Three years of rambling are coming to a close this month as I move into my new “coral cottage” in Charlotte Harbor, Florida.
The “coral cottage.”
The decision to find a place to call my own came fairly suddenly, as I began to feel disconnected from anything that resembled a community. I started feeling the lack of a church community and of the ability to volunteer in a fairly traditional way. I also began feeling the desire to join a writers’ group that could help me develop my writing skills, especially in fiction writing.
Once I felt that something was lacking in my life I decided to do something about it. I have never liked the cold, so I knew my search for a stable home would be in a warm climate. Florida was my first and only real choice. But where in Florida? I had lived for years in the West Palm Beach area and knew I liked the East Coast, but I also knew I did not want to live in or near a big town. I try to avoid traffic whenever possible.
Other factors I came to recognize as vital as I undertook the search for a place included:
- It should be warm year-round.
- It should be near “the water.”
- It should be within a few minute’s drive of a swimming beach.
- It should be a rental that was affordable on my limited and fixed budget.
- It should have public swimming pools available.
- It should have good libraries available.
- It should offer some senior services.
- It should have the feel of a house, rather than an apartment.
- It should provide some outdoor space.
Amazingly, I have found a place that satisfies every one of these criteria.
Finding it was not easy, however. It took about three weeks of concerted effort, hours of driving, lots of internet research, and determination to discover this gem. When I started the process, I had the possibility of a job in the Panhandle area of Florida, so I decided to make that the focus of my search, initially. I drove to Florida from my temporary home in Michigan, and stayed in a Florida state park the first five days of my sojourn.
Camping at Top Sail Hill State Park in Florida’s Panhandle
With the park as my base, and aided by my map and my GPS, I drove to and through at least a dozen small towns. My list of criteria was much shorter then, but as I drove, I came to recognize that I did have other standards I wanted met in my home. The Panhandle has beautiful beaches, but I did not fall in love with any of the towns. After five days of driving in and out of every small town I could find, only one drew me in at all as “home.” It is called Niceville, which is a nice name and a nice place, but not my place.
The potential job was looking more and more iffy, so I decided to continue the search, this time through the interior of the state and onto the East Coast. I set my GPS to avoid major highways, so it took me through the state’s interior, passing through many little towns, a number of which
North Florida has beautiful beaches, but I did not fall in love with the area.
have lakes and rivers in good supply. By the time I reached the East Coast, however, I was pretty sure smaller lakes and rivers would not suffice. My soul yearns for big bodies of water.
So, I used Ormond Beach, which is fairly centrally located on the Atlantic side of the state, as my base. I was there three days. I did the same sort of searching, in and out of small towns, including some a little more inland.
Florida’s east side has great beaches, too, like the National Seashore near Titusville, but this will be a place to visit for me, not to live.
At this point, I was just looking for the right community, not a specific home. I have one friend who grew up in Florida, and another who lives there now. I asked both of them for suggestions and made a point of visiting each town they mentioned. I also asked people on Facebook for ideas, and added those to my list of possibilities.
A technique I used was to set my GPS to take me to the “city hall” of whatever small town I was going to look at. This gave me an idea of how cohesive, friendly, and clean the town looked, and what its personality was. I checked online for more information about services, libraries, parks, and community issues. I also checked online for information on rental houses or apartments that might be available in my price range.
Another friend, who lives on the west side of the state, had offered me her condo to stay in while she was away. I took her up on her generous offer and stayed in Fort Myers for the rest of my mission. From her home I traveled up to Tampa and then down along the shoreline, visiting towns in much the same way I had done in the other areas. When all was said and done, I visited some 48 communities throughout the state.
My GPS and my atlas were invaluable tools in my search for an ideal location.
My list of criteria had expanded and my list of potential towns had consolidated. There were only two or three communities on the West Coast and about the same on the East Coast that were likely places for my new home.
I took another day to drive through the narrowed-down West Coast towns and look more specifically at potential domiciles. I found a little community that looked like “old Florida,” was close to the water, was loaded with public parks, had several places for rent, and matched everything else on my list. In fact, there was one place in particular that looked most promising. There was no rental information visible, though, so I could not tell if it would be available when I needed it, was affordable, etc.
I decided to go back to the East Coast, which is where I had always imagined I would find my ideal spot. Again, I drove up and down for two days, checking real estate listings, looking at specific possibilities, and finding myself constantly comparing these places to the one on the West Coast. On my way back to Fort Myers, I stopped at that little cottage, which was tugging at me. There was still no information, so I knocked on a neighbor’s door and got the contact information for the property manager. I called and discovered that it was really everything I had hoped for.
The next day I was able to walk around inside and fell in love even more. I put a deposit on it that day, and will move in on September 12.
The Peace River, which opens onto the Gulf, is less than two blocks away.
My new hang-out area, at the end of my street.
There is no place like home.