The Cheapest Cities Near Orlando

Live close to everything the City Beautiful has to offer on a budget.

Who wouldn’t want to live in Orlando, FL? From some of the best theme parks on the planet to great dining and entertainment, the entire city revolves around having a good time. You can spend your days pretending as a wizard at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter or hang out with iconic characters like Mickey Mouse at Disney World. On top of all that, the Atlantic coast is only an hour away. Who wouldn’t want to call this fun-filled city home?

There are some drawbacks to living in a major tourism destination, though. Rent gets high and the cost of living can get expensive. The crowds and traffic are also unpleasant to deal with as a local. Luckily, nearby cities are a great alternative. Many offer more affordable rent and cost of living. You can also live close to the action without the constant crowds and issues that come from living in the heart of the tourism hub. These cheap cities near Orlando have all that, as well as their own special charms and unique attractions.

The top cheap cities near Orlando to live in

These affordable cities close to Orlando let you live close to the magic but without the drawbacks. Renters in these cities enjoy benefits like lower rents and less crowding from tourists.

Ocoee, FL

Ocoee, FL

  • Average 2-BR Rent: $2,138
  • Rent Change Since 2021: N/A

The Orange County city of Ocoee is just a 20-minute drive northwest of Orlando. Next to the bustle of O-Town, Ocoee is much more laidback and residential. It has all the comforts and conveniences of a suburban area, from shopping malls to sunny parks. West Oak Mall, in particular, is a regional shopping destination, with tons of name-brand stores and restaurants.

Ocoee residents love to spend time outdoors, and there are plenty of ways to do so. Golfing is a favorite pastime, with hundreds of public courses in and around the city. Numerous lakes and ponds around town and lakeshore parks like Bill Breeze and Prairie Lake Park offer scenic paths, trails and recreation areas. The Jim Beech Recreation Center is the sports and activities hub of the community. Here, residents can splash around at the aquatic park, work out in the fitness room and play various sports.

Orlando, FL

Orlando, FL

  • Average 2-BR Rent: $2,102
  • Rent Change Since 2021: +26.5%

Surprise, surprise! Orlando itself is one of the top cheap cities near…well, itself. It’s even more affordable than nearby Ocoee, which is a popular suburb for families. Living close to Orlando gives renters some separation and peace and quiet. But city lovers and urbanites who thrive in fast-paced cities will want to live right in the heart of it all in Orlando.

Obviously, theme parks and entertainment are a big part of life here. But Orlando has much more to offer residents. It has top-tier higher education institutions like the University of Central Florida. Manicured parks and lakes break up the urban sprawl, bringing lush greenery right into the heart of the city. Arts and culture thrive here, as well, thanks to places like the Orlando Museum of Art. Downtown offers unparalleled shopping and dining. Sports fans can cheer on both professional and collegiate teams like the Orlando Magic pro basketball team.

Kissimmiee, FL

Kissimmiee, FL

  • Average 2-BR Rent: $1,981
  • Rent Change Since 2021: +32.6%

From bargain hunting at the Kissimmee Manufacturers Outlet to kayaking on Shingle Creek, Kissimmee has plenty to keep locals occupied. This Osceola County town is roughly 45 minutes south of Orlando. Located on the shores of Lake Tohopekaliga, it’s one of the best-placed towns in the area in terms of access and things to do. Lake Toho, Shingle Creek and local parks and conservation areas offer access to outdoor sports and recreation like boating, fishing and hiking.

And when it comes to enjoying the attractions of Orlando, Kissimmee is actually the better option. It’s even closer to Disney World than Orlando itself and is just half an hour from the Orlando International Airport. With two-bedroom apartments averaging less than $2,000, it’s no wonder Kissimmee is a popular Orlando alternative.

On top of all this, Kissimmee is a haven for shoppers thanks to the Osceola Mall. Downtown Kissimmee is a charming area to hang out, with historic buildings, quaint storefronts, restaurants and farmers’ markets.

Melbourne, FL

Melbourne, FL

  • Average 2-BR Rent: $1,841
  • Rent Change Since 2021: +24.5%

Located on Florida’s eastern Atlantic coast, Melbourne is one of the best cheap cities near Orlando for renters who want to live by the ocean. Orlando is roughly an hour away, with roads heading there passing through scenic wetland and nature areas. These parks and wilderness areas, like the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands and River Lakes Conservation Areas, are home to diverse ecosystems and wildlife. Some are open to various outdoorsy activities like hiking or wildlife watching.

Thanks to the affordable rent and cost of living, good weather and abundant activities, Melbourne is popular among retirees and families. Apart from enjoying the sun and surf at local beaches, it’s a hotbed for art, culture and science. It’s close to the famous Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral, home of the Kennedy Space Center. The Eau Gallie Arts District is a thriving artistic community full of galleries, art museums and independent shops. The city also hosts an annual arts festival.



Source: Station
  • Average 2-BR Rent: $1,811
  • Rent Change Since 2021: +13.3%

Sitting right next door to Melbourne, West Melbourne residents have access to all the same amenities and attractions as its neighboring city. But locals, many of which are elderly retirees, enjoy slightly cheaper rents.

Set inland from Melbourne, it’s close to parks and wilderness areas like Three Forks Conservation Area and Erna Nixon Park. As such, locals can easily access walking paths and hiking trails close to home. Apart from that, West Melbourne is a cozy suburban city full of restaurants, shopping and friendly residents.

Altamonte Springs, FL

Altamonte Springs, FL

  • Average 2-BR Rent: $1,710
  • Rent Change Since 2021: +30%

Located directly north of Orlando, Altamonte Springs is a prosperous suburban community. It’s best known for its golf courses, shopping districts and picturesque parks. The Altamonte Mall is one of the best places to go to escape the Florida heat and shop til you drop, with a wide variety of desirable stores from Apple to H&M.

Parks like Lake Lotus Park and Crane’s Roost offer a range of outdoor activities, from swimming areas to wildlife and landscape lookouts. At Wekiwa Springs State Park, you can even see alligators. History, art and science are also accessible thanks to museums like the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts. Families with curious kids can take their children to the nearby Orlando Science Center for a day of learning and fun.

Orlando is just 15 minutes south, making it easy for citizens of both cities to go back and forth. But living in Altamonte Springs, renters will save nearly $400 on rent.

