view it, once you've decided to move to St. Johns County (or anywhere!) there are two big decisions to make - choosing the community you'd like to live in and finding the right home within that community. I have helped dozens of families with this and would love to do the same with yours!

 



Julie Bentley is a licensed Florida REALTOR® with Watson Realty Corp. Since 2012 she has helped St. Johns, FL families sell and buy their homes. To contact her, call (904) 576-0706 or email JBentley@WatsonRealtyCorp.com. 

August
22

Most communities in St. Johns, FL are governed by a Homeowner's Association. If you buy a home within an HOA community you will be required to become a member of the HOA and must obey its rules and regulations. As you search for a home in St. Johns, FL and begin to narrow down the neighborhoods you are most interested in, ask your Realtor® for a copy of the HOA's Community Covenants and Restrictions (aka rules). Some of the more common ones include: 

  • What color you may paint your house or door and when it should be painted
  • What types of landscaping and trees you can have
  • Upkeep of your lawn, shrubs and the exterior of your home
  • Whether you can park work vehicles, boats or RVs in your driveway or on your property
  • Whether (and where) you can have storage sheds, playsets and pools

Can you imagine buying a home with the intention of building a workshop or she-shed only to find out after the fact that it's not allowed? Or buying a home and assuming your neighbors can't paint their house bright purple only to realize that they can (and did!)? This can be avoided by reading the Covenants and Restrictions before buying the home.

And be aware: some communities strictly enforce their covenants; in other communities you wouldn't know there are any. The fact remains, though, that if Covenants and Restrictions do exist, the HOA can choose at any time to enforce them. 

Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, HOAs are not going away any time soon. Be sure you can peacefully co-exist with yours before you buy a home. 



 

Julie Bentley has been helping people sell and buy homes in HOA communities and HOA-Free communities since 2011. www.juliebentley.com

September
1

Buying a home can be overwhelming and many Buyers look to their Realtor® to provide information not only about homes they are interested in but also about the community, residents, schools, etc. While a good Realtor will be able to direct you to reliable sources for that information, he may break the law if he answers some of the questions himself. The Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968 to prevent housing discrimination and it limits the kind of information a real estate professional can legally provide to a customer. That shouldn't be a problem, though, as there are other ways for Buyers to get the information they seek.

Below are three questions buyers commonly ask and, because an agent can't legally or ethically answer them, tips on how to find the answers.

Are There Many Children In This Neighborhood?  Answering this question could be considered steering the customer to or from a neighborhood, which is a Fair Housing violation. I usually recommend that my customers get this info by driving around the community and observing. Ideally you could check out the neighborhood around the time school lets out or on a weekend to get a feel for the demographics. You can also possibly find clues in yards or driveways such as trampolines, bicycles, swing sets and strollers.

Is This A Safe Community? Of course nobody wants to buy a home in a high-crime neighborhood but your Realtor® is not the source you should rely on to determine the safety of an neighborhood. Many law enforcement agencies now publish crime statistics and maps on the internet. If that isn't available you can call the local police or sheriff's office to get the information.

We'd Like to Live Close to Other People of the Same Religion/Ethnicity/Political Party As Us. Can You Help Us Find A Neighborhood Like That?  No, no, no! Please don't even ask this question of your agent as steering you to (or away from) an area based upon that criteria is a blatant violation and could result in your agent and their brokerage losing their real estate licenses and/or paying hefty fines. You will need to determine the geographic area you want to be in and your Realtor® can help you find homes within that area. If you are interested in living near people of the same religion consider attending a local house of worship and chatting with other attendees. If you would like to be in a particular ethnic community you'll need to identify the area and ask your Realtor®  to show you houses there.  Perhaps visiting restaurants and grocery stores that cater to people of that ethnicity will help you. And if it is important to you to live among people of a similar political mindset you can look at voter registration records or speak with representatives of local political parties to identify those areas.

While these tips may be helpful, nothing is more effective than talking to local residents. If you are able to spend some time in public gathering spots such as parks, playgrounds or coffee shops you can strike up conversations with locals. Tell them you are considering buying a home nearby and chances are you will get an insider's perspective of living in that community - the good, the bad and the ugly - that will help you more than any data or Realtor® can.

Julie Bentley, a St. Johns FL Realtor®, has been helping families who are relocating to St Johns, FL since 2011. Her customers have moved from places as far away as Hawaii, Israel and Australia and many knew very little about the area before beginning their home search. Julie has been able to help these families get all of the info they want without violating the Fair Housing Act. 

July
19

Did you know that as a named tropical storm or hurricane approaches Florida most insurance companies will suspend writing homeowner policies until the storm has passed? Often the suspension remains in place for a couple of days after as well. The storm doesn't have to be headed directly toward Hurricanes in Florida Homeowners Insurance Hurricane Insurancethe area of your new home and there are no regulations governing how long before or after the storm insurers can suspend issuing policies. How does that affect you? If you are financing your new home your lender requires that you have homeowner insurance  before closing. If your insurer can't issue your policy because of a storm 'on the grid,' your lender can't release the mortgage funds and you won't be able to close on your new house as planned.

It's hard to believe that a storm predicted to make landfall far away, even on the gulf coast or south Florida, can affect your ability to close on a home in northeast Florida but it can and does. The good news? This is easily avoidable simply by purchasing your insurance policy in advance of your closing date.

