I'm not going to beat around the bush, we bought a
love shack / beach house! Well, it's a bit of both, but we've been carrying around this hand-crafted (by us) driftwood sign for a long time, so Love Shack it is.
Now this is not a fancy "beachfront" multi-million dollar affair, as if we could afford that!, but it's much more our style. Only 3 blocks from the beach, we can walk over in 5 minutes. That gives us the ability to carry over fishing gear, paddleboards, snorkeling gear, beach chairs, whatever we like - it's an easy haul.
Built in 1962, it is a concrete block house, super cute on the outside, not so much inside (I call it 50 shades of beige). But we can fix that, and have already started to dig in. Outside, it has great curb appeal with cool architecture and lush tropical landscaping. In back, it has banana trees, a soursop tree, and what we think is kaffir lime, all edible, all delicious! We've already started trying to sprout a carambola (starfruit) tree because that was one of our favorites in the islands. We also have a beautiful old Live Oak tree, Christmas palms, and Birds of Paradise. The landscape is really beautiful.
The Trail We Followed
Before we get into the house, let's talk about how we got here in the first place. We weren't planning to buy a house, not right away, that's for sure. Some time ago, we decided we wanted to live in Florida permanently. It is tropical, gets lots of sunshine, has great beaches, what's not to love? It's also the perfect launchpad for all points south in the Caribbean. You can hit Puerto Rico in no time, St. Maarten with just a little more effort. The long haul places like Grenada are always going to be long haul, but we hope to get there one day soon. House or no house, we still plan to travel and having a home base may actually make things easier. In fact, we're planning a trip back to Vieques, PR next summer.
But to get to our new house we took a circuitous path. Plan A was to explore the whole coast of Florida, that is until Deb decided that Northern Florida is TOO COLD! So we still had roughly Daytona Beach and south of there, on both coasts. We thought we'd buy or rent an RV and spend a month at a time in various locations. Then we found out that the cost of parking the thing anywhere near the beach was about the same as renting a furnished place, and that was without actually acquiring the RV itself. So it was onto Plan AirBnB. Well, that has its own costs (AirBnB's fee, cleaning fees, pet fees), including high seasonal rates (snowbird season, which we were coming into), and many don't allow pets at all. Plan Three was to rent a place on each coast for 6 months at a time, starting with our old stomping grounds in the Melbourne Beach area. To start our search in earnest we needed to settle in quickly, so we felt we needed some familiarity. In six months, we'd go over to the Sarasota area (which we explored and almost blew our cover) or Clearwater or someplace like that on the Gulf Coast, to look around. Finally, we should mention that one reason we wanted to buy is to get reasonable, fixed housing costs, not subject to seasonal spikes and other variables.
So there we were, house hunting and zeroing in on older block construction homes built in the 50s and 60s. We love the clean lines and the classic look that many of them have, and especially the terrazzo floors. Our ideal home was a 2 Bed, 2 Bath home, about 1000 square feet. That sounds quite small to most Americans but it was more than what we had in our Vieques rental (725 sf) and we were quite happy there. We saw several homes, most of which needed a LOT of work, but that's OK - we were looking for a fixer. We like to make our houses our own so we've done various stages of remodeling over the years, and even flipped a house once. Some of the homes we found were actually in an area used by the Navy in the 40's to dump munitions and burn trash. Our friends in Vieques know a thing or two about this!
So it wasn't going all that well and we'd decided if nothing comes along we might build a small house, or in a few months we'd be heading over to the other coast to look. We were driving down Highway A1A after looking at a few houses, and Deb told me to turn around, there was a For Sale sign down a side street. It turned out to only be a For Rent sign, but when we drove through the neighborhood to turn around, we saw it. This house was so beachy, it may as well have had pelicans and sea turtles in the front yard. The clouds in the sky parted, sunbeams shown down on the house, and a rainbow ended right there in the back yard! This was it! This was what we wanted! Most importantly, Deb said, "I could live here!".
Reality quickly set in as we reckoned it had to be out of our price range, because it hadn't shown up in our online searches. It was such a cute place, but after admiring it for a while, we drove off. Before we even got out of the neighborhood my phone rang. It was our Realtor, and she said there's a house that just came back on the market and she could show it to us right now. She was clearly excited. I told her, "Let me pull over so I can put the address into my phone". She replied, "Wait, are you right in front of me?". Yes, we were, we were right in front of her. She pulled up next to us, and guess which house she wanted to show us!!!
So just like that, we gave up on the Gulf Coast plan. OK, it really wasn't "just like that" - we've spend a lot of time on that coast and spent a lot of time on Zillow and Realtor.com looking for places to live. We had already started to wonder if it was worth going over there when we weren't seeing a good fit. Ultimately, the Atlantic side just fits our sensibilities better. The beach access, the surf scene, the little beach houses, the laid-back vibe - all of it just meshes for us. This house in North Indialantic was a 3BR/2Ba, and 1300 sf, which is one bedroom and a few square feet larger than our "ideal", but it really couldn't get any better. It's also got terrazzo floors, even if they are below a couple of layers. So, decision made, we made an offer and after a little negotiation, we'd purchased a house!
