The small, central Florida town of Lakeland unsurprisingly enjoys a plethora of natural lakes as well as a large helping of scenic wonder and a few dashes of growing economy. Lakeland is full of 97,000 residents are happy to escape the glitz of South Florida, but maintain an easy work commute to nearby Tampa or Orlando.
Costs of living in Lakeland are already gloriously reasonable, and the Florida real estate market is extremely renter-friendly right now, so finding affordable housing opportunities is pretty painless.
By far the most outstanding characteristic of Lakeland is its profusion of lakes – 38 at last count – so much of the city’s thinking is in terms of lakes. Be prepared for directions and mapping to be based on proximity to specific lakes and as in any area with waterfronts, be aware that housing closer to those delightful lake views will cost more than those without. Lake Hollingsworth is one of the larger and more popular lakes located just south of downtown in the historic part of the city. It offers plenty of bird-watching (including a large number of swans for some unknown reason) and recreational infrastructures, making the property here especially desirable. The city is very much a renter’s market, so haggling the price for properties outside the premium locations is sometimes an option.
Look to South Lakeland for new gated developments, planned communities with extra bedrooms and easy access to the Polk Parkway for that morning commute. Oakbridge and Grasslands are particularly popular, offering larger homes with all the newest and shiniest pads with the requisite golf courses and country clubs right around the corner. There aren’t nearly as many single family homes here for rent as for sale, but luxury apartment complexes, such as Willowbrooke Apartments, are available and start at $700 for a smaller 1BR up to $1000 for 3BR. South Lakeland is admittedly a bit further removed from the town proper, but all of the new development is happening here, including Lakeside Village, the wildly popular new open-air mall with restaurants, movie theaters and shopping.
Lakeside Village caters to those wishing for a historic downtown living alternative. The brand new mall has created a vibrant and walkable commercial area, and new luxury apartment complexes. The Alexa is a new complex within Lakeside Village with one to three bedroom pads starting at $850 and ranging up to $1200. Development is still going on and the area is expected to keep rising in value, so now would be a good time to snatch up a place in what may well become the most desirable new-downtown area of Lakeland.
For those who want a real downtown experience as opposed to a new-downtown one, Lakeland does also have an actual, historic downtown district. Unlike many towns, Lake Hollingsworth is right in the middle of it, but that’s neither here nor there. In downtown, there are old historic homes from the 1920s and a variety of available cultural activities. For single-family homes, the historic districts of Dixieland and South Lake Morton are most popular, as well as being walking distance to restaurants, the popular Polk Theater, art galleries, museums, the city library and Lake Mirror Promenade. Owing to its age, this area has become more architecturally diverse with a few high-rise condos, vintage studios, chic bungalows and renovated duplexes all available. Lake Mirror Tower is the largest purveyor of urban style living and high-end luxury 1BR and 2BR spaces will start at $700. Small studios in converted historic homes or garage apartments can be had for as little as $375, or $750 for a full 2BR single family home.
Polk Parkway runs parallel on the south end of Lakeland and is a major local beltway that leads to Interstate 4, which runs between Tampa and Orlando. A morning commute here is not nearly as bad as it could be in other parts of the state. Plans are also in the works for a high-speed rail system which may significantly reduce commuter traffic, but construction has yet to begin. Lakeland isn’t so big a town as to have extensive public transit options available, making cars a near necessity, but Citrus Connection does operate a local bus service that serves much of the city. We’re sure you’ll be able to manage with or without a set of wheels.
Though its southern neighbors may overshadow central Florida, Lakeland has a lot to offer those seeking the same good climate without the higher cost of living. Of course it struggles with some of the same major issues facing the rest of Florida, but residents here are typically pleased with the quality of life they enjoy and will be the first to tell you how nice it is to live somewhere with a small-town sense of community spirit (the year-round availability of water sports doesn’t hurt, either). If that sounds like your dream town, then come on down!
All in all, Lakeland will give you some pretty good bargains in the Sunshine State, so get your hurricane insurance ready and those water-skis prepped. Happy hunting!