Angela King, a local Allstate Insurance agent/owner has helped many of my customers with their insurance needs. She offers these tips about buying homeowners insurance for your new home:

  • Get quotes early in the process and plan to finalize your insurance about 30 days prior to your closing date.
  • Review coverages thoroughly.  Make sure you understand what is covered and what is excluded on the policy. 
  •  Review the deductibles and make sure you are prepared for the out of pocket expense if a claim should occur. Typically, once you secure a policy you are unable to make a change to your hurricane deductible in the middle of a policy period.  2% is a standard hurricane deductible.  Some companies will allow you to drop that to $1000 or $500 for a higher premium. 
  • If you have a screened enclosure be sure to add coverage for hurricane on the enclosure.  It is not always included automatically.
  • Flood coverage is not included on the standard homeowner policy and there's a 30-day waiting period if you don't purchase it at the time of closing. If a storm is approaching and you don't have it in place you can buy a policy, but it won't cover you for 30 days from the effective date. If you plan or are required to purchase flood insurance for your new home be sure to secure coverage at the time of closing. 

With all the tasks that need to be done when purchasing a new home this one may be easy to overlook. Don't! Be sure to put it near the top of your To-Do list so your closing won't be delayed.

Angela King is a licensed insurance agent and has owned an Allstate Insurance agency in St. Johns, FL since 2011. She and her team are widely known in the area for not only their top-notch customer service and exceptional product knowledge, but also for their involvement in and contributions to the local community. If you have questions about insurance or would like a quote you can reach Angela at (904) 217-8430.

Julie Bentley has been a licensed Realtor in northeast Florida since 2012 and has advised hundreds of customers to bind their homeowner's insurance policy well in advance of closing on their new home. When a home she has listed goes under contract during hurricane season, she checks with the buyer's agent a few weeks ahead of closing to see if the policy has been issued. Some may call that overkill; she calls it prudent. Julie can be reached at 904-576-0706.

March
12

Did you know that many homes listed for sale are given nicknames by potential buyers? Possibly even more than one nickname and the homeowners will shoe closetlikely never know. Most buyers begin their home search online and name the houses while looking at photos. When they view the homes with their Realtor® the nickname often sticks or is replaced by another one. Was the house on Poplar St. the one with all the cameras and recording equipment or was that the house on Morris Dr? Which one was it that looked like a fraternity house with red solo cups, dirty laundry and take-out containers piled up? Which house had the custom shoe shelves with hundreds of pairs of heels?   Was the house with the dog, cats and reptiles the one on Sunset Ct?

It can be difficult for buyers to distinguish one from the other when comparing them either in person or online. When I show homes in the greater Jacksonville, FL area, after we leave each house I make a few quick notes with any distinctive features and my customer's impressions.  This not only helps keep them straight for me but is also useful when I provide feedback to listing agents to share with their sellers. Most buyers, on the other hand, use descriptive nicknames to talk about the homes. A very typical conversation after a few showings sounds something like this:

Me:  Now that you've seen a few houses, what are your thoughts? Do you like what you've seen so far or should we adjust your search criteria?

My Customers: So far, so good. We've decided that the spy house is too close to the highway for us. The guy house is nice and we haven't ruled it out but the bedrooms are smaller than we had hoped for. We like the zoo house a lot and it's on our short list but we're really anxious to see the shoe house. That one looks too good to be true!

Did you notice that no streets or communities were mentioned in that conversation? If YOU were to list your home for sale today what do you think prospective buyers would nickname it?



 Julie Bentley has been a Realtor® in northeast FL since 2012. During that time she has listed and sold new houses, blue houses, doll houses, tall houses and everything in between. Before listing your home call Julie at (904) 576-0706. She can help you buy or sell AND let you know what your home's nickname is likely to be.

Disclaimer: All information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. All properties are subject to prior sale, change or withdrawal. Neither listing broker(s) or information provider(s) shall be responsible for any typographical errors, misinformation, misprints and shall be held totally harmless. Listing(s) information is provided for consumers personal, non-commercial use and may not be used for any purpose other than to identify prospective properties consumers may be interested in purchasing. Information on this site was last updated 10/01/2022. The listing information on this page last changed on 10/01/2022. The data relating to real estate for sale on this website comes in part from the Internet Data Exchange program of GAMLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:44:22 PM EST) or Stellar MLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:43:03 PM EST) or SPC MLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:52:20 PM EST) or Martin MLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:49:09 PM EST) or Indian River MLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:49:21 PM EST) or Daytona MLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:45:17 PM EST) or New Smyrna MLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:48:12 PM EST) or Northeast Florida MLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:47:39 PM EST) or Beaches MLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:46:28 PM EST) or BORMLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:53:35 PM EST) or Golden Isles MLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:46:11 PM EST) or Gainesville MLS (last updated Wed 10/06/2021 8:39:37 PM EST) or Amelia/Nassau MLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:50:14 PM EST) or Dixie Gilchrist Levy MLS (last updated Sat 10/01/2022 10:52:13 PM EST). Real estate listings held by brokerage firms other than Watson Realty Corp., REALTORS ® may be marked with the Internet Data Exchange logo and detailed information about those properties will include the name of the listing broker(s) when required by the MLS. All rights reserved. --

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