Winter Park, FL

Winter Park, FL

  • Average 2-BR Rent: $1,490
  • Rent Change Since 2021: +13.4%

Full of parks and museums, Winter Park is just a 15-minute drive from Orlando. It’s considered one of the best places to live in Florida. With over 70 parks, residents have ample opportunities to spend time outside. Forming a network, canals connect the many local lakes.

Winter Park is also a prime place for cultural immersion. The city has numerous art museums covering multiple mediums and periods of history. You can view the exquisite Art Nouveau collection at Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art or see both antiquities and modern art at the Rollins Museum of Art.

When not enjoying the leafy parks or world-class museums, locals can head to Park Avenue. This trendy street is Winter Park’s social hub, with shopping, dining and entertainment. Winter Park is a popular suburb for families thanks to the safe, quiet neighborhoods and well-ranked schools. Finding two-bedroom apartments for less than $1,500 is a big plus, as well.

Daytona Beach, FL

Daytona Beach, FL

  • Average 2-BR Rent: $1,485
  • Rent Change Since 2021: +8.1%

If you want to live close to Orlando but on the coast, Daytona Beach is another great option. Along with Melbourne, it’s roughly an hour’s drive away from Orlando, heading northeast. But it’s also the more affordable option for coastal living. Rent here for a two-bedroom apartment is $356 cheaper than in Melbourne. So, not only will you be living the Florida dream of living next to 23 miles of beautiful beaches and ocean views, but you’ll be saving money at the same time.

If the name Daytona Beach rings a bell, it’s likely thanks to the Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR fans flock here for famous races like the Daytona 500. Daytona Beach is also known for its beach of the same name. Outdoor activities like kayaking, fishing, boating, hiking and more is found along the coast and nearby wilderness areas like Tiger Bay State Forest. Along with sports and outdoor fun, Daytona is also overflowing with shopping and dining.

Ocala, FL

Ocala, FL

  • Average 2-BR Rent: $1,128
  • Rent Change Since 2021: -13.8%

Topping the list for the most affordable cheap city near Orlando is Ocala. This city of 59,267 residents is just over an hour northwest of Orlando. Locals value its affordability, connection to nature and scenic environs. It’s close to the expansive Ocala National Forest with its canoe runs, lakes, ponds and hiking trails. Silver Springs State Park and Silver River are other outdoorsy areas to explore, home to manatee-and-alligator-filled rivers that you can navigate on glass-bottomed boats and kayaks. You can also visit the Appleton Museum of Art or learn about local history at the Fort King National Historic Landmark.

Ocala’s main claim to fame is contending with Lexington, KY, for the title of Horse Capital of the World. The city and surrounding Marion County have over 600 thoroughbred horse farms. With thousands of horses and ponies, horse racing and horse-rearing culture are deeply ingrained here.

Find an apartment near Orlando

Ready to live close or even in the entertainment and family fun hub of Florida? Find apartments for rent in these cheap cities near Orlando and get ready to start soaking up that Florida sun.

The rent information included in this summary is based on a calculation of multifamily rental property inventory on as of February 2022. Rent prices are for illustrative purposes only. This information does not constitute a pricing guarantee or financial advice related to the rental market.


The Best Places to Live in California in 2022

From the beautiful beaches to the world-renowned redwood forests, California spans 900 miles along the Pacific coast and is the third-largest state in the U.S. The Golden State is home to almost 40 million people, making it the most populous state in the country. Full of iconic attractions, places and cities — think Disneyland, the Golden Gate Bridge and Hollywood, to name a few — people love this state.

With a landmass of 155,779 square miles and so many cities to choose from, where are the best places to live in California? Well, that depends on your budget and interests. Whether you’re a surfer looking to hang 10 or a wannabe actor seeking stardom, there’s a city that’s right for you.

Take a look at our list to see the best places to live in California.

Anaheim, CA

Anaheim, CA

  • Population: 346,824
  • 1-BR median rent: $1,730
  • 2-BR median rent: $1,995
  • Median home price: $770,000
  • Median household income: $71,763
  • Walk score: 63

Disneyland is in Anaheim so Mickey Mouse will be your neighbor! Snag yourself a season pass to Disneyland and you’ll have endless entertainment all year long. It’s the happiest place on earth. Well, that’s what Disney lovers will say, anyway.

Disney aside, Anaheim is a great city for families. It’s a suburban city full of apartments and homes that are affordable, compared to other cities in California. It’s also safe with good school systems.

You can enjoy time outside with a year-round mild climate, too. Take a walk through Yorba Regional Park or take your furry friend to La Palma Dog Park. Anaheim is full of parks, trails and outdoor activities. Everyone will find something to do here.

Irvine, CA

Irvine, CA

  • Population: 307,670
  • 1-BR median rent: $2,865
  • 2-BR median rent: $3,489
  • Median home price: $1,161,000
  • Median household income: $105,126
  • Walk score: 47

Irvine is home to one of the famous UC schools — UC – Irvine. But there are eight other universities in the town, as well. If you’re looking for a city with many opportunities for higher education, this is a great pick.

Irvine is making gaming history as the headquarters for Blizzard Entertainment. Blizzard Entertainment is the largest employer in the city and produced popular games like “Worlds of Warcraft” and “Diablo.”

A few other fun facts about Irvine: SNL star and actor Will Ferrell was born and raised in here. You can check out his elementary, junior and high school. And Irvine was the backdrop for scenes from “Ocean’s 11.”

Apartments in Irvine range in price but the city is in a great location and is constantly ranked one of the safest cities in California. Irvine is full of great parks, trails and sanctuaries so you’ll get a good blend of nature and city life.

Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles, CA

  • Population: 3,898,747
  • 1-BR median rent: $2,725
  • 2-BR median rent: $3,739
  • Median home price: $950,000
  • Median household income: $62,142
  • Walk score: 79

Los Angeles, better known as L.A., is the second-most-populated city in the nation. When you think of L.A., you may think about celebrities and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, complete with more than 2,600 stars. From Universal Studios to Warner Bros., the film and TV industries have several headquarters here. Want to see the set of Central Perk from “Friends?” You can do that here. Care to visit Universal Studios theme park? Go ahead! For any film or TV buff, this is the city for you.

Los Angeles is one of the best places to live in California because it offers a little bit of everything. You’re within close proximity to several beaches. You can hike Griffith Park and see the Hollywood sign, see fossils from the Ice Age at the La Brea Tar Pits, check out more than 100 museums within the city and eat at a variety of restaurants and bars. To summarize, there’s no shortage of things to do in Los Angeles.

