When you think of West Palm Beach, you likely think of year-round warm temperatures, palm-lined streets, and proximity to tropical beaches. But that’s just the beginning of what this vibrant south Florida city has to offer.
West Palm Beach is a top destination for music, art, and culture festivals and events, including the annual SunFest festival on the waterfront. It’s also home to multiple highly rated schools, and has a dynamic downtown district filled with shops and restaurants, many of which center around Rosemary Square, an upscale mixed-used development.
So buyer beware: West Palm Beach housing is a hot commodity. This city has seen a steady increase in population (about an 11% increase) over the past decade or so. Though, you still have plenty of opportunity to find your ideal Mission-Revival-style home if you know the ins and outs of the market.
Fortunately, we’ve talked to local real estate experts with decades of experience to help you navigate everything you need to know to buy a house in West Palm Beach. From flood and hurricane insurance to learning about the different neighborhoods (there are 17 historic districts in West Palm Beach), we’ll help you stay competitive and know how far your budget will take you.
Start with your budget in West Palm Beach
West Palm Beach traditionally sees a high demand for housing because of the great weather and lifestyle advantages, as well as Florida’s tax perks (more on that below). But COVID-19 has made the area even more attractive as people look to escape big cities like Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles. And businesses are following the trend and setting up shop in West Palm Beach, causing housing inventory in February 2021 to be low.
This is creating a seller’s market where buyers have to be ready if they find something they like. “It’s all about the strength of the initial offer in this market with such low inventory,” says Nicholas Rose, a local agent with over 19 years of experience who sells properties 52% quicker than the average agent in the area. “You may not get a second shot at it.”
With this in mind, it’s essential you know the pricing when you buy a house in West Palm Beach, and what to expect with other costs and factors. Median sale price, insurance, taxes, and coastal proximity all play a role in determining what you can afford.
Know the market
To be prepared for your shot, get to know the local market and crunch some numbers to figure out what you can buy. The median sale price for sold single-family homes in Palm Beach County, where West Palm Beach is located, was $389,500 in 2020, a 9.7% increase from 2019. For sold townhouses or condos, the 2020 median sale price for Palm Beach County was $205,000, a 12.6% increase from 2019.
Consider the national median new home price in 2020 of $331,000, according the National Association of Realtors®, and you’re looking at slightly more expensive housing in West Palm Beach compared to nationwide.
Factor in hurricane season
Hurricane season runs from June through November in West Palm Beach. This significantly increases the risk of flooding and wind damage, which are factors you might not have to consider in other parts of the country.
Flood insurance is only required in certain areas of West Palm Beach, depending on the flood zone and your flooding probability. However, “It’s reasonably cost-effective if you can obtain it and it covers things that your homeowners insurance won’t cover,” says Rose. In fact, Florida is one of the least expensive states for National Flood Insurance Program flood insurance. The average policy in Florida costs $592 per month, compared to the national average of $734 per month.
In addition to flood insurance, you might want to consider getting a wind mitigation inspection. This inspection is different from, but not a replacement for, your typical home inspection. It often makes sense to do both inspections to make sure all your bases are covered with any potential health and safety concerns. Plus, adding on a wind mitigation inspection can help save you money.
The purpose of the wind mitigation inspection is to check different aspects of a house’s ability to withstand high winds, and it can run around $70 to $100. If a home is built a certain way, you could save money on your homeowners insurance with a wind mitigation certificate.
For example, secondary water resistance under the roof sheathing and impact-resistant coverings over all glass openings (including windows, doors, and skylights) could help you save on insurance premiums. These savings can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, which easily offsets the cost of the inspection.
The state constitution of Florida prohibits an income tax for Florida residents. You still have to pay a federal income tax, but you won’t owe any state income taxes to Florida. If you’re moving to West Palm Beach from a state with income tax, this could be a huge relief on your finances.
In addition, Florida also allows for a Homestead Exemption on eligible primary residences in the state. This means you can receive a deduction on the taxable value of your Florida home, which can become more valuable the longer you live in the same house. But if there’s a change in home ownership, the exemption will reset.
This can be confusing if you’re browsing West Palm Beach listings online and checking what the estimated property taxes are. “I see that a lot and I get that question a lot,” says Rose. “Why is this person paying $3,600 a year and the person right next door is paying $8,000? It could be because one person just bought a house months ago while the other has owned theirs for 10 years.”
It’s hard to calculate your property taxes based on what other people pay in West Palm Beach because of the Homestead Exemption laws. So instead of seeing what other people are paying, consider what you would end up paying when buying a house for a more accurate calculation.
Know the housing in West Palm Beach
Since West Palm Beach sits close to the Atlantic coastline, expect the look and feel of houses to be different than other parts of the country. You have a lot of stucco, as well as both wood frame construction, and concrete block construction. Many houses were built from the 1920s and forward, so renovated homes are common.
But new builds tend to veer one way. “Down here in south Florida we’ve changed and increased building codes,” says Rose.
“They’ve become a lot more stringent due to hurricanes, so most new construction is concrete block.”
In addition, the popularity of the area means lots are scarce if you’re interested in a new build. “We tell our clients even if you’re not ready to build, we highly suggest securing a piece of land now,” says Kim Bunner, president of RJM Custom Homes, a local home builder in West Palm Beach.
