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 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 for your child to attend 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 any community I strongly recommend that you read the Homeowner's Association bylaws and make sure you can live with the HOA covenants and restrictions within them. 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.