The City of Angels is home to more than 10 million people. Regardless of what you’re looking for, you’ll likely find it here in this diverse, urban city.

Oakland, CA

Oakland, CA

  • Population: 440,646
  • 1-BR median rent: $3,113
  • 2-BR median rent: $3,947
  • Median home price: $885,000
  • Median household income: $73, 692
  • Walk score: 83

If you’re a sports fanatic, then you’ve found your city. Oakland, CA, is the only city in the state to have three professional sports teams. You’ve got the Raiders, the Warriors and the A’s. Between football, basketball and baseball, you’ll be able to cheer on the home team year-round in one of the best places to live in California. Not a sports fan? Don’t worry. Oakland has a lot more to offer than sports.

One fun fact is that you’ll find hundreds of gnomes living here, too. Yes, you read that right — gnomes! Throughout the city, painted gnomes grace the utility poles. A mysterious artist paints them throughout the city for you to discover.

Oakland is a diverse city full of culture and history. It has a mild climate year-round and is full of great parks, trails and outdoor areas. Living in Oakland you’ll find the cost of apartments is comparable to other California cities.

Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs, CA

  • Population: 44,575
  • 1-BR median rent: $1,955
  • 2-BR median rent: $2,095
  • Median home price: $523,000
  • Median household income: $53,441
  • Walk score: 39

Palm Springs is a diamond in the desert. It’s an affordable city with luxurious amenities like swimming pools, golf courses and tennis for all. If cities like L.A. or San Francisco are too big for you, Palm Springs is a perfect pick.

Tourists love it here but it’s also a popular place for retirees. Palm Springs is one of the best places to live in California if you’re looking for a low-key, relaxed atmosphere while still having the perks of California living. You’ll find great apartments in Palm Springs, lots of outdoor activities and a diverse cultural scene. But, it’s in the desert so expect extreme temperatures!

Palo Alto, CA

Palo Alto, CA

  • Population: 68,572
  • 1-BR median rent: $3,317
  • 2-BR median rent: $3,700
  • Median home price: $3,730,000
  • Median household income: $158,271
  • Walk score: 73

Palo Alto, also called “The Birthplace of Silicon Valley,” is one of the best places to live in California. It’s also a world-renowned tech hub. Some of the world’s most infamous tech unicorns, like Apple and Tesla, emerged from Palo Alto. Nearby is Stanford University, a top-ranked college. Palo Alto is a great city for tech-oriented students or individuals who are looking to start a company or join the ranks of one of the booming tech companies located there.

While Palo Alto is full of new tech and innovation, it’s also full of rich history. Spanish settlers explored and settled here. The city is even named after a 1,000-year-old tree located along the San Francisquito Creek.

This city is smaller compared to other cities in California, with around 65,000 residents. It’s a beautiful and safe place to live but you’ll find that rent and home prices are more expensive.

Sacramento, CA

Sacramento, CA

  • Population: 524,943
  • 1-BR median rent: $2,057
  • 2-BR median rent: $2,327
  • Median home price: $465,000
  • Median household income: $62,335
  • Walk score: 60

If you want to live in the heart of the state, Sacramento is the city for you as it’s the state’s capital.

This city is known for some pretty cool things. First, its nickname is the “City of Trees,” because it has more trees per capita than any other city in the world — although Paris is also a top contender. Despite the intense summer heat, the abundance of trees actually helps cool the city down. The community has lush, green trees and there is beauty in nature everywhere around you.

Another cool thing about Sacramento is its devotion to farm-to-fork eating. What’s that you may ask? Sacramento is full of produce and farmer’s markets — exactly 40 of them. That’s right! Forty in one city alone. Local farmers provide produce to local restaurants so the food you’re eating is literally from the farm straight to your fork (or mouth). You’ll eat well here.

This is a large city and you’ll find 1.5 million people living in Sacramento. You’ll also have plenty of things to do and will enjoy walking around this tree-lined city.

San Clemente, CA

San Clemente, CA

  • Population: 64,293
  • 1-BR median rent: $3,150
  • 2-BR median rent: $4,600
  • Median home price: $1,433,000
  • Median household income: $110,434
  • Walk score: 62

If you’re looking for a city with nostalgic, old-town beach feels, San Clemente is for you. Located right on the beach in Orange County, this charming city is like a postcard.

You’ve got the San Clemente Pier plunging into the ocean. You can take a stroll, go fishing or have a bite to eat. The beaches are stunning and appeal to avid surfers and young children alike. The lifeguards ensure that surfers have their own area to catch a wave while boogie boarders and families have their own space to swim in the ocean, too. Take a stroll along the coast on some awesome beach-side trails, too.

There are several boutique stores and restaurants on the famous T-street, as well. San Clemente is one of the best places to live in California if you’re looking for a quaint beach-side town. You can find apartments in the city that meet your budget and lifestyle needs.

San Diego, CA

San Diego, CA

  • Population: 1,386,932
  • 1-BR median rent: $2,582
  • 2-BR median rent: $3,285
  • Median home price: $800,000
  • Median household income: $79,673
  • Walk score: 71

San Diego is a beautiful, ocean-side city known for its great weather and scenic views. The average temperature is 70 degrees, so it’s sunny and pleasant almost every day of the year. You’ll find amazing beaches here and a town full of friendly people.

The U.S. Navy is the biggest employer in the city and has a naval base there. The Pacific Fleet stations in San Diego with 46 navy ships. Take a harbor cruise or visit the maritime museum to learn more about the naval history in San Diego.

If you’re looking for a city that’s easy-going, look no further. It’s a tourist destination, but it’s also home to over 3 million people. You can find a great apartment here and make it your next home.

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, CA

  • Population: 873,965
  • 1-BR median rent: $3,193
  • 2-BR median rent: $4,257
  • Median home price: $1,480,000
  • Median household income: $112,449
  • Walk score: 93

The Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and Alcatraz are just some of the iconic things you’ll find when living in San Francisco. You’ll also live in a city that’s full of diversity. San Francisco is known for being a liberal, open-minded city. In fact, it was home to the hippie movement of the ’60s. If you’re looking for a city that’s progressive, this is a good place to consider.

It’s also full of career opportunities. The tech sector is booming so you’ll find great job prospects in that industry. Keep in mind that the cost of living is more expensive here than in other cities in California.

San Francisco is both a large, urban city and a nature retreat. You’ll find everything you need downtown but then you can escape to Muir Woods where you’ll see redwood trees and forest scenes. If you’re looking for the best place to live in California, San Fran might be a good option to consider.

