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Transforming a Vacation Condo into Sky High Beach Vibes

Transforming a Vacation Condo into Sky High Beach Vibes


avatar   Stacy
Trip Date 05/15/2022
Posted On 05/19/2022 10:24:19

Destinations | Florida | Gulf Coast | Florida Panhandle | Emerald Coast | Panama City Beach | Laketown Wharf Resort | White Sand Beach | Vacation Rental | Beach Condo | Retirement Goals | VRBO | Remodeling



One of our retirement goals has been to purchase a beach condo with a great view of the ocean. We dreamt and talked about it for quite a while, and earlier this year we finally took the plunge! Located on the Gulf Coast, the Florida Panhandle is known for having a white sand beach that everyone (including us) falls in love with. After researching and visiting destinations along the stretch of beach known as the Emerald Coast, we settled on Panama City Beach.

Since 2015, we have stayed in vacation rental properties all around the world. We've enjoyed meeting people and having a lodging experience that is different from a traditional hotel stay. In addition to sharing our vacation home with friends and family, we've also decided to offer it to families using VRBO to plan their next coastal getaway. Continue on to find out more about why we chose Laketown Wharf Resort as well as to read about (and see photos of) all that we did after closing on our condo purchase. After 2+ months spent on upgrades and remodeling, we are now proud to welcome visitors to Sky High Beach Vibes!

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Why a Coastal Getaway?

Since relocating to southern Florida after graduating from college, Scott had dreamt of owning a beach condo. My retirement dream had always been to travel the world, not to keep returning to the same place.

Fast forward to 2017 when the two of us made our first trip to Florida's Emerald Coast. We both fell in love with the white sand and emerald waters. I even said that it was an area that I could return to over and over again.


Strolling along Florida's Emerald Coast near Destin

Strolling along Florida's Emerald Coast near Destin

Between cruising and flying around the world, relaxing in all-inclusive resorts and traveling the United States in our RV (and the pandemic, of course), our first six years of retirement flew by. One thing that proved to be true is that the prices of vacation homes did nothing but increase year after year. We realized that if we really wanted to fulfill this dream, we better make some time and do it now!

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Making Vacation Condo Ownership a Reality

We already had a cruise departing from Miami coupled with south Florida RV travel on the calendar for December 2021. We departed home several weeks earlier than originally planned and used "RV There Yet?" as our home base as we began our condo search.


The Hideaway Retreat, Our Home Base for Condo Shopping

The Hideaway Retreat, Our Home Base for Condo Shopping

After scouring the internet and reading reviews, we found Danny Margagliano, a real estate agent and owner of Team Margagliano. Following our initial contact with Danny, we began actively using his website, Destin Property Expert, and we knew that we had made the right decision!

Between November 16th and 22nd, we toured more than 10 condos in the Destin area that were in our price range and checked off most of the items on our wish list:

  • 2 bedrooms
  • 2 bathrooms
  • great view
  • walking distance to the beach
  • low HOA fees
  • resort like amenities including a hot tub
  • move-in / rental ready

We found one that we liked, however we were late to the game as there was already an offer on the table.

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Panama City Beach

After waiting several days, we were officially notified that our offer had been declined. Of course we were disappointed, but we tried to convince ourselves that the condo wasn't meant to be ours. At this point, Danny suggested that we expand our search to include Panama City Beach. PCB was a longer drive from our Austin area home, however we kept an open mind and began looking.

We found a couple of listings for properties at Laketown Wharf Resort that looked appealing. We made a lowball offer on one as it was going to need more work than we were prepared for in order to make it move-in / rental ready. As it turned out, we were lucky that the owners decided not to consider our offer.

On our last morning before heading further south in Florida, a new listing that appeared to have a lot of potential popped up. We called Danny to request a showing. Within the next six hours, we toured the property and made an offer. Fortunately we only had to wait about 24 hours before learning that our offer was accepted. (Had it not been accepted, our plan was to continue shopping online with hopes that we could virtually tour any condos that looked promising.)


Viewing our Future Condo for the First Time

Viewing our Future Condo for the First Time

Waiting, Dreaming and Planning

The next seven weeks were filled with waiting. We waited on an inspection, waited to see if our mortgage application would be approved, waited on an appraisal ... everything that has to be completed before closing on a real estate purchase.

While traveling in southern Florida and in the Caribbean, we also spent time dreaming and planning. We made a list of everything that we wanted to do inside the condo in our attempt to make it "ours". We tried to agree on which projects were the most important, which could be DIY projects and which could wait for a year (or more). We also interviewed property management agencies that we could partner with in hopes of earning short-term rental income for the times that we would not be using the condo.

