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Friday, December 19, 2014

Key West Vacation Rental Scam

I received an email inquiry a couple of days ago from a lady who feared she may have been the victim of Craigslist vacation rental internet scam. She asked me about 1022 Packer Street in Key West, a property that I wrote about in my blog when it was for sale. I didn't know if the new owner was renting the house or not so I contacted the buyers agent to ask him to let the lady know if the owner is renting the property. The answer was no, the property is not being rented.

The lady then sent me a copy of the purported Transient Rental License for 1022 Packer Street. I copied it and added some red letter markings to help potential renters compare if they receive a similar license. The City of Key West has a very short list of very specific houses and condos that have a transient rental license. Most of those properties are located within two blocks of Duval Street, but not all properties within that area have transient licenses.

Last week I received a phone call just as I was about to eat dinner. The lady who called started the conversation by saying "We're here." To which I responded who are you and where are you? She said 510 Frances Street to which I instinctively said I wrote about that property a few years ago when it was for sale. She asked when I would meet her at the property with the key. I repeated I wrote about the property in my blog. She then said I was the contact person on the internet. I assume she Googled the address and saw my name and number and assumed I was the person she sent money to when she rented the house. I told her again I had nothing to do with the rental. I waited a couple of minutes and then decided I better check the address.  Once I did that I knew the property and really doubted that it was a rental. But I did not know for a fact whether it was being rented or not. 

Shortly thereafter I got a phone call from a different phone number. This time a man was on the phone who asked about 510 Frances Street in a less strident tone. I told him I only wrote a blog about the house but did know what house it is. I told him I doubted it was being rented and said it could not be rented as a weekly rental.  I asked him the name of the company he rented the house from. He did not know. I suggested he find out and contact the property management company if in fact he rented the place from a real company.

Several agents in my office have had similar phone calls from people who show up expecting to check into homes they rented using Craigslist or VRBO. 

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ACTUAL SCAM WEBSITE.   Other scam addresses this company uses include 517 Margaret Street Key West, 1023 Packer Street Key West (note the license misidentifies the street address), 1409 Reynolds Street Key West, 2105 Dlophin Drive, Marathon.  I looked at the photos for a couple of the houses to see if they were of the actual houses. The photos for 510 Frances Street are actually photos of a Meadows Condominium on Pine Street or Petronia Street. Last Key Realty in Key West rents a 3 bedroom home there. Last Key Realty is a well known and legitimate company. The photos of 517 Margaret Street are actually photos of the interior of a ground level one bedroom apartment on Amelia Street and the pool is of a "cocktail pool" on Virginia Street.

If you want to have a great vacation in Key West, rent your house from a licensed real estate company or property management company. Don't be a victim.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Happy Birthday Key West Properties Blog!


I was driving around Key West earlier today and remembered that I started my little blog about Key West real estate around Christmastime in 2006. I told myself that I needed to check the first entry to see when it all began. I did. The first blog was actually dated December 18, 2006 or eight years ago today.

A couple of years into writing my blog I added a counter to determine how many people were actually reading my blog. As of today there have been 1,000,430 page views. (I have no idea how many page views there may have been before the counter was added.)  I have written 2172 blogs. 2281 people have written comments most of which are still on the blog. I strongly believe in free speech and have only deleted a couple of comments over the years. I have deleted spam, however. There is some person in India or Bangladesh that has made comments praising my blog trying to get other readers to consider the option of buying over there instead of down here. People complain how long it takes to get here. Imagine how long it would take to get to India. A couple of years in to writing the blog I began to copy and put it on Activerain as well. Activerain is a blog platform used by Realtors to discuss real estate issues. I have 490,015 page views on Activerain.

One of the first calls I got of my blog was from a gentleman in the Carolinas. He had read a blog about a really cute house. We talked about the place a couple of times. I took more photos for him. We talked some more and then he made a cash offer, sight unseen. He bought the house.  A couple of years ago he showed up at an open house I held and introduced himself. That was our first meeting. I actually sold that house last year to a nice young couple from the midwest. And I have sold several houses the same way - sight unseen.

I learned I had a bit of a fan base. People have called me up just to talk. Some people have dropped by my office to meet me. A couple of couples took me to lunch or dinner (I'm not soliciting - I promise!)  A few years ago I drove a couple from Colorado (my home until I moved to Key West) around looking at houses. They didn't buy anything, but promised when the time was right, they would buy a house from me. They came back this spring and did just that. They bought their little dream home in Old Town. And there are many other readers who called me or wrote me and who have bought their dream home from me.  Thank you, all!