Santa Monica, CA

Santa Monica, CA

  • Population: 93,076
  • 1-BR median rent: $3,190
  • 2-BR median rent: $4,677
  • Median home price: $1,908,000
  • Median household income: $96,570
  • Walk score: 85

The pier in Santa Monica is arguably the most famous one of all. This iconic pier along the coast has an amusement park complete with a Ferris wheel (it’s solar-powered!), roller coasters and funnel cakes to go around. While that’s a tourist location, it’s fun for locals to stroll the pier and beach after a busy day at work.

Santa Monica is one of the best places to live in California because it’s a city that has it all. You’ll find great restaurants and shopping in the downtown area. You’ll enjoy relaxing walks along the beach. And you can rent great apartments in the city center. The demographics skew younger as you’ll find young professionals making this city home. Rent prices are steeper compared to other cities, but it’s a coveted place to live in California.

Find an apartment for rent in California

So, have we convinced you that California is the place for you? Whether you’re looking for a location in a bustling metro area or a beach-side apartment with ocean views, there are several best places to live in California. Pick your city, find your apartment and soon the Golden State will be your new home.

The rent information included in this summary is based on a median calculation of multifamily rental property inventory on Apartment Guide and as of December 2021.
Median home prices are from Redfin as of December 2021.
Population and median household income are from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The information in this article is for illustrative purposes only. This data herein does not constitute a pricing guarantee or financial advice related to the rental market.



4 States Where Mortgage Balances Are Rising Fastest

Woman shocked by her mortgage balance
kudla /

As housing values soar into the stratosphere, mortgage balances also are growing fatter in many parts of the country, according to a new report from data analytics company FICO.

Homebuyers who have to dig deep to pay ever-climbing prices are seeing their mortgage balances balloon as a result. And that is especially true in four states and the District of Columbia.

The places that appear on this list should be no surprise, as they have seen their housing markets turn red-hot in recent years. They are:

  • District of Columbia: $467,522 average mortgage balance, up $23,397 from 2020
  • Hawaii: $391,924 average mortgage balance, up $17,884 from 2020
  • California: $387,637 average mortgage balance, up $14,106 from 2020
  • Washington: $300,591 average mortgage balance, up $20,010 from 2020
  • Colorado: $291,257 average mortgage balance, up $18,381 from 2020

The trend nationally is also up, albeit more modestly. The average mortgage balance in the U.S. now stands at $224,477, up $8,939 from 2020.

FICO notes that as a general rule, housing markets on the West Coast tend to have the highest average mortgage balances. For example, average total real estate balances in both the San Francisco Bay Area ($502,826) and Orange County, California, ($454,576) are more than twice the national average.

By contrast, Arkansas ($135,897), Mississippi ($130,022) and West Virginia ($123,785) have the lowest average mortgage balances. Even in these states, though, balances are rising.

One way to significantly lower your mortgage balance is to snag a great mortgage rate. Stop by the Money Talks News Solutions Center and search for a great rate whether you are looking for a new home loan or a refinance.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.


How to Balance Saving for Retirement and Your Kids’ Education

Let’s face it: Setting aside adequate funding for the future is a long, hard slog. Particularly for younger families who are early- to mid-career and have a lot of competing financial items to cover. Between raising young kids, paying mortgage or rent, and the countless other items that come with daily living, it can be stressful and difficult to see how everything is ever going to come together. Let alone saving for future goals – such as a home, kids’ education funds and the big one: retirement. 

Truth is, we’re in an era where these pressures continue to increase. Education expenses seem to be heading to the moon. And the concept of an employer paying a retirement pension has been dwindling for decades. The burden has shifted to employees to fund their own retirements.

If you’re in this boat, consider these strategies that may help. I’ll start with saving for retirement.

The first decade of retirement savings builds your foundation

Let’s tackle the question of balancing saving for retirement and education with what we know today. Unlike your children’s education, your retirement can’t be financed with a loan. The thing you can control about saving for retirement is to start early in your life and remain disciplined in putting something away for the long term. I often advise people who are starting out in their careers, and it’s key for them to understand that the first 10 years of savings generally won’t feel like things are growing fast enough. What you’re essentially doing in that period is building a foundation: A meaningful amount of money that down the road should start to compound at a faster rate.

The more dollars you have in the foundation, the more they can generate with even slight increases in investment returns. Think of it this way – making 10% on $1,000 produces $100 of investment returns. At the end of the day, $100 may not last too long in retirement. However, if you can build a savings balance to $100,000 and get 10% returns, that amounts to $10,000. Now start to replicate that over time, and eventually those return dollars start to compound at a higher rate than your annual contributions.

The graphic below provides a good example of how compounding works. Compare the “Consistent” example with the “Late” results. Those 10 years of starting early are highly advantageous in terms of compounding.

A line graph shows how four different people fare whether contributing $200 per month consistently from age 25-65 (ending balance of $369,900), waiting to start contributing at age 35-65 (ending balance of $192,000) or contributing only from ages 25-35 (eA line graph shows how four different people fare whether contributing $200 per month consistently from age 25-65 (ending balance of $369,900), waiting to start contributing at age 35-65 (ending balance of $192,000) or contributing only from ages 25-35 (e

The gap between Consistent and Late carries a powerful message: Use those early career years to start putting money away to build up your foundation. Decide on an amount you can afford – and just start and stick to the plan. As your pay increases, you should reassess to determine if you can increase your contributions.

Contemporary studies indicate a need to save 15% of your income annually to obtain enough savings over a career to replace your salary in retirement. This is a high hurdle, but starting early and building your way up to the target over time is the important part.

 This saving and investing business is a slow, long-term process. But it’s a lot more effective than waiting until later in life when you won’t have as much time to allow your money to grow before you need to draw from it.

Education savings should play second fiddle

As I mentioned above, retirement isn’t something you can finance or borrow money to fund. From my experience, I believe retirement should take a higher priority over saving for your children’s college. I’m not saying you should ignore that future expense – but don’t put it ahead of creating a nest egg to support you when you can no longer work or choose not to. Ultimately, education can be financed if you don’t have the means to fully save for it as well as to cover all of life’s expenses and put away money for retirement.

Right now, we’re seeing massive student loans burdening young adults leaving college, and it just seems like this trend isn’t getting any better. I question how tuitions can inflate the way they have – especially over the last 20 years. Something will have to give eventually, but don’t bank on this while planning for your future!

