Feb 18 2021

More snow

… but tennis courts are filled -;)


Feb 16 2021

50+ degrees

Warm and lovely

Feb 11 2021

Lunar New York eve

I haven’t been to the City for a while due to covid-19 pandemic.

Nothing really changed during my absence. It’s the same city that is exciting and lovable, less crowds.

The snow is pretty much gone especially on the roads.

Bryant Park and the ice rink.

Astor Trust Company: it began as Astor National Bank of NY in 1898 and merged with Bankers Trust in 1917. Initial capital was $300,000.

Oh … the silly Dadong restaurant (L), which has long since closed.

It’s Chinese New Year eve, wishing everyone a happy and healthy Year of the Ox.

Feb 5 2021

Building a (retirement) home in Florida

This post is about buying a home (retirement-home) in a 55+ master planned communities (MPC) in Florida.

To be clear, community in this post means a single club house MPC, and village means an area that has multiple communities, that usually require CDD fee (Community Development District).

I’ll break it down to five stages:

1. Searching
2. Builders & Agents
3. Building
4. Packing up to move
5. Closing and beyond

Be aware for those who don’t have experience living in a community: it’s like high school. More on this later.

Below are a few quickies, before getting into more details:

  1. Over all, we signed the contract in January 2021, schedule to close in February to March 2022. After seven months delay, we closed in September 2022. The base price has increased 41.56% at closing.
  2. Florida doesn’t require a lawyer, the builders dictate the terms, and buyers sign on the dotted lines. Real estate agents are not necessary (but you certainly could engage one). We purchased directly from the builder.
  3. Club house is where the amenities located, such as pools, tennis courts, auditorium, exercise room, yoga studio, cafe, etc., depends on the design of the community.
  4. The HOA fee vary but in general, covers the club house and ground up keeping. Some HOA even covers green fee, cable and internet, etc.
  5. Learned this AFTER we signed up: the exterior color combination can NOT be the same as your next door neighbors’, or directly across the street.
  6. Be mindful that different homes offer different structure options, such as the location of the a/c – so read your document/blueprint carefully.
  7. In March 2022, we’re informed that the garage door has increased $390-$480: due to discontinuation of the option we chose, months earlier. This can be seen in both ways: the cheer delays, which is bad, but also getting a newer model, which is good, in the long run.

Our timeline

A pond at a community: one side is built while the other side is yet to be built. The builders call this ‘lake‘, I think pond is more appropriate. 

Stage 1: Searching 

  • Location: where to – state
  • Location: what kind of housing – old or new
  • Location: which community

We want a warmer climate, considered California and Florida.

We’ve been thinking to move to a warmer climate for better part of 2020 and began to search for one seriously in January 2021. Within a few days, we decided on Florida. CA is too expensive.

Second, what kind of housing: a single home, a condo, a home in a MPC… We preferred a new home in a MPC, one level.

Lakewood Ranch (LWR) came easily 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/browse street views.

LWR is a huge village that includes about 30 communities (a few are 55+), near Sarasota on the west coast, and 50 miles south of Tampa international airport (TPA). The village has 48 square miles, more than twice the size of Manhattan. It has a couple of (or three?) downtowns.

drive around the town

Each community at LWR operates independently (from buyer’s prospective) and most of them is developed by a single builder, who will run the community 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 communities), and buyers deal with the specific community/builder directly. I’ve seen Greenbrook homes on sale on Zillow. The LWR says it is an older community (sold out) so it is not on the comparison sheet.

Third, choosing a community. 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/ponds are tiny) with high ceiling, and the club has tru tennis courts and lap swimming pool. With these ‘wants’ in mind, I narrowed down my search tremendously.

Esplanade at Azario LWR ⇓

Fourth, I began to search the communities’ map for a lot (homesite). The builders release lots within the community gradually. Some even let the buyers to bid on the most desirable lots. After deciding a lot, is to pick a home model: each lot accommodates 2-4 models. This is the easiest: we went by the footage we want.

Stage 2: the builders and agents

Narrowing down to a few communities in Lakewood Ranch, my next step is to contacting them. Because each community is built by a single developer (usually one but I also see as many as three developers/builders in one community, which is rare), so contacting the builder is the first step.

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.

I was an uneducated consumer at this juncture and found his method difficult to accept. In retrospect, this is rather normal at the moment in Florida housing market: strong demand.

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+ community. 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 community 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 and the agent 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 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 community 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. I chatted with Charlie who is knowledgeable, answered all my questions and set me up with agent Mike Fowler. Sir Fowler 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 very limited.

I am a little deflected at this point. With a strong demand, this is probably one would get: LWR claimed they had a banner year in 2020.

Then thing perked up.

Thanks to my former neighbor, I found a pretty new community with many available lots. It has nearly 600 homes (? are single family and ? are twin villas). The final total number will rise a little at the end when they take down the sales office and construction office.

The builder’s receptionist is able to send me their site map immediately. When agent A called the following day, I already know which lot I’m interested. After a few back and forth, we wired $5,000 deposit and signed the contract on Jan 28, with 10% down. It stipulates the close will be within 12-14 months, which is February or March 2022.

By this point, we did it entirely online.

Our community’s timeline

  • 2018.3.10 opened
  • 2021 Jan we signed on
  • 2021.6.11 222 homes closed
  • 2021.7.12 228 homes closed
  • 2022 Jan 72 lots available; price is up 33% since we signed
  • 2022.1.15 50% homes have closed
  • 2023 Feb sales center winding down
  • 2023 Mar the last phrase

Every community offers more than a dozen of home models. If the model is important, then you would consider the lot to be the secondary. Some models have the walk in closet inside the bathroom, really, what are they thinking? The a/c unit outside of the bedroom window; one piece vanity top (YES) vs under mount sink, …

Common sense: at earlier stage of development of a community, you might encounter, such as the club house has not completed yet, and or ongoing construction. But you’ll have more lots to choose from and getting in at a lower premium. Since we signed in Jan 2021, the price for the same model has been going up steadily:

  • 6.6% by March 22, 2021
  • 14% by May 5, 2021
  • ..
  • 25% by Jun 8, 2021
  • 33% by Jan 14, 2022

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

* Options *

Between the signing of the contract to the next stage of building the house, there is one important event: selecting your options inside your home, from countertop to bathtub to floor to cabinet knobs.

The Option Book arrived with the contract (or shortly after), which 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 details here.

Stage 3: The building process

We signed the contract at the end of January, and made our option meeting in April. However, the construction of our home didn’t start till October, 2021, due to delays or shortages.

During this time, the best updates source is neighbors. Our sales agent sent one set of three photos on November 7, 2021 when our walls are already up. More on construction.

… News and trends in the meantime

Before we went, I told my sales agent that a friend is coming with us who’s very interested to buy. The agent said nothing. When we met in the design center, my friend asked for his business card, he just brushed her off. She found another agent to take her around. At the end of tour, she asked the agent if the $15,000 credit is still available, the agent said, “nope.” (We found this $15k credit in our contract – the sales agent didn’t even bother to mention it to us).


more to come … 


Feb 3 2021

Ice sculptures

A few photos taken today, and in the past two days. The snow was ok.