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Friday, January 26, 2007

Go long on sweaters...and the Carolinas: Floridians miss winter

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�lbemarle Plantation season shot  
North Carolina communities like Albemarle Plantation in Hertford are a magnet for Florida residents who miss a little change of seasons. 

   
    Wherever we go in the southeast, we hear the same thing from real estate agents:  Floridians are "bouncing back" to the Carolinas.  In the early years of this decade, the reasons seemed to be storm related; those with expensive homes on the Florida coasts were intimidated by the threat and, in some cases, reality of hurricanes.  They were already leaving before Katrina.  Others were fed up with New York metro-area-type traffic as local road infrastructures could not keep up with the population explosions in places like Dade County and Naples.  What’s the point of trying to save money by eating dinner at 4:30 p.m. at the local Smorgie Board if you are going to sit in traffic and waste gas?  Lately, though, Florida residents are moving to Wilmington, Charlottesville, Asheville and other cities in the southeast for another reason:  They miss winter.
    Ironic, isn't it.  The reasons our parents and grandparents left New York and other northern cities decades ago was that they were sick and tired of cold and snow, and that on a fixed income, they felt a wardrobe of a few tee and golf shirts and three pairs of shorts would save money.  They never imagined they would miss winter, or a reasonable facsimile of it (winters in the Carolinas are wussy winters).  Today, many are trading in their lanais for fireplaces.  
    Of course, it is never just about the weather as much as it is about economics, loathe as some of us are to admit it.  Just as they did decades ago when they cashed in the wild appreciations on their homes in Skokie and Scarsdale for brand new houses in Boca and Boynton Beach, the new refugees, also known as “halfbacks” for how far they’ve come since leaving north for Florida, are doing the same thing, playing the real estate game for all it is worth, pocketing the difference between their wildly appreciated houses in Florida for plenty enough house in the Carolinas.  (Of course, if they waited until now in places like Miami and Naples, they won't get the prices they could have gotten a year ago, if they can sell at all.)
    Call it creative financing on a fixed income.  They no longer need worry quite as much about income tax rates – Florida has none – because their taxable income is no longer a huge factor as they've spent some of their net worth over time.  What they make on the sell and buy transaction pays for a lot of firewood and all the sweaters they need for the Carolinas’ mild winters.  And North Carolina has no estate tax, so what they don’t spend in their lifetimes the halfbacks can leave substantially to their heirs.  
    From the macro economic view, this new phenomenon is good news for real estate price stability in the Carolinas; on the other side of the coin, we have to wonder if Floridians who wait too long to follow suit may suffer more winters of discontent.
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