 As with retirement, if you can start saving for education by putting aside something early and often, you likely will see the benefit after building the foundation. It takes time, and it is a marathon. The goal would be to determine an amount you can save from your income, focus on getting a larger portion into retirement savings, and then allocate some to education. You can also make use of bonuses and gifts to save into education as they come along.

I recognize that saving for both retirement and education can seem next to impossible. Most families face this same problem. However, starting to do something about it early in your career can lay a solid groundwork, which will ultimately provide greater compounding – along with significantly greater financial security in the decades to come.

Chair of Investment Committee/Senior Wealth Adviser, Halbert Hargrove

Brian Spinelli is based in Halbert Hargrove’s Orange County and Long Beach offices. His responsibilities encompass running the firm’s investment committee as well as advising individuals and institutions on their investment and wealth advisory needs. Brian was named to HH’s management team in 2012. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration – Finance from Loyola Marymount University in 2002 and his MBA from LMU in 2005. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional.


The Cost of Living in Orlando

Orlando, FL is perhaps best known for being the home of Disneyworld, Epcot and Universal Studios Florida. But Orlando is not just a great place to visit, it’s a great place to live.

Orlando has a reputation for being one of the best family vacation getaways in the United States. Located a bit north of the center of Florida, Orlando benefits from a warm climate, lush green foliage and lots of sunny days. To the west, you’ll find Tampa and beyond that, beautiful white-sand beaches. Or, travel east to enjoy the east coast of Florida.

The nickname for Orlando is “the City Beautiful,” and it’s one of the top world travel destinations due to its famous amusement parks and conventions, drawing more than 75 million visitors annually. Of course, if you visit Orlando, you’ll probably want to see Disneyworld, part of the Walt Disney World Resort. You can also visit the Universal Orlando Resort, which contains Universal Studios Florida, as well as Islands of Adventure where you can visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade.

If golf is your thing, Orlando won’t disappoint. You’ll find many great golf courses in the Orlando area, from high-end private golf clubs to public golf courses.

What about the average rent in Orlando? While rents may be higher than average in Orlando at $2,501 for a two-bedroom, the overall cost of living in Orlando is 1 percent less than the national average. If you’re looking to find an apartment in Orlando, you can find many great neighborhoods with affordable rents.

Read on to learn more about the cost of living in Orlando. We will cover:

Apartment building in Orlando

Apartment building in Orlando

Housing costs in Orlando

The average rent in Orlando costs $2,501, although the overall cost of living in Orlando for housing runs 6.5 percent lower than the national average. You can find many affordable neighborhoods in and near Orlando, with Summerlin at Winter Park offering the lowest average rent at $1,263 for a two-bedroom.

Popular neighborhoods in Orlando include Downtown Orlando ($2,633 for a two-bedroom), Lake Nona ($2,132 for a two-bedroom), Baldwin Park ($2,547 for a two-bedroom) and College Park ($2,016 for a two-bedroom).

Average rent prices in cities near Orlando

If you want to find good rates for apartments near Orlando, you have some options around the city in areas like Celebration or Kissimmee. We’ll also share some of the average rents in other cities in proximity to Orlando, including both coasts:

  • Celebration, FL: $1,794
  • Kissimmee, FL: $1,571
  • Melbourne, FL: $2,285
  • Tampa, FL: $1,927
  • Saint Petersburg, FL: $1,789
  • Clearwater, FL: $2,326

Home prices in Orlando

The housing market in Orlando is hot, according to Redfin. Be prepared to make quick decisions if you want to purchase a home in the Orlando area. It only takes about 9 to 10 days for someone to snap up a home. Home sellers are often getting multiple offers, and many buyers are willing to waive contingencies in order to get their foot in the door. This means that houses often sell for 3 percent above the list price. Don’t be surprised if a house gets an offer in just 4 days.

Overall, prices for homes went up 12.5 percent compared to last year (as of August 2021). The median sale price is $315,000. Last year, it took 21 days for a house to sell, so you can see how much hotter the market has become with the new 10-day average. More houses are selling, as well — 1,365 Orlando homes were sold in August 2021 compared to 1,182 in the previous year.

Orlando cafe

Orlando cafe

Food costs in Orlando

The cost of living in Orlando for groceries is a little bit over the national average by 5 percent. This may be due to the number of tourists coming to the area, although the good news in that regard is that you’ll also have a lot of places to choose from for a night out to eat.

If you’re planning to eat in at home in Orlando, you should budget approximately $10.65 for a steak, $5.74 for a pound of ground beef or $4.67 for sausage. For vegetarian options, lettuce averages $1.65, sweet peas $1.37 and peaches $2.02.

Utility costs in Orlando

Orlando’s climate is considered to be humid and subtropical, which means you’ll definitely need an air conditioner going continuously if you want to feel comfortable, especially in the summer.

The cost of living in Orlando for utilities is below the national average by 5.4 percent. This means your average energy bill will be $152.34.

Orlando highway

Orlando highway

Transportation costs in Orlando

With so many tourists driving the roads in Orlando, you bet that Orlando traffic can be a bit frustrating for locals. Additionally, at any given time, Orlando may have construction along I-4 as it winds its way around town, turning the freeway into a bit of a slalom course.

Unfortunately, Orlando is not very walkable (the Walk Score is 35), so you’ll need a car to get around. Orlando’s Transit Score is also near the bottom at 28. There are some bike routes available, giving Orlando a better Bike Score of 51.

For public transit, Orlando offers LYNX Bus Service. A single-ride fare is $2 (or $1 for discount fare). Transfers are free and you can get a day pass for $4.50 ($2.25 for discount fare).

Connecting to other cities and international destinations is easy with the Orlando International Airport. Orlando is also located near the Sanford Auto Train station, which is where snowbirds are able to load up their cars, as well as themselves, onto an Amtrak train to seasonally transition between Florida and the northeast.

A new high-speed train running 125 mph and connecting Miami and Orlando is coming in 2022.

Healthcare costs in Orlando

Healthcare costs in Orlando are 1.6 percent less than the national average, perhaps surprising given Florida’s high number of retirees. While individual healthcare will, of course, vary, a trip to the doctor will cost on average $96.00 and the optometrist $99.29. If you need prescription drugs, they may be one of your biggest healthcare expenses at $468.11 on average. Some ibuprofen from the drugstore will be priced at $10.13 on average.

