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Florida: a tightwad's paradise that draws residents from high-tax New Jersey | Mulshine


Lots of Jersey residents can. I learned that when I got talking to the real estate dealer who sold the Captain his condo, Beth Palacio. She said that when northerners learn the price of houses in Florida, they often reply, "That's the price? That's nothing!"


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By Paul Mulshine Columnist, The Star-Ledger  A recent ad in the Wall Street Journal featured an artist's rendering of a luxury condo complex in MiamiUnderneath it read, "Live in the Land of Sun, Sand, Surf  - and no state income tax." The ad went on to note that recent federal tax reform greatly restricted the deductibility of state and local taxes (SALT for short) Among the taxpayers hardest hit are those in New York and New Jersey. So why not move to Florida? Some research was in orderAs it happened, my sailing buddy the Captain was headed down thereHe had bought a condo in Florida and was towing a U-HaulHe needed me to help unload it. Or in other words, I would be getting a free trip to FloridaThat appealed to my cheapskate soul, so I signed on as first mate for the voyage. Though I have driven as far south as Costa Rica on my various surfing trips, I had never driven to Florida in my adult lifeI thought of Florida as the land of strip malls, tacky tourist traps and cranky old geezers - or in other words aging baby-boomers like the Captain and me. The actual trip went quite quickly, perhaps because we drove till 3 a.mand then, in true cheapskate fashion, slept at a Georgia rest stop for four hours in the front seats of what the Captain likes to call his "Honda Hotel." The next day we drove down the East Coast of Florida, passing what appeared to be half the strip malls and tourist traps in the universe.   This recent ad entices residents of the greater New York Area to move to Florida to cut their taxes.  By afternoon, we were at the condo complex unloadingThis brought endless comments  from what the Captain calls "condo commanders." These are cranky sorts who told us what we should and shouldn't do - mostly shouldn't. After a while my curiosity got the better of meI asked the Captain a question: "Is this condo complex age-restricted? Or is everyone in Florida really old?" It turns out the place wasn't age-restricted, except by the laws of economicsOlder people are more likely to have the money to live near the beachYounger people mostly live inland and have to drive to the water. The Captain's condo cost a mere $250,000 but it was within three blocks of the beachWhen we biked down there, we saw plenty of young people having a great time. I quickly noticed that the ocean was two things New Jersey's ocean is not at this time of year: blue and warmThe day is longer as well, with sunset coming a half-hour after it hits Jersey. Furthermore the beaches lack all of those regulations that make Jersey beaches comparable to minimum-security prisonsDogsBeer.  Surfing during daylight hoursAll were permitted. And then there were the waterside barsFlorida lacks New Jersey's commerce-crushing liquor laws, so anyone can open a bar virtually anywhere.  The competition keeps prices at half what you'd pay here. The Captain and I visited a former bait shop on an inlet that has been turned into   a tiki bar called "The Square Grouper." Jimmy Buffett and Alan Jackson shot the video for "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" there. A "square grouper," by the way, is the term for the bales of marijuana that used to wash up on the beach during the golden age of pot smugglingThat's the side of Florida life that Buffett made legendary in songs like "A Pirate Looks at 40." As for the side I encountered, it was much better than I'd expectedIf you're sitting in the sand on an 80-degree day in February drinking a beer, you can't avoid the feeling that this beats the hell out of being in Jersey during the winter months - if you can afford it. Lots of Jersey residents canI learned that when I got talking to the real estate dealer who sold the Captain his condo, Beth Palacio She said that when northerners learn the price of houses in Florida, they often reply, "That's the price? That's nothing!" And then there are the property taxesCondos like the Captain's are taxed at a mere $3,500 a year, Palacio told me, about a quarter what you might pay on a similar place at the Jersey Shore. "There are a lot of northerners coming to this area and buying along the beach," she said"It's a second home until they retire and then they can be here full-time." Or they can just stay for six months and declare Florida residencyThat's a common cheapskate maneuver. This is bad news for the New Jersey state treasurer: The more money you make, the more you save on taxes by buying in Florida. That's the problemAs for the solution, that's up to GovMurphy. But it was a fun trip to Florida - and really cheap, too. ADD: The primary reason I've never went to Florida on a vacation/surf trip is that there are places with much better waves and better surroundings at about the same price. Last year, for example, I took a United flight out of Newark to the Costa Rican  town of  Liberia, which is less than a half-hour drive from some of the nicest beaches you ever saw. I stayed in a hotel on the beach called "Las Tortugas" in the town of Playa GrandeIt had a pool, hot tubs and hammocks and it cost a mere $40 a night. But I have to say that prices have risen quite a bit from when I first went to Costa Rica in 1987Then, it cost a mere $8 a night for a nice hotel in the beach town of Tamarindo, and there were few other Americans. Now Tamarindo has high-rises and a slew of surfing schools filling the lineups with people learning to surf. Also, a good dinner was about $3 back thenNow prices are competitive with FloridaBeer actually costs more in Costa Rica, with a six-pack running about $8 compared to $6 in Florida. And if you want a beachfront house you better work on Wall StreetThey go for half a million bucks,  more than they'd cost in  many Florida towns. And when it comes to obnoxious old geezers, the Costa Rican town of Coco Beach, where my friend stayed last year, actually has more American retirees than a typical Florida townAnd they're even more obnoxious. I still prefer Costa Rica, but only because I learned Spanish in that part of the world and greatly enjoy conversing with the locals, who are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. But I could see why many people prefer FloridaIt's a mere 20-hour driveCosta Rica is a multi-week drive, with lots of border crossings.  But you have a lot of fun on the way. 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