It’s hard to believe looking back, now that we’re at 32 days, but we began this journey with a decision way back on January 1st, 2008 after our Christmas season visit to WDW. Then came our next decision, where to live.
We started by deciding that we wanted to be no further away than a 20-30 minute drive. Then by reading through the blogs of people we knew online who lived in various areas of Central FL we had many ideas as to which areas we’d like to make our new home. We then made a list of all of the cities we had found from that reading as well as those we knew of from past visits. Then using Google Maps we scouted other cities within that 20-30 minute ‘zone’. That gave us our original search areas of NW Osceola County, NE Polk County, S Orange County and S Lake County.
With the areas “narrowed down”, our plan was then to visit as many of these areas as we could on our 2009 Disney trip (our first time driving down); with our primary focus being the areas just south of WDW. We were able to drive through several places and stop in a few stores (to gauge prices, etc.) and made some notes to take back home with us. The drive-through was cut short by a FL rainstorm, but we did come away with a new perspective.
At this point I want to say that where you choose to live will depend a lot on your personal feelings, choices and lifestyle. And keep in mind that when choosing a new home in the WDW area you will need to make some trade-offs. From many months of research online and from having mailings sent from many different commerce groups, I did learn several things. As an example, the closer you live to WDW property, the higher the prices tend to be in the local grocery stores; but further away you’ll have a longer drive to WDW but the grocery prices are lower. This is especially true in the “tourist corridor” to the immediate south of Disney property where many stores raise their prices to catch the tourist dollars from those staying in Vacation Homes and/or Suite Resorts. So you’ll want to keep things like this in mind when you start your adventure, and everyone’s choice is theirs, there is no “right or wrong’ choice…just the choice that is best for you.
This is where the work began. Using websites such as www.greatschools.org, www.homesforthegoodlife.com, www.bardellrealestate.com (Relocation tab), www.discoverourtown.com, www.mydreamlocale.com, www.cort.com/relocation, www.city-data.com/city/Florida.html (city-data is excellent for giving pure statistics on everything) and www.moving.com/real-estate/ (Real Estate Tools section) we researched the ins and outs of each city: schools, taxes, crime rates, cost of living, etc. The city at the top of our list going in ended up being eliminated early because we could see the cost of living would be far higher than we liked and a city we hadn’t even considered moved to the top of our list. This process took almost a year of being thorough in looking for what we wanted to see in a new hometown.
Once we narrowed our choices to Clermont, Windermere, Winter Garden, Reunion, Groveland and Minneola we started “visiting” these cities virtually using Google Maps, Google Images, YouTube videos, blogs and also through the help of local friends who live in these areas or who would visit for us. This helped us to ‘see’ what areas looked like and to learn what shops, restaurants, etc. were in each area. We also learned at this point that apartment and home rental costs were very similar. Sites such as www.rent.com, www.rentalhouses.com, www.apartments.com, www.forrent.com, www.trulia.com and www.realtor.com are excellent resources for viewing apartments and rental homes. The last two are great if home-buying. We also read the online versions of all the local newspapers.
By this time Clermont had risen to the top of our list and we do have friends living there who were able to give us great info on the city in general. Then it was a house-search. We decided mid-way along that we wanted to rent an apartment to start so that we could personally learn about the communities and neighborhoods. Using the apartment search sites above we narrowed our search to 3 apartment complexes. Our preference was to have a first floor apartment and we needed 3 bedrooms, so this narrowed the search to 2. At this time an ‘outside contender’ popped up unexpectedly. There was a house for rent in the city which had topped our list early on. The house seemed great; a pool and yard (lawn care and pool maintenance included), a nice sized house and the price was right. But the owners couldn’t get licensed to rent and so we dropped this house from the list and we had our final contenders: Village at East Lake and The Gardens at Citrus Tower.
We spoke and emailed with leasing reps at both apartments and Carrie at The Gardens just really sold us on them. She took the time to answer all our questions and we came away from our calls knowing everything about The Gardens and only half as much about Village at East Lake. The rest is history.