According to U.S. News & World Report, some of the top-ranked hospitals and medical centers in Orlando are AdventHealth Orlando, Orlando Regional Medical Center and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

Roller coaster at Disney

Roller coaster at Disney

Goods and services costs in Orlando

The cost of miscellaneous goods and services in Orlando is on par with the rest of the country at just 1.7 percent above the national average. Plus, with the warm Florida weather, you won’t need to spend as much on winter clothes or tires (though if you do need your tires balanced in Orlando, it will cost $62.93 on average). Do be prepared to get your best golf shoes and pickleball outfits ready!

If you do need clothes in Orlando, you can expect to pay $25.14 for women’s slacks, $22.33 for a men’s shirt and $23.51 for kids’ jeans. Toothpaste runs $2.08, which you should make liberal use of because a trip to the dentist will cost $111.00.

Movie tickets average $11.55 and a yoga class costs approximately $15.33. Of course, you can always play the tourist in your hometown and visit one of the great amusement parks. Expect tickets to run for $100 or more for a day.

Taxes in Orlando

If you dislike income tax, you’re in luck. The state of Florida doesn’t have state income tax, just a sales tax rate of 6 percent. In Orlando, you’ll also pay an extra .5 percent sales tax to Orange County. This results in a combined sales tax rate of 6.5 percent in Orlando. Thus, for every $1,000 you spend, you’ll be taxed $65.

How much do you need to earn to live in Orlando?

To afford the average rent in Orlando, which is $2,501 for a two-bedroom, you would need to earn $8,336.67 per month or a total of $100,040 each year. This is based on the conventional wisdom that you should only spend approximately 30 percent of your income on rent.

Fortunately, Orlando has many great neighborhoods with cheaper rent than the average. You’ll also save on taxes due to the lack of income tax in Florida. So, you should be able to find a great home in the Orlando area at differing levels of income. To help make this easy for you, we have a free online rent calculator to help you figure out your costs to live in Orlando, FL.

Understanding the cost of living in Orlando

The cost of living in Orlando is generally affordable, although the average cost of rent in Orlando is a bit higher due to the many upscale apartments available. With a massive tourist industry, as well as sunshine galore, Orlando is a welcoming place to visit and live, either part-time or year-round. With a strong local economy and many job opportunities, Orlando is likely to have a robust housing market for years to come.

Looking to move to Orlando? Find apartments for rent in Orlando today.

Cost of living information comes from The Council for Community and Economic Research.
Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and’s multifamily rental property inventory of two-bedroom apartments as of August 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.


How to Prepare Your Home for an Appraisal

What you need to know about the process, from a veteran certified appraiser.

Getting your home appraised can often be a nerve-wracking experience. Your home and your handy work will be on display to be judged and valued so that you can move forward with selling your home.

But it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. With the right tools, tricks and savvy, the appraisal process can not only go smoothly, it can also help you make a giant financial leap toward a future in a new home.

Do your homework

“Just like anything else — for example, if you’re going to select a doctor, dentist, or lawyer — you do your homework to find out the appraiser’s market knowledge of the area,” says Orange County (FL) Property Appraiser Rick Singh.

Ideally, your appraiser will be a local who knows the area well and who has been around long enough to see changes in the market. It’s also crucial to hire an appraiser who is state certified.

Check your maintenance

Whether it’s a loose shingle, chipped paint or dirty carpet, be sure to take care of it before the appraiser comes. Anything obvious that needs work could potentially eat away at your home’s value.

Also, keep a list of maintenance work that has been done on the home. Have a running list of what you have fixed and upgraded in your home as well as the amount of money you have spent.

Maximize curb appeal

When you’re getting your home appraised, remember that your house should look like the nicest one on the block.

“Landscaping plays so much into making a good first impression,” Singh says. “And remember that a first impression is a lasting impression. Make sure [your yard] is tidy and up-to-date. Trim or replace dead plants, and make sure it’s nice and green.”

Ensure appliances work

Do you have a dishwasher that only works when you give it a little kick, or a refrigerator that doesn’t keep your food as cool as it used to? These malfunctioning big-ticket items in a home could be a huge disadvantage to your home’s appraisal value.

Show pride in ownership

Although your home isn’t necessarily valued on the interior decor, it doesn’t hurt to show that it’s well cared for.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to trade in your T.J.Maxx finds for a pricey interior makeover, but make sure your home is neat, tidy, and exhibits that you generally have an interest in keeping your home looking its best.

Know your neighborhood

Before you get your home appraised, be sure you know what comparable nearby homes are going for, because that can be a huge predictor of your home’s value.

Also, inform your appraiser of any extraordinary circumstances, like if someone in your neighborhood had to sell their home quickly. Sellers may have to lower the price of their home to get out in a timely fashion in the event of death or job relocation in another state.

It’s extremely important that both you and your appraiser are knowledgeable about your neighborhood to get as accurate a value as possible.

Understand that cost does not equal value

When you make improvements to your home, you hope that everything you’re upgrading will increase your property value — but this isn’t always the case.

“Sellers may think, ‘I spent $60,000 on my home and $20,000 on the pool, so the home should be worth $80,000 more.’ However, the market may say it’s only worth $5,000 more. Find out what the economic investment is, because the rate of return is so important,” Singh says.

If you’re not satisfied, reach out

If you’re dissatisfied with the appraisal value, Singh advises contacting the appraiser about your concerns. Make sure you have data to back up your claims when you call to voice your opinion.

“You can always get a second appraisal,” Singh notes. “If you really think something was done incorrectly, voice your concern to the appraisal board as a last resort. All appraisers are licensed, and they don’t want to jeopardize their license. However, I often recommend going back to the appraiser and showing [him or her] the facts.”



Why You Should Live in Your Home Until It Sells

Last updated on October 23rd, 2019

A new study from Redfin proved what we probably all assumed was the case; vacant homes sell for less than those filled with stuff.

There’s something slightly unappetizing about a vacant home, whether it’s the emptiness of it all, or the desperation knowing someone is losing money each month it sits on the market.

Homes are also simply more exposed when there aren’t area rugs, couches, tables, and beds covering up minor (or major) defects.

Vacant Homes Sell for Less and Take Longer to Sell

  • Empty homes sold for 3.6% less than occupied ones in 2018
  • That’s about $11,000 less on average
  • They also took an extra six days to sell
  • So you may want to stick around (or at least make it appear that way)

As suspected, vacant homes often sit on the market longer than their occupied counterparts and fetch lower prices.

On average, such properties spent an additional six days on the market and went for $11,306 less when they finally did sell.