I have a few kids under my belt as well. I had a gay couple that used a surrogate. I see them and their daughter Millie often. I worked with a local couple who had a boy less than a year old when we started to look for a house. He was walking and talking by the time we finally got their home. I think he is now seven. He got to become a big brother last year. His dad told me he is a very good big brother. Good going, Owen! I have coffee dates with a buyer from Massachusetts when she comes to town. Her son is now seven as well. He went with us on one date and spent the whole time on his iphone playing games. The grandson of another couple referred to me as Grandpa's friend.  I have watched these kids grow up. Time seems to fly. It warms my heart to see these families now have second homes here and know that I have been a part of that process.

My internet skills are pretty limited. I figured out how this blogging thing works. Thank goodness that Google and Activerain have made the process easy to figure out.

And thank you to my Dear Readers who come back to this little blog to see what is offered for sale on the Island of Key West and to read the occasional reminiscing about my earlier life and occasional rambling about some goofiness going on in Key West now. 

1529 Von Phister Street, Key West - One of the Prettiest Homes in all of Key West

Just Listed by Preferred Properties Key West 1529 Von Phister Street. This is the kind of place many people dream of owning someday. It is in my opinion one of the prettiest homes in all of Key West. This home is nestled behind a maze of tropical foliage and verdant grass on an ample lot just east of the Casa Marina Area. Double wrap-around verandas beckon passersby to stop and take notice of this elegant two story home with guest cottage. If you are a house hunter, this is a trophy house.

This home is not typical of the Grand Conch houses of Old Town because it is not one of them, but it is every bit a grand and glorious home. While some of the houses in Old Town have wrap around porches, I'll bet you few have as gracious interiors you are about to view. Once you enter the home your eyes are drawn through the public living spaces to the rear gardens and pool. Windows and multiple sets of French doors bring filtered light into the spaces while the gardens to the east keep the interior spaces private. Then you will notice the step landing to your left that leads to the second floor where the bedrooms are located. A guest bath is tucked away to the rear of the stairs. As you move through the living area you notice the heart pine floors that are so rich and assuring. You pause for a moment and look up. You note the high ceiling wrapped with crown molding all white and crisply painted. When you reach the dining area you realize this place, no matter how grand it is decorated, is still unpretentious. The dining is informal and set just off the kitchen. A set of adjacent French doors lead out to the covered veranda and the informal outdoor dining area. The informal living area is located at the rear. A built-in bookcase houses the TV and entertainment area and also provides lots of storage for gizmos of all sort. Doors at the far end slide open and lead out to the deck and pool. The guest cottage is located nearby.
The two story wrap-around veranda protects the house from both our bright sun and occasional pouring rain. The rear addition to the home has an awing just over the French doors that lead to the outdoor dining area. A similar awning protects the rear doors that open out to the pool area. When you first see the pool you think this is like some place you'd see in a movie - it's that pretty. And when you step up and enter into the new guest cottage you really do feel like you are in Hollywood instead of Key West. Well, maybe you do and maybe you don't. The present owner has created an homage to the greats of Tinsel Town. Imagine how you might transform this space into your own sanctum sanctorum.
The really nifty thing about having a guest cottage that is set apart from the main house is that guests can come and go and not interfere in your business when they are at your home. They can go to the beach which is about six blocks away or go to Duval or the seaport which is a five minute cab ride, or go to one of our three shopping centers to restock the pantry or to replenish your bar. (Fat chance either of the last two will happen.) And even if your guests stay longer than it takes for fish to go bad in the fridge, your guests will still remain your friends.
There are two large bedrooms, both with en-suite baths, and French doors that open out to the second floor wrap-around porch. The master bedroom was being painted the day I took photos so I can't share any pics of that elegant space. But if you contact me to see this home, I'll make sure we have enough time for you to sit on the swing and imagine how wonderful your life in Key West would be if you made this very special place your home.

CLICK HERE to view more photos I took of 1529 Von Phister Street. This home has 1776 sq ft of air conditioned living space that includes three bedrooms, three and one-half baths, covered and gated off street parking, a guest cottage and pool, and beautifully designed and maintained gardens. This home is offered for sale by Preferred Properties Key West. CLICK HERE to view the Key West mls datasheet for more details. Then please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 to schedule a showing. This could be your home next Christmas. Wouldn't that be grand!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Are You Sure You Really Want to Buy a Fixer in Key West?

