Tuscan Ridge Minecraft style

Our villa hits the digital age

Minecraft was created over a decade ago back in 2009, so it’s about time we created a digital version of our villa, blocks and all. We’ve gone a bit Minecraft crazy in our house thanks to my resident seven year old, so the writing has been on the wall for some time. Check out the video at the bottom of the page!

Tuscan Ridge in Minecraft blocks
Dave’s Florida Villa, without Minecraft

The Minecraft video result

Bored on our return journey from Tampa to Heathrow, we decided to recreate our villa in Florida – pool, hot tub and all! Taking around 4 hours to complete, we think it’s worth it. Even a Minecraft pool guy randomly turns up to keep things clean.

Once created I downloaded a screen capture app on our Kindle Fire and somewhat butchered the end result. Let us know what you think of our Minecraft creation.

Tuscan Ridge recreated in Minecraft

What do I need to buy a villa in Florida?

What to do to purchase a holiday home in the sunshine state

So, as I sit here after a freezing cold bike ride home from the station, I am thinking to myself “who else wants to invest in a house or villa in the USA, it’s nice and toasty warm out there?”.  But how do you go about such an investment and how easy is it in reality to buy a villa abroad?


Buy a villa in Florida….

Questions questions questions

It’s pretty simple actually.  You just need to think about what you want to budget and what’s important to you.

  • Do you intend to short term rent the villa, or just let out to friends and family?
  • What style do you want?  Condo, single family home?
  • How big do you want the villa – large villas tend to attract more wear and tear
  • What location works best for rentals?
  • How will you buy?  Do you intend to finance the villa through cash or a US mortgage, or a UK re-mortgage?
  • Are you going to list the villa and do all of the bookings yourself?  Where are you going to advertise?
  • Who will you use to manage the villa when you are away?
  • Will you use a home warranty or take the risk?
  • Which communities do you like in Florida and what sort of maintenance fee for the association are you looking for?
  • Do you want a gated community and the extra expense?
  • Where are you going to find research material before you take the plunge?
  • Who will do the book-keeping?


Next is the realtor. A good realtor will be happy to take your money (well, it’s usually the seller’s money) in exchange for a top quality service.  Donna and I found a realtor through a holiday homes show in the UK, then arranged to visit them in a few months once we were ready for our trip to Orlando.  When we arrived in Orlando we then spent three days looking at communities and villas for sale and gleaming any advice we could get.

We learned a lot from our realtor and subsequent experience, especially to choose:

  • South facing pool
  • Large pool and deck
  • Spa
  • Turn-key condition
  • Wide plots with quiet neighborhood
  • Good home owners association
  • Single storey (our preferred choice)
  • Community with high occupancy and repeat rentals (Tuscan Ridge)
  • Recently replaced appliances including air con and pool heater

What else do I do to buy a villa?

All we needed to do on top of the realtor service was to:

  • Decide on the questions above
  • Decide on the right house, then put in an offer
  • Once the offer is accepted it is legally binding for the seller
  • Get a US bank account, we chose SunTrust but their international wire rates are high, so there may be other options such as Citibank.  All we needed was a British passport and $100
  • Get our passport verified by the British consulate in Orlando (South Orange Avenue), at a cost of $50 per person
  • Arrange for a limited power of attorney so our management company could arrange utility bills on our behalf
  • Fill out an International Tax Payers Number (ITIN) so the USA can take back what is owed to them after our expenses are deducted

And that was it!  The rest is taken care of by the realtor and then the management company.  Once you’ve decided on a property then a couple more things are needed:

  • Deposit (we transferred via TransferWise straight to the closing company)
  • House survey at a cost of $550 for wind, woodworm, and a basic survey
  • We would recommend a full survey in hindsight

Then (of course) the big transfer of the rest of the money before closing….. see this link.

Feel free to contact us if you need any more advice.


How to avoid sat nav rental abroad


Sat nav rental not always needed……

Avoid sat nav rental – it’s a rip off

Most rental companies make a killing on the options list. Wary, sleep deprived travelers are easy pickings – we just want to get through the rental kiosk in the quickest way possible, and sat nav rental seems like an easy decision. Until you realise the cost of 80 USD or more, if you bother to check at all. In most cases it’s cheaper to buy a sat nav than rent it, and in extreme cases you find the car has it built in, but locked out. So you’ve already paid for it by renting the more expensive car…  So let’s look into how to avoid sat nav rental in Florida.

How do I avoid the con then?

If you have a smart phone, then there are several ways to avoid ever needing a sat nav. Almost all smart phones have GPS built in.  This allows your phone to receive a GPS signal, and locate itself on a map.  So the next question is “what map – my built in navigation needs wireless data to work?”.  This is solved by downloading an offline map navigation app.  We recommend Here WeGo:


This allows you to navigate using offline maps, and the phone’s GPS signal only – no  roaming data needed.  To set up Here WeGo, download the app from Apple’s app store or Google Play, install, then fire it up and select “use app offline” from the menu option.  This takes you to the “Download maps” menu – simply navigate to the region you want (Florida!) and download.  When we did this in 2017 the Florida map was about 350MB in  size.

avoid sat nav rental

Here WeGo

When you are in Florida, simply use the app offline and navigate to where you need to go – just the same as using the app at home with data.  Your phone’s GPS signal tells the app where it is, and it does all the hard work for you.