This is according to a survey of homes listed and sold in 2018, conducted by real estate brokerage (and mortgage lender and iBuyer) Redfin.

The biggest discounts were seen in Omaha, Nebraska and Greenville, South Carolina, where vacant properties sold for 7.2% less than occupied homes on average, a haircut of about $15,000.

Similar discounts were seen in El Paso, Texas, where the average vacant home sold for 6.6% less, or roughly $10,000, compared with occupied homes.

Discounts were smaller in more in-demand metros, including San Jose (just 0.9% less), Las Vegas (-1.5%), and Orange County (-2.3%).

[Why You Should Buy a Home Next to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods]

How Many Homes Sales Are Vacant Properties?

  • Over a third of home sales in 2018 were vacant properties
  • But share of unoccupied homes varied widely by region
  • 67% of sold homes in El Paso, TX were unoccupied
  • While just 13% were empty in Kansas City, MO

Interestingly, Redfin found that 35.5% of all properties that sold in 2018 were empty at the time of sale.

That’s a lot more than I expected it to be. The share must have been really high during the housing crisis a few years back.

But this varied tremendously from one metro to the next.

For example, 67% of homes in El Paso, Texas were empty when they were listed for sale, whereas only 13% of Kansas City, Missouri homes were unoccupied.

There were a lot of empty homes in Arizona too, with both Tucson (54%) and Phoenix (50%) having large shares of vacant home sales.

Similar numbers were seen in Austin, TX (52%), Tacoma, WA (51%), and Las Vegas, NV (49%).

Meanwhile, empty homes were more of a rarity in Fort Lauderdale, FL (14%), Hampton Roads, VA (17%), and Greenville, SC (20%).

[Homes Next to Starbucks Are Worth More]

Make the Home Look Lived In, But Have Good Taste

  • Not all occupied homes are created equal
  • A poorly decorated home could actually hurt its chances
  • Expect to do some cleaning/renovating/staging if you sell your home
  • Many real estate agents now provide some of these services

While vacant homes mostly sold for less than the occupied ones, results may vary based on how the house itself looks and how it’s decorated.

Redfin agent Billie Jean Hemerson notes that a home seller’s furnishings can have a big impact on sale price.

If the home isn’t empty, but all the furniture looks like it’s from 1980 (in a bad way), or there’s lots of clutter, it’s probably going to do more harm than good.

Conversely, if the home seller has good taste that fits with what today’s home buyer is looking for, it could result in a price increase and perhaps a bidding war.

So just having an occupied home isn’t enough. There’s a good chance you’ll need to put some work into it if and when you list.

Fortunately, many real estate agents these days include some level of home staging in their listing package.

And Redfin themselves offer a so-called “concierge service” for a 2% listing fee (instead of 1%) that includes cleaning, staging, and a custom home improvement plan.

The company also recently partnered with a virtual staging company called roOomy to help decorate vacant properties, ideally so they sell for more in a shorter period of time.

Ultimately, when a home buyer checks out your property, they’ll want to get a sense of what it will be like when they live there.

If it’s empty, or poorly decorated, some prospective home buyers may not be able to look beyond that, even if the home itself is just fine.

Of course, if you’re a savvy home buyer with an eye for design, you might be able to snag a discount on a home that needs just a little bit of TLC to get back to its prime.

As a buyer, you should take note of the fact that vacant properties often sell for less, and use it as a negotiating tool.

While the staged homes will undoubtedly look more appealing, there’s a good chance they’ll sell at the higher end of the market.

And all those beautiful furnishings will be gone once it’s time for you to move in…

Read more: 12 home selling tips for 2019


Purchase Applications Grab Majority Share of Mortgage Market in July as Refinances Fade Away

Posted on August 22nd, 2013

There’s been a lot of fuss about the refinance market drying up lately, and we now know it’s not just noise.

Last month, purchase-money mortgages gobbled up the majority share of the overall mortgage market, according to the latest Origination Insight Report from Ellie Mae.

The company noted that purchases accounted for 53% of applications in July, up from 49% in June and 42% a year earlier.

During 2012, the purchase share averaged a paltry 38% as refinances took center stage, helped on by ridiculously low mortgage rates and the expansion of the successful HARP initiative.

The worst month for purchases in recent history occurred during January of this year, when they accounted for just 27% of the mortgage market.

Since then, they’ve steadily climbed higher into the traditional home buying season, while refinances have retreated amid higher rates.

Refinances Peaked in January with 73% Share

purchase share

What a difference half a year makes. Refinances snagged an astonishing 73% of the mortgage market in January, but since then have seen sequential declines just about every month.

The only bright spot for refis was HARP-related, with high loan-to-value loans (95%+) rising three percent from a month earlier.

However, market watchers expect the overall numbers to move in much the same direction for a while, with refinances eventually slipping to a sub-40% share in 2014.

Unfortunately, most homeowners have already taken advantage of the low rates, with only 55% of existing mortgages currently at above-market rates (not all stand to benefit from a refinance).

[When should you refinance a mortgage?]

Then there’s those who procrastinated and missed the boat, with many presumably considering adjustable-rate mortgages as an alternative.

That’s not just speculation – the ARM-share increased to 5.2% of closed loans in July, up from 4% in June and 2.1% back in January.

Meanwhile, the somewhat en vogue 15-year fixed is beginning to lose its luster, with only 15.5% of borrowers opting for a short-term fixed loan, down from 16.5% a month earlier and 16.9% at the start of the year.

This market shift is also obliterating the mortgage industry, with layoffs beginning to make the headlines seemingly every day.

The latest causalities come from top mortgage lender Wells Fargo, which announced another 2,323 job cuts nationwide, including 365 in Birmingham, 330 in offices around Orange County, CA, and another 292 in Phoenix.

These layoffs are on top of additional job cuts announced last month.

Many other banks have been slashing mortgage workforces as well, which is no surprise given the sharp drop-off in origination volume.

It’s so bad that it almost feels like 2007 all over again, with the bad news forcing me to work on my list of layoffs and closures much more these days.

Credit Is Easing in Mortgage Land

credit quality

Despite that, credit conditions seem to be easing for home loans. Last month, the average FICO score for a closed loan was 737, down from 742 a month earlier and 749 in January. The average FICO score for all of 2012 was a very high 748.

Additionally, only 75% of closed loans in July had FICO scores of 700 or higher, compared to 83% a year ago.

In other words, credit standards seem to be falling as mortgage lenders grapple with lower production numbers, whether that’s correlated or not.