A few days ago I wrote about a very beautiful home in the Casa Marina Area of Key West. It's priced pretty high because it is very special. We have a lot of special homes in Key West. Most of our houses are expensive compared to other parts of the country, and some are much more expensive than others. We have many smaller places that still come at high prices considering their small size. Many of the buyers I work with say they are willing to do a little work to buy a place that is more affordable. They think they can buy a place that's a bit less expensive, do some of the work themselves, and thereby save a lot of money. I was rooting thru my shoebox and found some photos of places that were fixers. I thought I'd share some pics that show how the other half of Key West lives - the half that primarily live in rental houses offered for sale. .
I showed the house at the top of today's blog several years ago to a gent who was thinking about buying a fixer. This little two story located on Frances Street in Old Town was priced right. We went inside and found the place in pretty much a disarray. There were old brown grocery bags everywhere. Piles of clothes and stacks of newspapers and magazine were stacked and strewn everywhere. The lady of the house invited us to go up to the second floor. My buyer started to climb the stairs and turned around to tell me the place smelled horrible. I softly said to hold your breath and move quickly. He hurried up, turned around, and hurried down.  He didn't buy it. Someone did. The place needed much more than piles of debris to be removed. The house was basically torn apart and totally rebuilt. 

This house had a combination kitchen and bath in one room and in one place. The bedroom and living room were every bit as pretty.
The tenant here had moved out. I don't know why. The color scheme was so Key Westie. The living room had a big hole in the wall.
Some places lack closets and storage places. Tenants must improvise. There was an illegal rental at the rear. Two older men shared the bedroom space in single beds. Neither spoke English. I think a total of six or seven non-related and probably non-Americans lived in this property.
Tenant in this house created a way for his dog to get outside to do his business.

Putting on the Ritz!
A little clutter never hurts anybody.
The tenant left after he did this. Tenants burning down a house is Key West is not uncommon.
This is a two-part post. The above picture is of a child's bedroom at the golf course. The picture below is the same house. It shows a picture of termites eating their way through the house. This was at the Key West golf course.
The tenant here took not only all of the appliances but also all of the kitchen cabinets, ceiling fans, and about anything else of value. The owner had put in new kitchen cabinets and appliances, new bath fixtures, light fixtures, and fans. All went away when the tenant left.
The "second bedroom" some Realtor as described by a listing real estate agent. I have seen several where you need to access this "bedroom" by climbing a ladder. I have even written about places like this. I point these things out. I ask you: what moron would spend half a million dollars or more to buy a place that you need to climb a ladder to go to bed. Think about it. If you get sick or need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night you gotta climb down a ladder.Consider the cost and amount of real floor space you need to take up creating a stairway to space like this.
The above loft space probably adds nothing to this otherwise cute cigar maker cottage that already had a pool and a very large backyard that offered potential room for expansion. I showed this place several times. Buyers focused on the loft and super small bedroom off the kitchen and missed the bigger picture of how really cute this place could become if the rooms were modified and the kitchen rebuilt. I see buyers that fixate on the negatives and who often overlook real potential.
This place was priced right but offered challenges a lot of buyers could not embrace. It was located less than 100 feet from Truman Avenue and close to a gym. It had a neighbors on either side who properties that were not well maintained. It had a spiral staircase and late 1980s or early 1990s interiors. The spiral staircase lead to a second level loft that was actually quite large. The house had a pool and off street parking. You will see this place in an upcoming blog.
The above photo shows the living room and kitchen of one of two apartments that were a part of a larger Casa Marina Area home that had a large pool. The income from the apartments pays taxes and insurance for the owner. If you cherish your privacy buying a place with built-in tenants may not be your cuppa tea. But if you don't mind the occasional tenant who forgets to pay his rent until the 14th day of the month, a place with a rental might work out for you. Not all tenants are bad. And certainly not are all good.
 Sometimes some owners convert legal spaces into rental units that the city is not aware of. There is a difference in owning a legal rental and a non-legal one. I won't give any reader legal advice on the efficacy of owning and renting an illegal rental unit other than to say if you get caught, you are in trouble. More than that, however, is the fact that converted spaces are often neither well conceived nor executed.


The real bad boy in the above photo is not the missing facia but instead is the concrete spalling on both sides of this house. Spalling is the visible deterioration of concrete whether it is cracking, flaking, or pitting. The above photo shows cracking. What cannot be seen is the more probable corrosion of iron rebar inside the concrete. Spalling repairs can be very expensive.
The new owner of this previously bank owned property ultimately decided to take the house down rather than to fix the spalling. I tell people all the time that just because a property is bank owned does not mean that it is a "deal". There is often a reason properties become bank owned and that is that there is an underlying problem with the house that makes them very, very difficult to sell. Buying at a cheap price is not indicative of getting a good deal if you have spend oodles of new money to fix something or to build new unless the new property is worth a whole lotta money.

