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Thursday, March 29, 2007


When tourists walk or drive around Key West and see a big old house like the one to the right they often think they could buy it and fix it up. Yesterday I discussed the cost of renovation. One of the hidden costs is governmental compliance. And with houses in Old Town, that is cost that affects just about everybody because the entire Old Town area has been declared a National Historic Landmark.

The primary government body that oversees the renovation of old properties and the construction of new properties is called HARC (Historic Architectural Review Commission). CLICK HERE to read the HARC Rules (Adobe Format). The commission is made up of Key West citizens and a local architect. They review all building permit requests for structures in the historic area. Not every structure is covered, but most are. And is this group of citizens that decide the proposed change or new structure complies with the HARC guidelines.

A smart homeowner will hire a good architect to design a structure that meets the guidelines in the first place. But the architect must then sheperd the proposal through HARC and the building department to get building permits issued. Sounds reasonable enough. But it isn't easy. At a recent HARC meeting one of the new commissioner's stated that the HARC guidelines are the commission's bible and that adherence is mandatory. That is the rub.

Rules are rules because we need a fair and understandable system of dealing with issues in how structures are to be remodeled. But it is the interpretation of those rules that can make construction costs rise. Each meeting an architect must attend and each revision of a plan costs money. And repeated changes repeatedly cost more money.

Most of Old Town Key West was built before there were any building codes. And there are many buildings in Old Town that encroach is some way upon a neighbor's property. It is this haphazard construction that HARC seeks to protect with the enforcement of the HARC Guidelines. I don't know if anyone has ever challenged the legality of the City passing this responsibility off to a non-elected board. (Meaning I think the commission may be an unconstitutional body and may be acting without legal authority. While I am an attorney, I am not licenses in Florida so my thoughts don't matter.)

HARC is not going to go away. Potential buyers must assume that they will have to go through the process of getting HARC approval on any project in the Old Town area. Just don't assume that because you are going to improve an existing building that you will get instant approval. This is Key West, you know.

If after reading that you are still considering buying a property in Key West, please CLICK HERE to checkout the entire mls database of current real estate listings and please consider giving me a call 1-305-766-2642 to help you find your next home or business in Paradise.

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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.