Whether you’re building or buying, here are a few house styles to expect in West Palm Beach neighborhoods:
When you think Mission Revival, imagine Spanish Colonial missions from the early history of settlers in North America. This style of flat stucco surfaces and red roof tiles is prevalent throughout Florida, including West Palm Beach.
Mediterranean Revival architecture is very similar to Mission Revival architecture. You might see similar white stucco walls and red roof tiles, but the facade may take a different shape and wrought-iron decorations may be more commonplace.
Vernacular architecture is typified by builders reacting to the local environment in their building choices. For example, the “Florida Cracker” Vernacular style focuses on high ceilings, large windows, porches, and roof overhangs to naturally combat The Sunshine State’s notable heat. Also, light-colored paint helps to reflect the sun’s rays.
Bungalows are often small, cottage-like homes with open floor plans and lots of window space. They’re typically one-story homes, though it’s possible for a bungalow to have more than one story, with front porches and pitched roofs. These types of houses are ideal if you want less square footage and ease of movement within the home.
Get the lay of the land in West Palm Beach
West Palm Beach is the oldest incorporated municipality in southeast Florida (even older than Miami) and has a population of about 112,000 people. Its residents are spread out across a wide variety of neighborhoods, ranging from historic districts to happening areas close to downtown.
“The West Palm Beach area is so vast and varies widely from area to area,” says Bunner. “Many parts of West Palm Beach are built up. In the western communities there is still land available, but it is becoming scarce.” This is to be expected. As you move farther away from the beaches and water, you get more land availability.
But if you want to buy an existing home, there are plenty to choose from in different neighborhoods.
CityPlace is in the center of where things are happening in downtown West Palm Beach. You get access to over 600,000 square feet of retail businesses, including loads of restaurants and shops. If you enjoy condo and apartment life in the thick of the action, this could be the area for you.
The historic El Cid district, founded in 1920, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features many homes in the Mediterranean and Mission Revival styles. This neighborhood sits along the western shores of Lake Worth, which is ideal if you want views of the water. It’s also a short bike or car ride from downtown West Palm Beach, so shops, restaurants, and bars are never far away. All of these factors have helped contribute to higher home prices, with many listings sitting well into the millions of dollars.
Just to the west of El Cid lies Flamingo Park. This neighborhood is still close to downtown, but moving a few blocks away from the water’s edge helps to lower the price point. So if you want a similar historic neighborhood with more affordable homes, this is a good place to start searching.
Flamingo Park has tree-lined streets and an active neighborhood association to help keep the area safe and the quality of living high. When you want to get out of the house, jump onto one of the nearby highways or head straight to the Palm Beach International Airport for a fun trip. The airport is only a few miles away, which is great for visits from family and friends as well.
For a small change in scenery and a big change of pace, check out the Old Northwood Historic District at the northern end of West Palm Beach. This is another one of the city’s historic districts, but located farther away from downtown, so there’s less of a bustling atmosphere. But that doesn’t mean the community is any less active.
The Old Northwood neighborhood loves social gatherings and events, including a Halloween party and parade for kids, as well as forming running, jogging, and walking groups. Homes in this area tend to be more reasonably priced than neighborhoods near the city center.
Near the southern tip of West Palm Beach’s city limits is the Southend, or South of Southern (SoSo), neighborhood. Home prices here will be similar to the El Cid neighborhood, but you’ll see them trend downward as you move away from the Lake Worth shores.
If you crave an upscale, but friendly, setting, and want some distance from the busy downtown area, consider Southend and its welcoming community. The Southend neighborhood association gives regular updates on community life and loves to get residents involved in fun events, like holiday decorating contests for your homes.
When to buy a house in West Palm Beach
Data shows that October is the worst month for sellers in West Palm Beach, as they’re likely to get 8.47% less for their home. So if you’re a motivated buyer, October is likely the best month to buy a new house in West Palm Beach at the best price!
But don’t think it will be a walk in the park. The buyer’s market in West Palm Beach is busy year-round. Though, you might have some luck depending on what you’re looking for.
“There are definitely seasonal patterns,” says Rose. “But it varies by stock, so a condo is going to have a different seasonal pattern than a family home. We have seasonal trending for condos starting around Thanksgiving and going until about Easter. Then over the summer is when families will be relocating to get the kids ready for school.”
In the end it comes down to what’s available. And, in early 2021, the supply doesn’t align with the demand. So keep an eye out for what you want and be ready to make an offer when the time is right.
Find a top buyer’s agent in West Palm Beach
Whether you’re new to to this area or a longtime resident, having an experienced agent on your side when you buy a house in West Palm Beach is the key to unlocking opportunities to find your dream home. This is especially true when demand for housing is easily outpacing the available supply. Of course, you also want an agent who’s going to find what you’re looking for while negotiating and getting you the best deal possible.
West Palm Beach has 5,815 active real estate agents, with the average agent helping clients purchase 50 homes a year. But the top agents purchase about 177 homes a year and save buyers over $53,000 on their home purchases. Needless to say, the top agents have been around the block, so they have the inside scoop — like looking for a hurricane-proof house so you can get discounts on your insurance.
If you’re ready to find your new home, reach out to one of West Palm Beach’s top real estate agents to get started.
Header Image Source: (Tom Locke / Unsplash)