Now of course, we have that age-old problem - we need some stuff! Remember, we've been living very light on our flip-flops. Everything we own fits in our car. We know this because we just hauled it all from Colorado in one swell foop.
I know all of you STUFF people are chuckling under your breath about how we should have kept it all. No, no, we definitely should not have kept it all! Really, the main things we need to buy right away are some kitchen items and tools, QED. We'll buy furniture as interesting items catch our eyes, and as they fit into Deb's "mid-century modern beach" design plan. At the time of this writing, we currently have two plastic Adirondack chairs (they're all we need until we finish moving in) and a cardboard box for the doggies (don't call them cats just because they like a cardboard box!).
As good and faithful minimalists 🙂 we're still going to only buy what we need, and what truly brings us joy. Each time we approach a purchase, like a tool or something for the house, we ask if it has a long-term benefit, or if there is another way to solve whatever problem exists without purchasing it. For example, some tools can simply be rented, avoiding maintenance and storage issues. If we need a snow blower, we'll just go rent one for a day! Actually, half a day should be sufficient around here. 🙂
So here we are, we closed on the house in only 3 weeks with an interest rate so low (it starts with a 2!) that we couldn't turn it down. And besides, between the mortgage company and the title company, we walked away with not one, but two celebratory bottles of wine! Winning!
Now, like some of your past boyfriends and girlfriends, the house is super cute on the outside, but needs some work on the inside. For an almost 60 year old house, it does have good bones, as well as a new A/C unit, a new roof, and a new water heater. It needs some plumbing repairs, and is just screaming to turn the Florida Room (aka sun room) into a real Florida Room, which means plenty of light and sea breezes.
This Florida Room was born a patio in the early sixties, and at some point they walled it in to make it more useful year-round. But with two tiny glass block windows and an odd string of glass blocks across the front wall of the house, it has no air flow and not nearly enough light. It's a mellow yellow cave. To make the situation worse, that part of the yard has beautiful bamboo, traveler's palms, and other lush tropical foliage, but you can't see any of this from the room that has no real windows. We aim to remedy this problem pronto! It is so vital to our happiness, that we labeled it a "must", along with the plumbing work. The fix is to remove all of the glass block and add 5 large casement windows, plus a high quality sliding glass door, all of which are hurricane rated. This will give us great light and airflow through that room.
This leads us to our contractor. We've always been DIY people, taking on almost any job imaginable (plumbing, electrical, framing, roofing, fencing, painting, hanging doors, etc.). Nowadays, we're not as young as we were, which is more obvious on me than on Deb. But the real key was that we did not want to be involved with cutting out concrete floors and walls to replace bad drain pipes. Even if we could do it, we wouldn't want to do it. And a contractor could get that Florida room done about 10 times faster than we could, with all local codes covered as well. So we found one who came recommended, and I know you won't believe this, but he said that once the permits are in, it'll take about two weeks. We hope so because we only have our rental for about 4 more weeks. Fingers crossed they don't make a movie out of this!
In the meantime, we've been doing some work on windows and doors, cleaning up the landscape, and improving the look of the front porch. It's already getting better (let's just say less is more when it comes to trim!).
More than one person we talked to lately has told us that their interest in living in the Caribbean has waned somewhat after reading of our travels and subsequent return to the states. Though we like to stay positive, we want to be honest and report the good and the bad both. I think we've done a good job of that. But we don't want to discourage anyone from trying something like this, in fact it's just the opposite. We still strongly encourage it - we would not have done a single thing differently over the last few years since we retired. You have to go and try things, push yourself outside of your normal, but still live life your way. Have your own adventures. Remember, none of us are trees, we can move around and go experience life. Go ahead and do it (in español, Dale)!
That said, we've learned that it is difficult to do some of this "our way", which is a very slow thoughtful type of travel. We always wanted to settle in to an island to truly experience it, to meet new friends who are different from us. We've done that and enjoyed it immensely, but this method is not without its challenges. Transportation is a big one to solve anywhere, and can be costly depending on the length of your stay. Sometimes internet access can be difficult and costly as well, and buying things, even food, requires a new level of patience. If it is available locally, it will be expensive, and if not, it will be difficult to ship there. Most of these things can be solved with enough money but that's not how we want to live. We do think we'll be very happy with our home base on this Florida barrier island.
So what's next for us? Of course, the pandemic has put a real damper on travel these days, so our timing is good. We'll work on our house while the world slowly returns to normal and we can travel again. And, if you take a look at the satellite image of our neighborhood below, you can guess we'll be spending a fair amount of time at the beach. And with a love shack that's 58 years old, we'll be busy enough to say we are truly knee deep in it now!