This will save you endless hassle, money,  and if you are anything like us it’ll save you throttling each other before you’ve even got to your destination…

But do I really need sat nav in Orlando?

There are only really two situations where we’ve needed the sat nav – to find our villa, and to get back to the airport with a full tank of fuel.  We managed though, and didn’t end up lost or missing a flight.  We did end up spending a fortune on overpriced fuel though – so we got caught in another rip-off.

Navigation to our villa is very simple from Tampa or Orlando (I4, US-27, Tuscan Ridge are all you need to know – here’s the drive in to our home), and it is the same case for Walt Disney World, Universal, Seaworld, Nasa, and all big attractions.  Just prepare in advance, and have some dollars handy if you end up on a toll road.

So it’s easy to avoid sat nav rental with just a little prep in advance.


Disney Springs has Sprung!

The new look Disney Springs


Disney Springs, Orlando

Previously known as Down town Disney, Orlando.

Over the last couple of years we have seen huge developments around one of our favourite places to hang out – Disney Springs, Orlando.

The Walt Disney World resort offers plenty to do with the family with a pinch of Disney fairy dust, just so you don’t forget where you are!  With over 180 waterside places to eat, shopping and entertainment you can easily fill a day here or spend just a few hours to get your retail fix on your days off away from the parks, not forgetting the all year long Christmas store in the Marketplace.

From fine dining to prehistoric entertainment in the T-Rex dinosaur-themed café, face painting for the kids (any age!) or a dockside margarita there is really is something for everyone!


T-Rex Cafe at Disney Springs

There is a huge amount of new parking facilities or simply catch one of the Walt Disney World complimentary buses or boats.

If you have a free day in your Orlando holiday, this really is a great place to visit if you are looking for an exciting and busy atmosphere. We’d highly recommend booking a table before hand if you are limited to time or be aware it can get busy and you may have to wait for something to eat – more so if you wanting to eat at a particular place but you can check in and be sent away with a time slot or buzzer when your table is ready. There are plenty of places to pick up snacks, coffees and ice cream as you go… Did i mention the margaritas ;0)

If not a great day with the weather or you fancy staying out into the night, you could watch a movie and have a bite to eat at the same time in the 24 dine-in theatres. A great way to entertain the teens in your group, along with the new NBA Experience that has just replaced the DisneyQuest with hands-on activities and interactive experiences.

Like most things in America, Disney Springs is on the large scale so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve seen it all! There are pathways and bridges between the 3 areas and you can even catch a ferry across the lake from one end to the other.

  • The Marketplace is the main shopping area with stores like World of Disney and The LEGO Store.
  • What was previously known as Pleasure Island is now where restaurants and shops largely operate, and is located in the middle. Have you got space in your suitcases for all your shopping! www.disneysprings.com/shops
  • The West Side is on the far side of Disney Springs, and is where more of the third party entertainment, shopping, and dining options are at.

We have been here many times when our little boy was too young to appreciate the parks but we all felt like we had a fix of Disney!

So who is off to Disney Spring this year? Check it out… www.disneysprings.com



No escape from Disney!


Will I make a profit from my Florida rental?

… and is it worth it?

“Will I make a profit” is a question we’re often asked when potential Florida rental owners quiz us about what it’s like to own a villa in Tuscan Ridge, Orlando.

It’s best to first analyse this question without a mortgage but with travel costs from the UK to Florida.

Starting villa rentals in 2013 and visiting once or twice a year, we would have broken even after 4 years (at the end of 2016).  We believe the break even point is 35 weeks of rentals.

With a $5k per year mortgage, the break even point is 40 weeks.  For us, it took 6 years to turn a profit, helped by a 43 week 2018 season.

After 7 years of strong rentals and some great feedback we have also invested around $20k on large one-off repairs such as AC, pool heater and white goods.  These should average out over time – we bought when all the large appliances we at breaking point (circa 11 years old).

So will I make a profit then? Not unless you get up to forty weeks of rental.


The dreaded tax form

In conclusion we believe 35 weeks is the break-even point without a mortgage, and 40 weeks with a mortgage.  We’ve done pretty well out of our rental in all honesty but it takes effort – every trip we take to Florida we undertake maintenance and treat the house to paint in various rooms.  Here’s some stats:


You can see that the bookings have dropped off in 2017 due to the poor GBP USD exchange rate; it’s much more expensive to holiday abroad in the USA.  We’ve had to increase our GBP rate in order to account for this and in 2019 we had to abandon advertising in GBP due to the volatility of the currency.