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Laketown Wharf Resort

We returned to Panama City Beach in early January, about two weeks before we were scheduled to close on our purchase. Although we couldn't see the inside of our condo-to-be, we made several additional visits to Laketown Wharf Resort to spend more time seeing the amenities. For us, the 2 hot tubs were one of the biggest draws. We realized that the five swimming pools would likely appeal to many renters.


Just Some of the Resort Amenities at Laketown Wharf

Just Some of the Resort Amenities at Laketown Wharf

The resort is also home to a number of restaurants (with more coming soon), a two-story oceanview fitness center and even a pickleball court and putting green. Before our closing, we never had a chance to see the nightly fountain and light show choreographed to music, but we were able to make the short walk to the beach on a couple of occasions.

Finally, on January 14, we became proud owners of a vacation condo!


Sunset from our Balcony on Closing Day

Sunset from our Balcony on Closing Day

During the following few days, we had the electric, cable and internet services officially switched to our names. We shopped for and purchased new kitchen appliances that would be delivered a month later. Then, because of previous commitments, we returned to our Texas home for several weeks before we could start actually putting our personal touch on our new beach condo.

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From Dull to Bright

Upon our mid February return, our first project was to transform the dull, dingy and dirty cabinets. Of all of the improvements that we have completed to date, this was our most time consuming. We have a total of 44 cabinet doors and drawers between the kitchen, master bathroom, guest bathroom and bunk room.

We started by disassembling the cabinets and removing all of the hardware. Our next decisions were how and where could we "hang" everything to dry. Scott came prepared with PVC piping which we used to create "racks". By screwing hooks into each door in places where the small holes would not been seen once the doors were reinstalled, we were ready to begin.


Preparing to Transform Cabinet Doors

Preparing to Transform Cabinet Doors

After cleaning and sanding everything - doors, drawers, built-in wine rack and the cabinets themselves, we were ready to start painting. In order to fully cover the dark wood, one coat of primer plus a minimum of two coats of paint were needed. (Of course, drying time was required between each coat as well.) Once we were happy with the paint coverage, we installed new hardware on everything and reassembled each of the cabinets.


Waiting for Doors and Drawers to Dry - The Hardest Part!

Waiting for Doors and Drawers to Dry - The Hardest Part!

Transforming the Kitchen

In the middle of our cabinet painting project, we were able to sell our microwave, dishwasher and range and take delivery of our new stainless steel appliances. Before the final installation of all appliances, Scott and our friend Jim brightened up the kitchen with a backsplash. Doing tile work requiring mortar and grout was a first for both of them, but the end result completely changed the look of the kitchen.

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Finishing up the kitchen included installing new kitchen lighting and purchasing a number of small appliances, new pots and pans, plates, utensils, kitchen gadgets and more.


Kitchen Before Updates

Kitchen Before Updates

New Backsplash, Lighting and Appliances with Painted Cabinets

New Backsplash, Lighting and Appliances with Painted Cabinets

Getting Rid of the Carpeting

Originally, we planned to wait a year before replacing the carpeting. With each passing day of "living" in the condo, we realized we shouldn't wait! Replacing the flooring with anything other than carpeting required approval by the condo association and requesting approval required shopping to figure out what we wanted to purchase. We finally found luxury wood laminate flooring and underlayment that we were both happy with and were able to quickly get our request approved.

The total time that we invested into replacing the carpeting was a little less than the time it took us to update all of the cabinets. Which project was harder on our bodies? Replacing the carpeting was definitely more "back-breaking"!

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Although we bought the supplies to replace all of the carpeting (living area, master bedroom & closet and guest bedroom & closet), we planned on updating the guest bedroom either later in the year or next year. We started by moving all of the living room furniture to one side. We could then pull up the carpeting and padding, remove the tack strips and sweep and vacuum. Multiple trips to the dumpster got rid of the "old" and we were ready to start on the "new".


Out with the Old Flooring

Out with the Old Flooring

After measuring and placing the underlayment on the concrete floors, it was time to begin installing the laminate. Since we had previously laid similar flooring in our Texas home (albeit on a much smaller footprint), at least we knew what to expect. First up was choosing planks so that the "pattern" looked good. Then it was off to sawing each of the end planks, arranging all of the planks on the underlayment and banging each into place with a rubber mallet.

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At this point, we moved the living room furniture from the carpeting on to the newly installed flooring and repeated the above steps on the remainder of the living room floor. Next, we opted to get the master bedroom and closet up to the same point in the installation process. Rather than putting the finishing touches on the living room and master bedroom, we then decided that we should get started on the guest bedroom - rather than waiting until later in the year.

Almost Done!

Almost Done!

