Guest Author: Sara Austin
This time last year, I was shivering through a cold New Jersey winter and had just learned we would be moving to Florida in July for my husband’s job. Overwhelmed by the prospect of relocating our family, I did what most people do these days and turned to the Internet. My months of planning led me various blogs and websites that raised a host of horror stories about moving to the Orlando area! Online research can be a blessing and a curse. For every hint I got on possible neighborhoods for our move I had three more saying that the schools were bad, it wasn’t safe and there are no jobs! Thankfully, my searches also led me to The Relocated Tourist. Amy’s blog was definitely a bright spot in the Internet and was a daily reminder that I too would be fulfilling a dream to live near Disney!
My husband and I were lucky that his job’s relocation package included payment for a house hunting trip. If we had to have done our house search from NJ we likely would have had drastically different results! Also, because we were being moved due to his transfer, it made financial sense for us to buy a home right away. We also didn’t want the stress of renting first and then having to move everything a second time. Another priority that made buying instead of renting a better choice for us was wanting our girls, ages 12 and 10, to be settled in their schools and neighborhoods right away so the transition would be as smooth as possible.
Our house hunting trip was four days and we put a ton of pressure on ourselves to find a home! Thankfully, we found an amazing realtor who was willing to spend very full days with us looking at various neighborhoods. She was great about keeping to our very specific requests, with good school districts and tight budget being the biggest priorities. However, we found that houses we loved online were very different in person, and usually not for the better. We also learned that, because the Florida housing market was just starting to bounce back, that the houses we did put bids on were either sold for higher than our bid or sold to a cash buyer. It was very depressing on our third day to have already lost out on two houses we thought were right for us and our house prospects dwindling.
In retrospect, the stress we felt during that trip ended up to be a wonderful blessing. Winter Garden was not one of the towns we originally planned to look at during our trip and we only ended up there because there were no more houses to look at in our price range when we hit the final day of house hunting! After a rough morning of fixer-uppers, our realtor suggested a new construction in the Independence development. Our initial thought, after walking through a gorgeous model home, was that there was no way we could afford new construction. However, we were surprised to find that both the three-bedroom single family home and four-bedroom townhouse were in our price range. Our house hunt took an even stranger turn when we fell in love with a townhouse after spending three months telling the realtor that we would only consider single family homes!
Walking into our townhouse the first time, we instantly fell in love and knew we had found the right place for us. However, I had only minimally researched Winter Garden and quickly hopped on my laptop to happily discover that it had good schools and was in a safe area. And, with that minimal information, we signed the contract for our Florida home on the final day of our house hunting expedition. We finished out the trip taking pictures of the neighborhood to bring home to the girls to get them excited for the move and then headed back to New Jersey.
Looking back now, I am so thankful that we took the risk in moving to Winter Garden and continue to be amazed and grateful that God put us exactly where we were meant to be! Our development is on the very outskirts of town in what was unincorporated Orange County. We are closer to the Magic Kingdom (more on that in a minute!) than we are to our downtown. However, downtown Winter Garden is worth the 15 minute drive because it is like a little slice of Americana with cobblestone streets and inviting restaurants and mom-and-pop businesses! Even better, it has an amazing farmer’s market every Saturday and frequent festivals and events that I look forward to sharing with you.
Winter Garden is in an excellent location for almost every need. It is not a tourist area, so it has a quiet, laid-back charm that is missing in other neighborhoods. It is an active community with bike paths and walking trails. And while it is a developing area with several new housing developments in various stages of production, it is also a beautiful spot to enjoy nature and various types of wildlife. While I expected to see alligators in the ponds, I have been delighted to also see otters, armadillos, raccoons, exotic birds and to even hear the howls of coyotes in the distance at night! It’s a new and wonderful experience to be able to watch Wishes from our yard while listening to croaking frogs and other sounds of nature!
In addition to being pretty, Winter Garden is also practical because the town is close to several major roadways, including 429, 408 and the Turnpike. That makes it an easy trip to go to Downtown Orlando or anywhere else in the area without having to brave I-4. Also, since we live West of downtown, we are usually in the opposite direction of rush hour traffic, so it makes for an easy commute! But the best commute was one that we did not discover until our second week in Florida.
The girls and I spent the first few weeks exploring the area but realized one day that we had never tried making a right out of our development. As we headed down the road about two minutes, my best friend called from New Jersey. I answered the phone at the exact moment that I realized where I was. And then I started screaming…and crying…and then screaming some more. I was screaming so loud that she thought I won the lottery. And in a way I had because only a few miles from our home was the cast member entrance to the Magic Kingdom! As I turned the car down the road, we saw Disney University, the Holiday warehouse, a monorail being repaired and then, right in front of us, Cinderella Castle. My girls still make fun of the scene I made and the thought of it still makes me cry. As we drove the loop around Bay Lake and I realized that WDW was literally my backyard, I knew that Winter Garden was now my home and that we had made the right choice moving here. I am so blessed to call Winter Garden home and I look forward to sharing this special town with all of you through The Relocated Tourist!