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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Big Bounce

The Big Bounce

I have lived in Key West for 13 years and have shared two major life-changing events during that time. The first was 911 and the second was Hurricane Wilma.

I was at the gym that fateful morning. Ron who worked the front desk said a member just called him and said two planes (a big one and a small one) had hit the World Trade Center. I knew the chance of that being an accident was impossible. I suspected the worse, but did not know what the worse was. I sped home on my bike screaming expletives. When I got inside the kitchen I turned on the tv to watch the horror as it happened. We all remember the madness as is unfolded.

I had afternoon floor duty that day and I questioned why we were keeping the office open. But I went as requested (I was at a different company then). Town got dead real quick. There was little traffic and hardly any tourists. They closed the office about an hour after I showed up. I drove out to Walgreens to stock up on vodka, knowing the next few days would be awful. The clerk did not really understand what had happened. I told him, and he got the most awful pained look on his face. He said he had heard that the navy had posted armed guards at Sigsbee. I drove out to see them. Yep, they had their weapons out.

Town (that's what a lot of call Key West) died that day. Business went away. Fantasy Fest occurred, but it was subdued. The tourists just did not return for the normal fall schedule of events.

Then the day after Christmas town bounced back---big time! And the dead real estate market exploded. The demand for real estate could not be met. Prices rose by double digits for Key West and the other Keys as well each year through 2005. Buyers started questioning whether the market could continue to grow at the rate it had for the previous 4 years. Reason suggested that the market would continue to grow, but not at the rate previously experienced.

By Spring 2006 (prime selling time in Key West) the market slowed a bit. Then we had four hurricanes. Each one brought CNN and other national media to report on the fools walking on Duval Street hours before each hurricane. They could have shown re-runs of the previous storms because each hurricane was the same--until Wilma. Yes, we had some damage with each hurricane. Usually the wind uproots a few trees that fall on roofs or a car. Some minor flooding, but usually no structural damage related to flooding. But Wilma changed that as well.

Hurricane Wilma brought wind and water damage from one end of the island to the other. Most of the Old Town area was spared flood damage. But the damage elsewhere was physically and emotionally devastating for most of us. People with nothing and people with very expensive homes and toys shared equally in their losses.

I rode my bike around town every day for over a month just looking at the piles of trash and debris piled in the streets. The winds and ocean water from the tidal surge took its toll on our lush green gem of an isle. The palms and ferns looked like hell. The small foliage we all see and enjoy seemed to disappear. The island was no longer green, but grey.

But one of the great things about living in Key West is the resilience of the people who live here. When someone is injured or gets desperately ill, there is always some fund raiser to help raise funds. The people who live here do care about each other. We really do care.

I wrote last week about the smell you experience when you get off the plane at Key West International Airport. The very next day my neighbor across the street who moved to North Carolina in the spring of 2006 was down to check on her house. She mentioned the smell when she got off the plane and noted how beautiful everything was again. She said she forgot how beautiful Key West is.

The pics to the right show a huge tree in the Battleship Maine's cemetery on White Street, a tree near the Casa Marina hotel that toppled during Wilma, a house on upper Duval that was being remodeled as it looked on Nov 17, 2005 and a pic as it looks today, Jan 30, 2007.

Key West bounced back from 911. I'm waiting for The Big Bounce to occur in the real estate market. It will come.

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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.