Celia makes some good points about float bags. Because I own 4 skin on frame kayaks I have to rely on flotation bags for all of those. They add a level of finickiness to any boat. You have to make sure they are inflated and secured so that they can't escape and get tangled in your legs AND you have to remember to open the valves EVERY TIME before loading the boat on your car or storing it because when the air inside heats up and expands it can and will rupture the bag at a seam. With bulkheads you never have to think about such things.
Also, if you think it is remotely possible you will try to put the boat in the sea, you may need to rethink your plan. 12' is too short for coastal paddling AND you would probably want a rudder or skeg. Boats like the Tsunami 140, Venture Easky 15LV or Islay 14 or Elie Strait 140XE would fall in that category. This moves you up to kayaks closer to $1000, unless you are willing to look for a used one (which is what we usually recommend to beginners anyway.) New boats, like new cars, lose a good bit of their value as soom as you buy them. So resale of one bought new is generally at more of a loss than with a used kayak if you find your skills and paddling ambitions are outstripping your boat.
Note that these longer boats tend to be correspondingly narrower since they can make up the necessary displacement volume lengthwise. I'm not only 5' 5" I have very short arms and upper body. I have a Venture Easky 15LV and at 22" wide and with a low deck it's very easy for me to paddle without smashing my knuckles.
Outfitter demo season is upon us. Besides being a great time to check out a range of models, sometimes you can pick up great deals there when the dealers sell off last year's factory demos and old stock models. I got my Easky that way for 30% off ($730). It might be worth finding out when there are such events in your area and even driving some distance for the chance to broaden your test "drives".
None of this may apply to you, but you seem to be approaching this purchase with a great deal of thought so I'm throwing these suggestions out there.
Kayak Deck Gear Bags
4-place Boat Trailer
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