Purchasing, cutting, installing and painting all of the moulding turned out to be easier than getting it up to the condo. Carrying everything from the car to the condo required us hiking up 17 flights of stairs due to the moulding being too tall to fit in the elevators!


Hauling Moulding up the Stairway

Hauling Moulding up the Stairway

Finally, we could complete the trim work - installing the t-moulding between the new flooring and both the tile and sliding glass doors. Once that was complete, we were ready to return all furniture back to its original place and check this project off of the list.


Guest Bedroom with Carpeting

Guest Bedroom with Carpeting

New Laminate Flooring in Guest Bedroom

New Laminate Flooring in Guest Bedroom

Decor and More

In between all of the major projects that we've already described, we had a lot more happening - both to make the condo feel more like our vacation home and also to make it rental ready. In order to feel comfortable placing the condo on the short-term rental market, we wanted a new lock and a security camera.

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Scott did lots more behind the scenes repairs including installing GFI outlets in the kitchen and master bath, draining the hot water heater, installing new smoke / fire alarms, replacing most of the toilet plumbing and installing additional towel racks and USB outlets. We purchased new towels, sheets and other bedding so that our future guests would be comfortable. (There's no telling how many trips we made to The Home Depot, Lowe's, Sam's and Walmart.) We even had an inspection by the fire marshal!


Updating Master Bath Plumbing

Updating Master Bath Plumbing

Although the cabinets were, by far, the biggest paint job that we tackled, that project wasn't our only painting project. Scott put a couple of coats on both the front door and balcony floor - both of which were in great need of some sprucing up. Throughout our two months in Panama City Beach, we also did touch up painting in every room of the condo. (When we have more time, we'll be doing a total paint refresh - probably one room during each of our next few stays in the condo.)

We rearranged furniture over and over again trying to find an arrangement that felt good to us. We moved wall hangings and other decor items from room to room and bought more pieces to complete the look that we wanted.


Sky High Beach Vibes Living Area

Sky High Beach Vibes Living Area

We knew that we wanted to name our vacation condo, and after all of our decorating was done, we chose the name Sky High Beach Vibes as it perfectly summarizes the feeling that you have no matter where you are inside the condo - or even outside on the balcony!


Beach Vibes All Around!

Beach Vibes All Around!

Advertising for Short-Term Rentals

Since neither of us had any previous experience with rental properties, we did lots of homework. We read books that gave us insight into advertising and photography, pricing and fees, setting house rules and other policies, writing a rental agreement, hosting, choosing local partners, customer service and much much more. We searched for recommendations and contacted handymen and housekeepers in our search to find local partners. We applied for all of the required licenses and accounts necessary for paying bed taxes to the city, county and state.

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Although we had previously interviewed a couple of property management agencies, we decided to give managing and hosting on our own a whirl. We had familiarity with Airbnb from our experience as guests, however based on feedback from experienced hosts in the area, we decided to first list on VRBO. We worked on both the description and photos for our listing and by very late in the evening on April 11th, we had our still work-in-process listing available for renters to see.


Balcony View from Sky High Beach Vibes

Balcony View from Sky High Beach Vibes

We started receiving inquiries and booking requests the very next day. As of the date of this article, we have 19 reservations for a total of 154 days spoken for. (Our most exciting day was in early May when we had three booking requests - all within a ten minute period of time!)

Comments from Our First Guests

So far, so good! As of the date of this article, we have had two happy travel groups stay in Sky High Beach Vibes. Both renters rated their experience as 5 stars, and one sent this message to us shortly after leaving:

Thank you again for the amazing hospitality!

We left towels running in the dryer. Dishes are going. Trash and food are all taken out. And we stripped the sheets on the beds.

Y'all have an amazing place!

We know that it won't be this easy all of the time, but starting off the way that we have has increased our confidence that we can be successful.

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It's Hard to Stay Away!

After all of the work (with very little fun) during our two months of making improvements to the condo, it was hard to leave. It's been even harder to think that we may not return again until the fall season when we have the calendar blocked out for an owner visit.

After the departure of our second guest, we had a few days before our next renter. We had the perfect excuse to head back to Panama City Beach for a very short stay. It would give us an opportunity to see the property following guest turnover and enjoy some time at the beach. We won't be able to do this again for a while, but we are so glad that we took the opportunity when we had it!


Ready for our Next Guest

Ready for our Next Guest

Sky High Beach Vibes

We invite you to take a peek at VRBO to see our listing for Sky High Beach Vibes. If you have any questions about our experience with our beach condo, please feel free to reach out to us - we are happy to answer. And, of course, if you or anyone that you know is looking for a place to stay on Florida's Emerald Coast, we'd be honored if you, your friends or your family checked out our property.

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