Florida Land for Sale

When it comes to distinction, Florida holds several records. So many, in fact, that it’s impossible to list them all here. To name just a few, Florida boasts the first European settlement in North America; it is home to the most-visited amusement park in the country; it inspired the name of a sports drink (Gatorade); and is a Mecca for diving and sports fishing enthusiasts, college-age spring break makers and retirees. If you’ve ever visited Florida, you’ve no doubt felt the allure that many others have felt deeply enough to make the state their home. It’s a place where old and new, north and south and young and mature blend seamlessly with each other.

Florida earned its nickname, the Sunshine State for obvious reasons: With an average of 250 days of sun annually, only Hawaii gets more direct sunlight than Florida. The southernmost of the 48 contiguous states, Florida’s climate ranges from temperate in the north, sub tropical in the central portion, to tropical in the south. Sitting near the Tropic of Cancer, the southern tip of Florida is the only place in the continental United States where one can simply drive to a tropical paradise.

Spanish Conquistador Ponce de Leon first spied Florida in 1513. In 1565, St. Augustine was founded by Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Aviles and became the first European colony in the United States. Later, the city and the surrounding region became a hotly contested prize: Britain and Spain battled for control, swapping owners back and forth through treaties. It was finally handed to the United States in 1819, in exchange for $5 million in damages paid to Spain. The United States occupation followed two years later, and the state’s current borders were formed in 1822. Florida was the 27th state to be added to the Union on March 3, 1845.

Florida covers 65,755 square miles and boasts the longest coastline in the contiguous 48—approximately 1,350 miles. It is the only state to touch both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean—in fact, Alaska is the only other state that can claim to touch two oceans at once. The unique landscape of Florida includes verdant hills, woodlands, marshes, scrub brush and wetlands, all barely rising above sea level. More than 19 million people call Florida home, giving it the rank of fourth most populated state in the union.

The state of Florida recognizes four economic regions: the Panhandle, North, Central and South. These areas have developed more or less naturally over time: The differing industries and consequent prosperity of each area developed due to its unique climate and landscape. From north to south, the price of real estate increases, but there are investment opportunities at all price points.

The Panhandle

The panhandle region of Florida is the least populated and also the most lightly visited. Here, the sub-tropical climate is mild and is where some of the most beautiful natural areas in the state can be found. The rolling hills of this area are reminiscent of the landscape of Alabama or Georgia, and it’s possible to separate this particular region, affectionately called the Emerald Coast, from the rest of Florida. The highest point in the state is called Britton Hill. This landmark, which has an elevation of only 345 feet above sea level, is located near the border of Alabama in Walton County. Part of the Panhandle is located in the Central time zone, giving the area a unique distinction from the rest of the state.

There are several large rivers in the panhandle, which drain the springs and swamps to the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Hardwood and pine forests dot the landscape. The Gulf Coast is scattered with barrier islands, tidal marshes and beaches. The beaches along the panhandle are known for the sugary white sand that comes from Appalachian quartz that washed down in rivers that dried long ago. Vast salt marshes make sections of the coast unreachable by car or foot.

Real estate in the Panhandle region is considerably less expensive than that in South Florida, but it is a great place for investors to get a foothold. The value of Panhandle land increases as people discover the beauty of the area. Many financial pundits, including CNN’s Money.com, rank the Panhandle region as a top spot in the nation to buy land.

North Florida

Slightly more populated than the Panhandle, North Florida is home to some of the state’s gorgeous national wildlife refuges and parks. Much of the land here is used for farming timber. Particularly on the Gulf Coast, there are few towns and roads are far between. Salt marshes and tidal flats make the region hard to navigate, but the stunning natural springs make a canoe trip worth the effort. This region is the safest in the state from hurricanes: Hurricane Dora, which hit Jacksonville in 1964, is the only storm of that area that has ever made landfall in recorded history.

On the Atlantic side of North Florida, developed cities overwhelm the landscape. Jacksonville is the principal city in the region: It is the most densely populated city in the state and is the largest city by area in the entire contiguous United States. Daytona, about an hour’s drive south, is known for its beaches, annual motorcycle festivals and the motor sports stadium that hosts the famous Daytona 500. However, there are a few quiet places even amidst the hustle and bustle of North Florida cities: Washington Oaks State Gardens and Little Talbot Island State Park are among resident favorites.

North Florida’s real estate value has a tendency to fluctuate greatly with changes in the national housing market. Investors should choose wisely in this area in order to make decent returns. On the upside, Jacksonville consistently ranks in the top 10 most tax-friendly cities in the nation, attracting businesses and residents alike.

