Feb 5 2021

Home, sweet home

This post is about my experience in buying a home in a master planned communities (MPC) in Florida. To be clear, village in this post means a single club house MPC, and community means an area that has multiple villages.

A few quickies:

  1. They don’t use real estate lawyer: the builders dictate the terms, and buyers sign on the dotted lines. Real estate agents are not necessary, as we purchased directly from the builder.
  2. Club house is where the amenities located, such as pools, tennis courts,  cafe … depends on the village.
  3. The HOA fee covers the club house and ground up keeping. Some village even covers cable and internet.

There are two ways to go: buying an already built or being built, which is what I’m doing, and I group my process into a few stages:

  1. Searching
  2. Builders and Agents
  3. Building

Stage 1: Searching

We’ve been thinking to move to a warm climate for better part of 2020 and began to search for one seriously in January 2021. Within a few days, we decided on  Lakewood Ranch (LWR), because it has what we want and ranks #2 in the nation.

With the covid-19 pandemic, we used internet exclusively and the little yellow man who resides on the lower right corner on Google map is our eyes when we want to see the neighborhood/to browse street views.

LWR is a huge community with nearly 30 villages (a few are 55+), near Sarasota on the west coast, and 50 miles south of Tampa international airport (TPA). The community has 48 square miles, twice the size of Manhattan. It has a couple of (or three?) downtowns.

… drive around the town

Each village at LWR operates independently (from buyer’s prospective) and most of them is developed by a single builder, who will run the village until all the homes are completed, they then leave and turn it over to the homeowner association (HOA) to run. The web site, LakewoodRanch.com provides overall general information (Compare their 22 Villages), and buyers deal with the specific village/builder directly. I’ve seen Greenbrook homes on sale on Zillow. The LWR says it is an older village (sold out) so it is not on the comparison sheet.

My requirements for a home is simply: on a southern facing pond (the builders usually call it lake, which is a little misleading since the water are rather tiny) with possible high ceiling, and the club has tru tennis courts and lap swimming pool.

Esplanade at Azario LWR ⇓

First, I use har tru tennis courts and lap pool to slim down my search. Then, choose a lot (homesite) that faces south. The builders release lots within the village gradually. Some even let the buyers to bid on the most desirable lots. Thirdly, is to pick a home: each lot accommodates a certain number of models. This is the easiest: we went by the footage we want.

Stage 2: the builders and agents

Lennar (LEN, $90.90) @ Lorraine Lakes; agent 7085 ⇓

I called Lorraine Lakes first, on Jan 15. It’s by Lennar (LEN). An agent called back immediately. We spoke briefly and he sent me their site map (on a pond), to pick a lot. Shortly after we began to text, he asked for $5,000 deposit to hold the lot.
“May I have more info?”
“What more do you need?”
Maybe a prospectus? …No, they don’t. All the info is online. We ended the text with me asking, “Any actual photos of your already built homes? The base price of the home – what are included? Thanks.” He never replied.

Taylor Morrison (TMHC $28.78) Esplanade at Zario; agent Rod ⇓

Two days later, I contacted Taylor Morrison’s Esplanade at Zario. The receptionist scheduled a call for me with their agent Rod the following day. He was twenty minutes late to the call. We spoke for about twenty minutes and all seemed rosy. Then after I sent him three emails for more questions, he stopped responding.

As a footnote, TM continuously sends me updates. Park East, Treasure Coast, … a home site interested me at Park East and I called to inquire. … They were busy and the girl said she’ll have the site sales to call … they never did. Oh well, Ivanka Trump tells Marco Rubio she won’t challenge him for Florida Senate seat – Florida maybe is red hot.

Pulte (PHM $47.99) Del Webb; agent Mike ⇑

lot #1113

Two more days passed, I searched again and called Del Webb, a 55+ village. Agent Mike called back the following day. He’s from Buffalo and is more to the point – I didn’t feel like squeezing the toothpaste for info. Unfortunately, the village is pretty much sold, so the choices are very limited. I liked a lot and Mike sent a document for us to sign with DocuSign, which is good – one less tree to be cut. To hold the lot, he asked for $10,000 deposit. The lot, as it turned out, is a spec home, which means I can NOT change a thing. I was somewhat unsatisfied – love the lot but not the spec home. Just before I mail out the check, one of our neighbors who had just moved into their Florida home two months ago, suggested that we look at their builder.