I showed this apartment multiple times but I only went inside this space twice that I remember. I do remember the smell of the huge dog that lived and crapped in this place. I don't have any idea why a landlord would allow some moron to have a big dog in such a small apartment.
See the black cat on the bed? You would not believe the odor that cat left in this otherwise really nice apartment. If you buy a place with cat pee smell, you may very well have to remove the wood or tile floors to eliminate the odor.

What do you expect for $1500.00 a month for a one bedroom apartment like this? A lot of people do. Rent in Key West is very expensive.
Tenant came home late one night. Fell asleep. Burned the house. Killed her dog. House torn down.
I knew the couple who lived here. She was an administrator at a public facility. He was a carpenter. I had no idea they were such slobs. Not one straight line in this house. This became bank owned. I had a young couple that thought about buying it. I told them they would be pouring money down the drain. I may have been wrong, but I doubt it. I think most houses can be fixed but is the price worth it, especially if the city won't let you add a pool or if you cannot create off street parking.

Three pic series below. Big house in Old Town. Very good location.
 Photos show the master bedroom, guest bedroom, and dead pets on floor in one single house. The stains on the bed were from unwashed sheets. Can you imagine living in that filth - sleeping across the hall from a roof filled with caged animals with poop all over the floor?
Alive and kicking in this little house just a couple of blocks from Duval Street.
Lame swag drapes in a rather cramped bedroom in Old Town.
I can still remember the stench of dog pee and poop from this once grand Old Town house. Two old ladies lived in this mess oblivious to the odor or the mess. It was truly like something out of a movie.
 This house sat on a very large lot on a small Old Town lane. The owner lived there with his teenage daughter.
This place was a bit out of the ordinary. It was a Key West funeral home and licensed contractor shop.  I have no idea what went down that drain.
The pool at this Old Town property needed a little work.
The tenant in this third floor walk-up applied some creative paint treatments throughout the apart. You can tell the really adored the color blood red.This is why you need a deposit. However, I really doubt any deposit could repair the damage this tenant created.

This is the second floor bathroom in a golf course home. Lots of termites in this place that sat vacant for a couple of year.
The smell of mold was so bad in this place that I had to run out of the place to catch my breath. I eventually had to go back inside to lock the doors. Somebody bought this place.
There are many nice places where local owners and renters live that could be improved. The above apartment was super clean and tidy. It was smallish, but that kind of space often works well for single people who do not need big spaces. The potential problem for a new owner who wants to make a space like this "his own" is that a small house is a small house is a small house that is often located on a very small lot with little or no room to increase the size of the house.
The photo above is not a rental but it is representative of an issue all buyers may face and buyers that purchase a fixer property need to understand before they buy a house. This photo shows an old cut pier that supports an historic house. You can see how a wood wedge was driven into place to help support the floor joist. The reasons so many old houses have faulty flooring is that the piers have failed.  Replacing piers can be very expensive - very expensive.  Do fixing is often much more than adding new kitchen cabinets and light fixtures.
Sometimes some locations can be challenging. The top photos shows Bare Assets on Truman Avenue. I point out the location whenever I show a place near there. The guys always know what goes on inside. Consider locations near schools and restaurants. Schools often have the sounds of kids playing during the daytime. If children laughing bothers you, don't buy a place near a school or daycare facility. Some of the more interesting views come from the Bahama Village area which is located by several landmarks such as the old lighthouse.
I have watched a lot of TV shows on HGTV and other networks that make it look like redoing an old house is easy. It is not. And it is not easy in Key West where we have often have multiple layers of governmental bureaucracy to deal with.   Renovations are not for the poor nor the faint of heart.





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Gary Thomas in a Nutshell

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Key West, Florida, United States
I first read about Key West in a magazine called "After Dark" sometime in the mid 1970's. But it wasn't until March 1984 that I made my first visit to the island that would become my home. I had two weeks for a vacation and reserved a room at Colours Guesthouse (now Marrero's Guest House) for one week. I thought that if I didn't like Key West, I could always go back to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the rest of my trip. But after a couple of days in Key West, that was no longer a consideration. But when I wanted to extend my stay for the extra week I found there was no room at the inn. The guesthouse owner did find me a room at LaTeDa, the infamous guesthouse/restaurant. That's a story I'll write another day. But those two weeks in Key West gave me the realization that I had found Paradise. Key West has been my home since 1993 and my only regret is that it took me so long to get here. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties CRI. Let me help you find your new home or business in Paradise. Living in Paradise is not a slogan, it's a way of life.