Florida Keys – Housing Costs & Considerations
Now that you’ve decided that you want to live here and hopefully narrowed it down to a few keys, the next item to consider is housing. In a word, it’s expensive. Let’s explore it further.
Why is housing so expensive here? Supply & demand, just like you learned about in ECON 101. The idea is that as demand rises, supply dwindles and cost spikes. It’s the same as buying the last seat on a flight, it’s always the most expensive seat. Even without the high demand, supply in the keys is a lot lower than other places due to the lack of build-able space on these small islands. Couple that with all the reasons we talked about for wanting to live here: the views, world class diving, fishing, sunsets, kayaking, etc and you can see how that combination results in ridiculously high housing costs.
So how much can you expect to pay?
It depends on the island
Key West is more expensive than most of the other keys with Islamorada right alongside it but be prepared to pay a lot for a little all over the keys. I’ve seen studios in Key West going for more than $1000 per month. Yes, you can get a lot more house for your money in other parts of the country but you’re not in Key West 🙂 And you know what? The weather here is amazing so if you’re spending a lot of time in your tiny apartment you’re doing something wrong! You can save some money by living on some of the more remote islands but there’s a trade off; you won’t be able to walk/bike to attractions like you can in other places and you’ll have a longer drive for groceries and supplies.
We’re in Key Largo, less expensive maybe than Key West & Islamorada since it’s the largest key and has more supply but it’s still plenty expensive. I saw a 1/1 trailer for rent yesterday for $1500 to give you an idea. It’s also high season, more on that below.
Come at the right time of year
Remember in which key is right for you? when I said winter is the high season for tourism and snowbirds? I bet you can guess what that does to the housing supply. If you guessed that it reduces it down to almost nothing you’d be right. When we came last winter for our trial period we decided “late” in the year, around June. I put late in quotes because a 6 month lead time for a rental doesn’t feel late to me but down here that’s late. We ended up with a place that was $3500 a month, had no screens and was slowly being reclaimed by nature. It was worth it to us to escape the winter and give the keys a try, apparently a ton of other people think it’s worth it too.
Plan to move right after high season ends for the most options and the best prices. April/May is a great time to come down. We found our rental over Memorial Day last year and were able to look at 11 places that allowed our dogs. That’s still not a lot of choice and we ended up in a place bigger & more expensive than we wanted but we’re embracing this year we have on the canal and loving every second of it.
Just throw out any artificial standards you have now and be flexible with what’s available. Forget about decor and granite counter tops and stuff like that. You might end up in a well-appointed rental and you might not. Our current place has hunter green carpet and mirrored closet doors. Would I choose that myself? Definitely not. Well, maybe in 1985. Do I care? Definitely not. We also have canal views from our main living area and water access to Pennekamp State Park. That’s what I care about. I’m paying to be in the keys and I live outside 90% of the time not to sit inside contemplating the decor so let that stuff go.
Less dog friendly than other places
Ah yes, back to supply and demand. With demand so high landlords have to make fewer concessions and allowing dogs is one of them. I know, you have the best behaved dogs in the world, we do too, they don’t care. From their perspective, dogs are a risk to their rental and why take a risk if you don’t have to? Expect to find fewer rentals that allow dogs than you’re used to.
Most places are furnished
Since so many people are seasonal here most rentals come fully furnished. We’re not planning to go to anywhere else in the states so we sold everything before we came down here. Once our time here ends we’re planning to go to the Caribbean for a while so bringing furniture here didn’t make sense. If you think you’ll end up buying down here or going back where you came from either rent unfurnished or store your furniture until you need it again. Expect to find less unfurnished options.
What should you do next?
Do some research. Get a Zillow account and setup a search for rentals in your price range and area and start collecting data points. Look at the pictures of what you’ll get for the price and decide if you can be happy with it. A month or so before your move, come down on a scouting trip and look at rentals. Do not rent something you haven’t seen long term! Some of the housing ads are like a dating profile, they look great on paper and the pictures are gorgeous but once you meet the house you realize they were reflective of a different time, maybe even a different decade.
I think that about covers housing! If you have a question I haven’t answered, let me know in the comments or by email.
Until next time …
Warm thoughts to all!