Central Florida

Central Florida is where the temperate climates of the Panhandle and North Florida meet the tropics of the South. Central Florida extends from the Atlantic to the Gulf Coast and includes some of the state’s most iconic attractions. Orlando is the primary city in the region and is a global hub for vacation and entertainment. The Space Coast in Central Florida is home to Cape Canaveral, where NASA conducted space shuttle launches until 2011. The area is a favorite for golf courses, country clubs and retirement communities. Several pristine beaches, including the world-famous Cocoa Beach line the Atlantic coast from tip to toe in this region. On the gulf side, Tampa is the gemstone of the Central region. The bay is the second-largest metropolitan area in the state and is a hot seat for sports entertainment and arts.

Central Florida is also where the citrus belt begins. Temperatures in the center of the state rarely dip below freezing, making it a perfect home for the fickle fruit trees that bear the nation’s citrus bounty. While palm trees are transplanted in the northern regions, they grow wild in Central Florida, along with cypress, live oak, acacia and other warm-weather species. The scrub-brush that is native to Florida can be found across this region. Additionally, it is the northernmost point where indigenous turtles and tortoises make their home. Several wildlife refuges are dedicated to preserving the beauty of the Central region, including Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Lake Wales Ridge.

The real estate market in Central Florida is as diverse as the area itself, offering several types of land that can be used for a multitude of purposes. Since more than 17 million visitors flock to the Central region each year, development has the potential to yield high returns for ambitious investors.

South Florida and the Keys

The southern tip of Florida is known for being incredibly flat and wet. Most of the region only reaches eight feet above sea level. Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach are the Atlantic Coast’s major cities, but all of them are dwarfed by the expansive Miami metropolitan area. The beaches in the region are known as the Gold Coast. On the gulf side, Naples and Ft. Myers offer pristine white beaches, rolling green golf courses and stunning cityscapes. South Florida is home to a large population of transients that migrate from points north in the winter months. The region gets plenty of precipitation annually, and the weather is known to change rapidly from sunshine to rain-producing clouds with little warning. It is also where hurricanes do the most damage to the state.

This part of Florida is truly tropical. Animals and plants that cannot be found naturally in the rest of the state find their homes in South Florida. Alligators and iguanas are abundant; the rare Florida panther and American crocodile make this area a last stronghold. Mangrove, palms, fig and gumbo-limbo trees, along with a large variety of tropical ferns and flowers can be found in profusion here. There are several preserved lands that showcase the natural diversity of the region, including Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Big Cypress Natural Preserve.

An hour south from Miami, the Florida Keys begin. This archipelago is a collection of nearly 1,700 small islands that trail in a southwestward direction from Key Largo to Key West. A single highway (US 1) runs through the most populated islands over a series of more than 40 bridges in a 127.5-mile strip known as the Overseas Highway. Though the Keys are a popular destination, there are very few natural sand beaches. The vibrant coral reef off the coast protects the shore from debris carried in from the tide. There is no fresh water source in the Keys, so it is a highly valuable commodity that must be piped in from the mainland of Florida or collected from the rainfall. Though the keys are densely packed with tourists in the winter months, the population of residents in the region is concentrated in a handful of locations.

Real estate is very expensive in South Florida because there is so little that is able to be easily developed. A thin strip along the eastern and western borders is all the solid land to be had. In fact, many roads simply dead end into swampland, though “Alligator Alley,” US I-75, does cross the upper Everglades. While the swamplands can be converted into usable terrain, the process is expensive and many shy away from the unique challenges of doing so. Still, because the region is so densely populated and bustling with industry, property is a desirable and valuable asset.

A Shining Industry

Florida’s most lucrative industry is tourism: An estimated 84.5 million visitors travel to Florida each year, creating over $65 billion in taxable sales. Travelers seek the sunshine year-round and visit both man-made and natural attractions that dot the landscape throughout the entire state. There are few places in Florida where a visitor cannot easily find entertainment. From the beaches to the Everglades to the amusement parks, Florida offers something for nearly any visitor to enjoy. Florida employs over 1 million people in the tourism industry in positions including lodging staff and food service. Florida is also the mooring point for a number of Caribbean-going cruise lines and is the home of 16 international airports. These hubs also fuel Florida’s international trade industry, facilitating the import and export of more than $149 billion of goods annually.

Despite the sandy soil that covers most of the state, there are plenty of agricultural industries that thrive in Florida. There are over 47,500 commercial farms covering 9.25 million acres of food-producing land in the state. It’s no surprise that citrus production is high on the list. Some 70 percent of the nation’s bounty of oranges, tangerines and grapefruit comes from Florida farms. A wide variety of fruits, vegetables and other crops are grown there, as well. Florida ranks first among all states in the production of watermelons, sweet corn, snap beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. Because there is so much sun and the weather is so mild, Florida is an ideal place for year-round greenhouse gardening. More than 10 percent of the nation’s greenhouse and nursery crops come from Florida, making the state the second-largest producer.

Florida’s aerospace industry is world-renown. The state is a global leader in aerospace research, development, exploration, investment and commerce. While many people can only think of NASA, there are nearly 4,000 individual companies that directly contribute to the success of Florida’s aerospace program. The industry employs over 70,000 people and has an economic impact of $17.8 billion dollars to the state economy each year.