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Thursday, February 8, 2007

One of my biggest real estate mistakes in Key West




During my first trip to Key West in March 1984 I decided that I wanted to buy a guest house and move here. I would ditch the corporate world of America and escape to Paradise.

My first Realtors were a gay couple that did not own a car. So I had to walk to or take a taxi to look at property. They got out of the business (I wonder why...) and I met Mitzi Krabil, a realtor who worked at the same company. I made many trips to Key West and looked at several existing guest houses and properties that could be converted into guest houses with Mitzi. And for a variety of reasons (mostly self created), I did not buy any property.

Then in late 1986 or early 1987 Mitzi called me and said that the Q Rooms on Fleming Street were just listed for sale at $280,000 and suggested that I buy it quick. Now Mitzi had never suggested anything that brash earlier. I knew what the Q Rooms were: a run down boarding house with 14 rooms and 14 licenses meaning that I could convert property into a 14 room guest house. I had once seen a street person sleeping under the front porch. I let my snootiness get in the way of my brain and said no to the notion.

The building was located on the corner of Fleming and Simonton Streets--just a block from Duval, but right in the heart of Old Town. It had the right number of rooms to create a successful and profitable small hotel operation (12 to 15 rooms is perfect). Like I said, I turned up my nose. Two building contractors (and their wives) purchased the property for $270,000 in March 1987 and opened the Hotel Marquesa and the Cafe Marquesa in 1989. (I'll tell you a story about the Cafe another time.) They later purchased two adjacent parcels and enlarged the property. The enlarged property with 27 guest rooms, two pools, glorious gardens, and covered parking opened just in time for Christmas in 1994. And it has been a raving success from day one.

The photos to the right show the building as it appeared on my first trip to Key West in 1984 and today plus a photo of one of the pools. If you click on the title "One of my biggest real estate mistakes in Key West" you can tour the Marquesa's website. I would estimate the current value of the hotel and restaurant as $15 million. I mention this experience because of missed opportunities. I think I reacted to the opportunity to purchase the property the way a lot of would-be buyers react--especially in a volatile market. I found a reason not to buy the property. I vividly remember the bum under the building every time I think about what could have been.

The real estate market in Key West is depressed today just as it is in most pats of the country. Would-be buyers are waiting for the prices to settle before making a move. The demand is there, but the buyers are pretty much holding back--waiting. I understand why they are holding back. But there are some real bargains available today in Key West. And those bargains will be bought by someone at some price, and later someone like me will rue the day that he or she made the decision not to buy.

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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.