Courtesy of Financial Times.
Florida’s ‘hidden gem’ for prime homes: Ponte Vedra Beach The area known as Jacksonville’s Malibu can offer country clubs, gated communities and golf courses. Forget Miami’s celebrity hotspots or the old money opulence of Palm Beach. The highest-income county in Florida is almost 300 miles further north, on the outskirts of Jacksonville, on the Atlantic coast. As you drive south-east from the seaport city, there does not seem much to Ponte Vedra Beach, a community in St John’s County about 30 minutes from downtown. Strip malls and gas stations line the highway, a scene typical of suburban America. But turn off the road and it becomes clear why some locals know the area as Jacksonville’s Malibu. On one side, oceanfront mansions overlook a sugar-white beach with 40ft sand dunes. On the other, country clubs and gated communities face a pretty stretch of the east coast’s Intracoastal Waterway.
Cooler in winter and less ritzy than comparable areas in south Florida, Ponte Vedra is known for its golf. The area is home to the famous island green at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, which hosts the PGA Tour and each May attracts the world’s top golfers for the Players Championship. Golf enthusiasts are not the only prospective property buyers. Ponte Vedra is a prime location for the bankers, attorneys and other professionals who are flocking to Jacksonville, one of the fastest growing cities in the US.
In spite of Jacksonville’s blue-collar reputation, the city has become a top “near-shoring” location for financial services companies that want a lower-cost alternative to Manhattan while remaining in the US. Deutsche Bank is among the companies that have shifted some operations here, and the number of people working in Jacksonville’s financial services has risen about 7 per cent since 2013. The four biggest US banks — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo — together employ 20,000 people locally. Healthcare and defence also support the local economy. Military facilities employ more than 50,000 people while Mayo Clinic has one of its major medical centres in Jacksonville. In stark contrast to the rundown neighbourhoods in the north-west of Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra is among the most expensive areas in north Florida.
Brokers say it recovered from the Florida foreclosure crisis more quickly than other areas in the state. By the start of 2017 the average home in Ponte Vedra went for more than $700,000, up from a little more than $600,000 just a year ago, according to Realty Web. Share this graphic Properties with views of the Atlantic tend to command a premium. One palatial six-bedroom retreat with a beach outlook is on the market with Ponte Vedra Club Realty for just under $6m. For some buyers — particularly boating types — inland properties with easy access to the waterway are just as desirable. Professional golfer Fred Funk has listed with Exit Real Estate Gallery his 9,600 sq ft home in Marsh Landing for $6.1m. The property includes a boat slip at the neighbourhood marina. Options for golfers include The Plantation, set among creeks and lagoons. Home ownership includes access to a 7,141-yard course. Sotheby’s International Realty is listing a four-bedroom villa here for just under $1.5m. Proximity to the water has some drawbacks and the low-lying geography inevitably makes some buyers jittery. Brokers, though, insist Ponte Vedra and its surrounds are less vulnerable to flooding than Florida’s danger zones, and it has escaped the worst of the damage from recent hurricanes.
Would-be residents should also do their homework on beach access, which is not always straightforward. The most stylish way is to join one of the local resorts. The stately Ponte Vedra Inn and Club carries an upfront fee of $25,000, as well as “social dues” of $3,150 a year. There are cheaper options, however. Those tired of the beach and club life will find plenty of other attractions nearby, including the cobblestone streets of St Augustine, a 40-minute drive south, which claims to be the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the country. Ponte Vedra’s position away from the main coastal highway means it is unlikely to become as well known as other beachside areas.
Florida has no state income tax but the property tax picture is not quite as favourable. The owner of a $1m property could be expected to pay $15,000 to the county every year. Nonstop flights run between Jacksonville and New York, Chicago and Toronto, but there are no direct routes to the West Coast or outside North America. Ponte Vedra Beach is about a 40-minute drive from the airport. Winters are typically mild with average highs of between 18C and 20C. Summers are hot and humid with highs into the 30s.
What you can buy for . . . $250,000 A one-bed, beachfront condo
$1m A three-bedroom villa overlooking the golf course in The Plantation
$3m A six-bedroom, Mediterranean Revival-style property in [Marsh Landing's] Harbour Island.
More listings here: Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville Homes For Sale