Funds in the sun

Brits have been taking advantage of the low dollar to snap up investment properties near Orlando's amusement parks. Ginetta Vedrickas reports
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The Independent Online

As the pound continues to perform well against the dollar, Florida's hot property story shows no sign of abating and an increasing number of British buyers are turning their backs on traditional Mediterranean destinations, preferring instead to secure for themselves their own little piece of the sunshine state.

As the pound continues to perform well against the dollar, Florida's hot property story shows no sign of abating and an increasing number of British buyers are turning their backs on traditional Mediterranean destinations, preferring instead to secure for themselves their own little piece of the sunshine state.

Agents and developers report price rises of around 10 per cent for 2003 and predict similar growth for this year - but the falling exchange rate means there are still great deals for British buyers. Garrett Kenny of Coldwell Banker Team Realty's Davenport branch, in the heart of central Florida, has been amazed by the response since he bought his franchise 18 months ago: "Since then we've grossed over $100m (£55m) and 50 per cent of our buyers now come from the UK."

It's not only British buyers who are active in this market. An estimated 1,000 Americans relocate to Florida daily - many of them to Orlando, one of the most visited tourist destinations worldwide. Temperatures here rarely dip below 70 degrees but it is the sheer investment potential that is driving the market. Brand new apartments can be bought from as little as £55,000 and, as long as they are situated within zones designated for rentals, bring sound returns.

But there are risks. World of Florida's Suzanne Morrill advises: "I've heard of buyers who've spotted a 'bargain' on the internet, which they've bought only to find out from us that they can't rent it out. The deeds may say that they can let but some counties have since changed their rules. Always check before buying."

British journalist Emma Wright has been writing about property for more than four years but after a recent trip to Orlando she decided to invest in a condominium at Southern Dunes, a new development. "I was really impressed by the high standard of building quality," she says. "Access is brilliant and the sheer scale of the developments and the infrastructure that comes with them is amazing." Wright even admits to being charmed by the area's main tourist attraction, Disneyworld. "I had a fantastic time, and after being reluctant initially to visit the theme parks I was completely won over by them."

Disneyworld is undoubtedly the greatest draw in an area that boasts around 90 parks, but Wright intends to let her property to the many incomers who are attracted to Orlando by the employment opportunities rather than to holidaymakers. She hopes to take advantage of a leaseback scheme that guarantees a three- yearly income of $800 (£435) pcm, which theoretically will cover her mortage. Apartments at Southern Dunes are priced between £60,000 for one bedroom, and £82,000 for two bedrooms.

Southern Dunes is just a short drive from Orlando's major attractions and within the 20-minute radius of Disneyworld that agents specify in order to ensure maximum rental returns. Owners must also make sure they equip their properties well if they intend to let them. Wright recently returned from France and Italy, where she had stayed in a poorly equipped apartment. This has strengthened her resolve to buy in the States: "You'd never get that in a house in Florida, where service is always fantastic. People are now buying into that kind of lifestyle and at the very least they expect showers that work."

Buyers also expect all amenities to be on-site, which is why developments like Reunion Resort and Club, set in 2,300 acres of former citrus groves in Osceola County, are proving popular. With golf courses, a swimming pavilion and a village centre, there is now a waiting list for the next phase. Prices for the cheapest houses start at around £260,000, but buyers can expect rental returns of an impressive $100 (£55) per bed per night. Reunion prices are comparatively high, but villas on older developments can still be bought for as little as £109,000, and buyers hope to benefit from the lucrative rentals market.

Orlando Holiday Homes' sales and marketing director Kelly Fowler manages 110 properties in the central Orlando area. She finds that their owners are often likely to be British - as are the visitors renting them. She says there are excellent rental opportunities, whatever you decide to buy: "From one-bedroom studio apartments up to detached, six-bedroom executive homes with pools, there's a market, and all rent easily."

Fowler has seen a shift in the American mindset, which is proving to be good news for British investors. "Americans traditionally came to Disney and stayed in hotels but recently they've realised that for the same price they can rent a villa with pool and enjoy a far more relaxed holiday with better facilities."

Ann and Roger Macintyre - from Scotland - own a four-bedroom, three-bathroom property with pool in Kissimmee, which they bought for around £120,000 last year. They have been pleasantly surprised so far by the income: "We bought the property with capital appreciation in mind but mostly for our own enjoyment and so far we've done very well on renting it out. We considered buying in Spain but it's now so overpriced you can get much more for your money here." The Macintyres let their house for between $125 and $135 per night. Ann adds: "Our children are getting a bit old for it now but we absolutely love Disneyland; there really is nowhere on earth quite like it. Everything here is so much bigger and better than what we could have had in Spain. People will always want to take their holidays here, it has so much to offer everyone."

World of Florida: 01432 845645, www.worldofflorida.co.uk

Coldwell Banker: 001 863 420 9404, www.coldwellbankerteamrealty.com

www.reunionresort.com

Orlando Holiday Homes: 001 800 340 2118

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