For denied applications, the average FICO score was 702 last month, which probably wasn’t the sole reason the loan was declined.

Lastly, both LTVs and DTI ratios increased in July, signaling credit easing and/or a lower quality borrower. But it certainly helps now that both mortgage rates and home prices are much higher than they once were.

Of course, this shift also kind of reminds me of the previous crisis, though nowhere near that same level…yet.

Read more: A Lack of Qualified Buyers Could Hit the Real Estate Market

About the Author: Colin Robertson

Before creating this blog, Colin worked as an account executive for a wholesale mortgage lender in Los Angeles. He has been writing passionately about mortgages for 15 years.


COVID-19 Completely Transformed the Way We Buy Homes—but Will It Stick?

Remember lazy Sunday afternoons when home buyers could leisurely hop from open house to open house, partaking of wine and cheese laid out to reel in more foot traffic—the more the merrier.

Much can change in a year.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, triggering a wave of lockdowns that dramatically changed our lives in countless ways—including how we buy and sell homes.

Still, now that vaccines are becoming more widely available and life soon promises to resume some semblance of pre-COVID-19 normalcy, home buyers and sellers might be wondering: Will the old ways of real estate return, too?

Now that we’ve passed the one-year mark, we thought it fitting to look at all the ways the pandemic has changed residential real estate transactions—and why many of these adjustments are likely to stick around for good.

Over: Large, lavish open houses

Pre-pandemic, holding an open house was often akin to throwing a party, with some brokers spending tens of thousands of dollars to throw buzz-worthy events complete with Champagne, live music, and more.

Yet once COVID-19 precautions prohibited large gatherings in enclosed spaces, this glitzy breed of open house quickly disappeared. Instead, buyers weren’t even allowed to visit homes; but if they were, they did so individually, by appointment only—encased in masks, gloves, and booties.

While poking heads in closets and checking water pressure was once par for the course, pandemic buyers were discouraged from touching doorknobs and faucets, lest they leave traces of the coronavirus behind.

While the legendary open houses before COVID-19 were certainly fun, they aren’t likely to return in their usual splendor—which is fine by many real estate agents, since these epic events attracted tons of looky-loos who had a low probability of actually making an offer.

“To me, it’s a gift,” says Michelle Schwartz of The Agency in Los Angeles. She adds that most agents agree that individual showings are a far safer and efficient use of time, as it narrows down visitors to those who are more serious about buying.

Schwartz adds that this more modest approach has also tamped down on people entering the home for more nefarious purposes, like stealing belongings,

“This has reduced the sellers’ fear of putting their most prized possessions on display to the public,” she explains.

More subdued open houses will likely return as pandemic precautions are removed, but “don’t touch” provisions and requirements of always having a real estate agent or representative with you are likely to stay in place.

Here to stay: Virtual home tours

Given home buyers couldn’t tour homes in person easily during the pandemic, technology ramped up to allow them to check out homes in other ways. They include video tours (where a real estate agent shows a home remotely to buyers on a live video steam), virtual open houses (same as above, but to numerous buyers simultaneously), and 3D virtual tours (where buyers click through an interactive, 360-degree view of a home on their own).

A year ago, virtual viewings were a safety precaution. But since then, they’ve become a beloved convenience among buyers who adore checking out homes from the comfort of their couch. As such, this relatively new technology is no doubt here to stay, and will only become more sophisticated over time. (Think: virtual reality headsets with which you can “walk” through a house.)

“Virtual showings through 3D videos have revolutionized the way our industry does business and likely will continue to do so,” says Kirste Gaudet, broker for @properties in Chicago. “The 3D tours are so realistic that we may be able to put open houses to rest. I find that my clients now want them as part of the marketing effort.”

Aside from the convenience, virtual tours help home buyers quickly and easily narrow their options to a few houses they might like to actually visit.

“Ideally, most people want to see a home in person before they buy, but virtual home tours certainly help them reduce the number of homes they have to spend time and effort touring,” says Josh Judge of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices/Verani Realty in Southern New Hampshire.

Here to stay: Greater comfort with sight-unseen offers

Most people used to shudder at the thought of making an offer on a house without seeing it in person, and most experts advised against it. But the pandemic has persuaded many to take that leap of faith.

“Now the average home buyer is more inclined to buy a property sight-unseen,” says Lance Kalfeltz, a broker with LV RE Services in Las Vegas. “Being able to work from home allows them to live almost anywhere, and it’s not always convenient to tour a home before buying it.”

Kalfeltz points out that in hot markets like his—where many buyers are making an exodus from Orange County and Los Angeles—by the time a would-be buyer got on a plane (which many were reluctant to do over the past year) or made the drive, the property would be gone.

Besides, unless they agree to an “as is” contract, buyers are most often allowed to back out of a sale if the property doesn’t pass inspection. As such, sight-unseen offers aren’t as risky as they might seem, which is helping more buyers feel comfortable enough to go for it on homes they’re admiring via the many virtual viewing options they now have at their disposal.

Here to stay: Remote closings

In the past, closing on a house was one moment when all parties gathered together in an office to sign paperwork, swap keys, shake hands, and be off on their merry way. But no more!

During the pandemic, “drive by” or “drive up” closings became common, where you’d sign papers sitting in your car, while a masked and gloved runner delivered papers back and forth.

Odds are, remote closings are here to stay, and may even be doable from home. In some states where remote online notarizations are permitted, all documents can now be signed through an approved online notary platform (e.g., Notarize) or audiovisual portal (e.g., Microsoft Teams).

And in the many states where only professionally witnessed ink signatures will do, lending officials may send a notary public to the buyer’s residence or place of business. Although this convenience might cost extra, many buyers seem happy to pay for it.

“I have one client who lives about two blocks from the escrow office, but still opted to pay the $125 extra to have a notary come to his house,” says Kalfeltz.

Over: Desktop appraisals

For all the changes that seem here to stay, there are some aspects of residential real estate transactions that will likely revert to the way they were done before the pandemic, like desktop appraisals. This is where a home appraiser assesses the value of a home merely by looking at it online. However, banks, buyers, and sellers don’t seem to be consistently happy with this practice, as important details can easily be missed this way.

“It’s impossible to assess the value of the neighborhood and the position of the house within it when you’re doing a remote appraisal,” says Schwartz.

Also, one bad camera angle on an online photo can unduly influence an appraisal by thousands of dollars, and keep a loan from going through. No one wins in a situation like that.