  • 2013: 35 weeks ($107 average daily rate)
  • 2014: 36 weeks ($122 average daily rate)
  • 2015: 45 weeks ($118 average daily rate)
  • 2016: 40 weeks ($106 average daily rate – the GBP FX crash)
  • 2017: 36 weeks ($111 average daily rate)
  • 2018: 43 weeks ($129 average daily rate)
  • 2019: 40 weeks ($128 average daily rate)

Large one off expenses

  • 2013: $6k (pool heater)
  • 2014: $1k (renovations, pool pump)
  • 2015: $6k (air conditioning)
  • 2016: $2k (renovations, pool lights)
  • 2017: $3k (hurricane Irma, oven / stove, tumble dryer, TV)
  • 2018: $1k (washing machine, pool heat pump)
  • 2019: $1k (pool pump, leaks, and filter housings)

Profit with averaged expenses of $2k

On average a villa will cost an average of $2k per year in what I call “one off” costs.  Even in years where nothing goes wrong, an AC unit will eventually fail after 10 years so you want to even out your predicted costs.  In addition to this we average around $1k in general repairs and maintenance.

Here we have removed the large expenses and replaced with an average expense of $2k per year.

  • 2013: -$6k, 35 weeks
  • 2014: $1k, 36 weeks
  • 2015: $9k, 45 weeks
  • 2016: $3k, 40 weeks
  • 2017: $1k, 36 weeks
  • 2018: $4k, 43 weeks
  • 2019: $2k (predicted), 40 weeks

Our figures above do not include items such as mortgage costs nor the villa depreciation on the US Tax return because this isn’t a real expense in respect to book keeping (they claim it back as capital gains when you sell).

Note: Introducing a 20 year mortgage of $150k at 3.5% interest adds a $5k yearly interest bill to the mix, reducing the 2015 effective profit to $4k.

Roughly speaking you’ll therefore need 40 weeks of rentals to break if you have a 20 year mortgage.  So our 5 extra weeks in 2015 brought us a profit of $4k.  We reckon around 35 weeks to break even without a mortgage.

Note: In 2016 we hit 40 weeks with $3k profit.  Adding the mortgage then brings this back to a loss of $2k – but in 2016 we were hit by the FX crash and a lot of guaranteed booking rates made in GBP meant that we were under pricing the villa by 30%.  Another point to note about advertising your rates in GBP.

Forty weeks to break even.  Seriously?

Not exactly. Remember that we’ve had many family trips out to Florida in these figures, even if it was to repair and refresh the villa at the same time.  Not all rentals are equal.  Take mortgages or travel out of the equation and you’re making money.

If you don’t have a mortgage on your property you’ll make money at anything more than 35 weeks of rental.  And if you don’t need to travel out to maintain it (but do have a mortgage) then it’s about the same although you’ll spend a lot more money on handyman charges.  Here’s some stats without the maintenance trips and without the mortgage.  Note that these net amounts include the one off costs:

Year Weeks Net Amount No travel No mortgage
2013 35 -15000 -9000 -10000
2014 36 -3000 2500 2000
2015 45 0 5000 5000
2016 40 -2000 -600 3000
2017 36 -5000 0 0
2018 43 6000 10000 11000
2019 40 2000 8000 7000

So is it worth it? Yes.


Happy days!

Cue cringe-worthy picture of us jumping in the air in Tuscan Ridge.

If you put the effort into your rental and enjoy it at the same time then yes, it is worth the effort.  With 40 weeks of bookings and a single maintenance trip a year you can make a long term capital investment that is paying for itself and that you can enjoy too. Be aware that you’ll need some serious energy to do this – up to half a day a week set aside to managing the property, marketing, and rentals.

So will I make a profit? If you find a popular community such as Tuscan Ridge, spend time finding bookings and maintaining the villa, then yes.  You will also be able to enjoy it as a place to visit and have fun!  

Once you stop enjoying your home, I would suggest it is time to call it a day and cash in your investment instead.

HMRC mortgage interest expenses on Florida rentals

As of April 2017 the HMRC started phasing out mortgage interest as an expense on US properties owned by UK tax payers.  Instead they switched it to tax relief on taxable income (phasing it in by 25% a year over 4 years). 

For example in the 2017-2018 tax year if you made £12k in net rental profit on a property and had £1.2k in mortgage interest, HMRC allow you to use only 75% of the £1.2k interest as expenses, and 25% as tax relief.

In 2017-18:

  • £12000 gross income
  • 75% * £1200 interest can be deducted as an expense (£900)
  • £11100 taxable income
  • 25% * £1200 interest is eligible for tax relief (£300)
  • 20% relief = £60 tax relief
  • 40% tax payer = £3440 tax – £60 relief = £3380

In 2020-21

  • None of the £1200 interest can be deducted as an expense
  • £12000 taxable income
  • 20% relief on the mortgage interest = £240
  • 40% tax payer = £3800 tax – £240 relief = £3560 (£180 more)