The Builder and agent Ahmed ⇑

Thank them, I did and found a pretty new community with many available lots. One good thing is their receptionist is able to send me their site map. When agent Ahmed called me the following day, I already know which lots I’m interested. After a few back and forth, $5,000 wire transfer deposit, we signed the contract on Jan 28, with 10% down. Done with search, entirely online. The home will be finished within 12-14 months: the demand is pretty strong. LWR claimed they had a banner year in 2020.

The first three builders are publicly traded companies (their stock price is at closing on Feb 5, 2021). In fact we had LEN shares for a while years ago. Each village has it own dedicated staff. So it’s a luck of draw whom you get. In between, I also looked at Lennar’s Pelican Preserve’s coach home. The live char with Charlie ⇑ is great. He answered all my questions and set me up with agent Mike Fowler ⇑, who called me back immediately. As it happened, he was on the site and face timed me as he walks through a similar model. He was professional as well and helpful. Unfortunately, the choices are very limited.

At earlier stage of development of the village – going in early, you’ll have more lots to choose from (it can make you dizzy too) and might be at a lower premium. But you might encounter, such as the club house has not compete yet, and or ongoing construction.

The above mentioned builders all have multiple projects going concurrently in Florida. Search their web site to find one that is best suit your need: location, amenities, type/style of home, etc.

Stage 3: The building process

Signing the contract is painless but the option book that arrived with the contract, requires some learning and decision making: color of exterior, tiles, impact glasses, air conditioning upgrade, side door on the garage, … Book is somewhat fitting because it has 55 pages. Wished the builder would move this process online, which is easier for all. One is to save some trees. Two, with so many items/options, what if the builder missed/messed one or two options?

more to come …

May 25 2020

Frank Wright and more

Passing by this house often but the modern style in town, most times, isn’t my cup of tea.


May 20 2020

Cute cottages and ruins

Some houses look great with a little ‘ruin’.

I’ve passed by this house numerous times. But when I saw it today, it suddenly reminds me of the American dream: a house in the suburb with white picket fence. Even the fence of this house isn’t white nor made with wood.


May 20 2020

West Egg

The East Egg, across the bay

Kings Point is the posh part of the town but under the pen of F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was where Gatsby’s house was, in the West Egg, which was less fashionable than Daisy Buchanan and Tom’s East Egg, with old money: the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water. The book came out in 1925, the story was about the summer 1922. The house looks in rather mind condition, at least 95 years later. The little park next to it is well kept. A good walk today.


Apr 20 2020

New and recent constructions

Apr 20 2020

B&B, ready

.. -:) oh well … maybe one day.

Apr 20 2020

Modern times

Modern architectural begins with organic architecture that was championed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This house, S. 240 is one of 425 by him that was competed, which was built in 1937 for Ben and Anne Rebhuhn.


Mar 26 2020

An old house in Shanghai

3 Baoqing Road 宝庆路3号
Shanghai, China

According to the post, this is one of ten old luxury houses in Shanghai 榜上有名的豪宅约有十幢, and there are 3,000 (short for yangfang 独立花园洋房.) The following photos are taken by Hu Ping.

It’s the Shanghai Symphony Museum now 上海交响音乐博物馆. Aunt Jennie started her career at Shanghai Symphony, spending four years there (1956-60) before moving to the Central Philharmonic 中央乐团 (CNSO since 1996). The exhibits in the museum are from the Symphony and Shanghai Conservatory of Music 藏品主要来自上海交响乐团和上海音乐学院. The restoration of the property was rather decent, except the fire place.


Oct 30 2019

Changde Dao in 2019

21 Changde Dao
Tianjin, China

We jumped from Zhou Xuexi’s former residence to my former residence – well, I called it home for a couple of years, after the lunch. It’s a short walk, southwest 900 meters away.


Chongqing Dao and the neighborhood of Five Great Avenues 天津五大道…

Oct 30 2019

Zhou Xuexi’s old residence

Macau Road 澳门路
Tianjin, China

From the Museum, we drove to Aomen Lu from Luoyang Road 洛阳道, visited Zhou Xuexi’s former home, a row of red brick buildings – 900 meters NE of Changde Dao. Zhou had four buildings but many had been demolished.

It’s built in 1915 and Zhou lived here for 30 some years. Zhou passed away in 1947 in Beijing where he also maintained homes.

At the curb of Luoyang and Aomen, there is a street vendor selling veggies. A popular restaurant 粤园 operates on the ground level. From the name I’d think it’s a Cantonese but it’s Thai.