Florida has been a popular choice for real estate investors since the heady days of the early 20th century Florida land boom. A few decades later, the advent of air conditioning dramatically increased demand for residential real estate from the tip of Florida’s panhandle to Key West’s southernmost point. The rest is history.

Although much has changed, Florida still calls to modern real estate investors. That’s not to say investing in property in the Sunshine State is easy, nor that profits are assured. Indeed, first-time Florida entrants should keep these important considerations in mind before getting too far ahead of their (water) skis.

1. Know What You’re in For

First, and perhaps most importantly, understand what investing in Florida real estate entails. The state is commonly divided into three culturally distinct regions:

  • North Florida, which shares more in common with neighboring portions of Alabama and Georgia than, say, Miami or Fort Lauderdale
  • Central Florida, a rapidly growing region characterized by older cities like Tampa and flourishing exurban communities along the I-4 corridor
  • South Florida, a densely populated region characterized by a heavy Caribbean influence and substantial international real estate investment

In reality, Florida’s geography and demographics are more complicated, but the three-region framework is nonetheless helpful for non-Floridians to begin wrapping their heads around this complex state.

2. Location Really Matters

In Florida, more so than in many other states, location really matters. Proximity to water, and the ocean or the Gulf of Mexico in particular, is the most important location-related consideration. Don’t believe it? Ask any Miami real estate expert how fast prices drop as you move away from the waterfront.

Of course, other location-related factors matter too, like proximity to major highways and centers of employment, and access to quality schools. When in doubt, ask a local.

3. Condos Are Great, But They’re Not the Only Game in Town

Non-Floridians would be forgiven for assuming that everyone here lives either in a high-rise beachfront condo or gated community. That’s far from the truth; larger cities like Tampa and Miami have plenty of non-HOA, single-family housing stock in established neighborhoods, for instance. Don’t assume that your first Florida real estate investment will be a condo, or that condos offer the best value for your money here. Ultimately, your personality as an investor will determine the type of housing you pursue.

4. Project Your ROI (Realistically)

Before you buy, run detailed cash flow and return-on-investment projections to get a better sense of how your investment may perform. Be sure to countenance a variety of economic and market scenarios. Preparation is a key precondition for real estate investing success.

Pick Your Spots

No matter where you choose to invest in real estate — North Florida, South Florida, or outside Florida altogether — it’s important to pick your spots. Real estate investing holds immense opportunity for those willing to do proper due diligence and make rational, informed decisions. But it’s inarguably a high-risk endeavor, and most successful real estate investors will freely admit that they owe their biggest wins to not-insignificant amounts of luck. There’s no shame in pulling back and waiting until you’re truly ready.