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This three-bedroom, three-bathroom home in northwest St. Johns County's Shearwater community is up for grabs for $625,000. | Noah Hertz, Jacksonville Today.

$400k a ‘low budget’ in Northeast Florida housing hot spots

Published on May 15, 2024 at 12:22 pm

Grace Hardy works in special education, and her husband Kyle works in IT. The family lives in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in southern Duval County with their 4-year-old son. With a second child on the way, they want to move south to St. Johns so their children can go to the county’s highly rated schools. But the Hardys — like many prospective homebuyers with spending caps of $400,000 — are finding that once-ample budgets aren’t cutting it in Northeast Florida’s most competitive housing arenas. 

They’ve spent months looking for a slightly larger home south of the border.

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“To find a four-bed in St. Johns County that’s not a townhome or a condo in our price range is very rare,” Grace says. 

When they do find one, she says, it tends to get snapped up quickly — at over the asking price. 

“I don’t know when $400,000 became a low budget, but it did,” real estate agent Gary Davis tells Jacksonville Today

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Davis, an agent with Coldwell Banker, works with buyers in St. Johns and Duval. He says the housing market isn’t quite as hot as it was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a number of factors, like the quality of schools and neighborhood vibes, contribute to very high demand in certain areas, like northern St. Johns. 

Even though both counties are quickly adding new residents, Davis says comparing the two neighbors is like apples to oranges. Jacksonville is much larger and offers many more homes per capita. From Riverview on the Northside to Bartram Park in the south and everything in between, there’re a lot more options. 

“You can drive a mile and be in two very different areas, which are going to have very different demographics, home types, everything,” Davis says.

Meanwhile, St. Johns County is much more homogenous, he says. “We really are this sort of idyllic bedroom community with great schools, picket fences and front porches.”

Surveying the landscape

A May 14 search for a four-bedroom home with a maximum price of $400,000 on real estate website Zillow turns up just four results in southern Duval and six in northern St. Johns County — two of which are townhomes. 

If the search is adjusted to three-bedroom homes, the options in St. Johns often come with less square footage and closer neighbors than in Duval. 

Screenshots, MLS

Consider these two active listings: 

In Duval County, $399,999 gets you a single-family home on a cul-de-sac in Creekside, just north of Julington Creek, with over 1,700 square feet and a parking pad for a boat or RV.

For roughly the same price, you can move to St. Johns County’s Shearwater subdivision for a smaller townhome, which won’t be built until October and requires additional homeowners’ association fees to cover neighborhood amenities like a “resort-style walk-in lagoon.”

And if you want a fourth bedroom to use as an office or guest room? That generally costs $500,000 on the low end, with many four-bedroom homes listed for closer to $1 million.

‘The advantage of being able to be very flexible’

The Schlegelmilch family are among those willing and able to spend what it takes for four bedrooms in their ideal community. Mark and Angi Schlegelmilch sold their 3,400-square-foot home in Nebraska and moved down to St. Johns with their three kids in January. 

Mark works for a Fortune 500 company, while Angi is a stay-at-home mom. They’re renting in northern St. Johns County while they hunt for the perfect home on their max budget of $700,000. 

“I think there are a lot of options in the range, and so for us, we haven’t gotten so serious about one yet that we’ve had that competitive thing kick in,” Mark tells Jacksonville Today

The family’s dream home has a play area for the kids and space to accommodate Mark’s work-from-home setup. The Schlegelmilchs are chiefly focused on new builds in northern St. Johns, in places like Shearwater, SilverLeaf and Nocatee. 

“I think we have an advantage of being able to be very flexible,” Mark says. “I think if something were to pop up today we could act on it. I think if we had to wait a little bit, we’d be OK.”

And even with a larger-than-average budget, the family is still aware that high mortgage rates will greatly limit what they can afford, compared to five years ago. 

As for the Hardys, even though St. Johns County was the dream, they’ve just made an offer on a home in Clay County, where home buying dollars still go farther than in St. Johns.

“We’ve both kind of accepted that St. Johns isn’t going to work out for us, unfortunately,” Grace Hardy said.


author image Reporter Noah Hertz is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on St. Johns County. From Central Florida, Noah got his start as an intern at WFSU, Tallahassee’s public radio station, and as a reporter at The Wakulla News. He went on to work for three years as a general assignment reporter and editor for The West Volusia Beacon in his hometown, DeLand.
author image Reporter Noah Hertz is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on St. Johns County. From Central Florida, Noah got his start as an intern at WFSU, Tallahassee’s public radio station, and as a reporter at The Wakulla News. He went on to work for three years as a general assignment reporter and editor for The West Volusia Beacon in his hometown, DeLand.

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