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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Do you want to own a Guest House?

Have you ever thought of owning a guest house? If so, I have some ideas for you. I used to own Eaton Lodge at 511 Eaton Street in Key West. So I think I can give you some creative pointers when looking for a guest house in Key West or another location.

First is location. Can the public easily find your property? Not every vacationer comes to town with a room reservation. So it is important that your property can be found easily. In Key West there are numerous street booths and referral agencies that can refer tourists to you. But these services charge a fee of 15% to 20% off the top for each night of the stay. That is money off your bottom line. Moreover, having a location in Old Town near the action on Duval or the marina makes it easy for the vacationer to find his way home late at night.

Second is reputation. Word of mouth and printed reviews in books and on the internet are the two biggest sources of new business. Look for repeat business when you review the financials of a prospective business.

Room for improvement. Has the present owner developed the property to its fullest? Is there any upside left for a new owner? Chances are pretty good that the seller is selling because he either has to or he has tired of the business. Under either scenario I would suggest that any prospective buyer scrutinize the P&L Statement carefully. Not every business operator reports all of his income. Surprise! Try to construct a pro-forma operating statement to determine how much money you should make during the year.

We are still in the first week of summer but I think now is the time to consider buying a guest house so that you can get all of the little problems addressed sooner rather than later. We only have 6 months until season starts. That is barely time to get the property under contract and apply for a loan. Then you will need to obtain an inspection, an appraisal, and a title commitment. Commercial appraisals can take up to a month to obtain. I estimate that most guest house closings require a time frame of 60 days from start to finish. So the sooner you start the process the more likely you are to attain your goals.

Late summer and early fall are hot in the Keys and many people are on vacation. But it is an excellent time to do necessary repairs and to prepare your new business for operation once season hits. Of course you will probably be operating prior to season, but your ADR (Average Daily Rate-price per room) will probably be less because that's the way it is in Key West during the off season. Operating during the off season is similar to training for a marathon. You still run your ass off every day, but it really counts during the marathon. The hard work beforehand just makes the race day more fulfilling.

CLICK HERE to review a list of all current guest houses for sale in Key West's Old Town area. Most but not all are near Duval Street. I think several of the properties are way over-priced. And I think a couple of the properties have room for improvement.

One particular guest house you should consider is Seacape Tropical Inn located just off Duval at 420 Olivia Street. It is next door to the Ernest Hemingway house so it gets lots of pedestrian and auto traffic. The guest house has 7 rooms and a small pool. So the size is just right for a regular mom & pop operation. CLICK HERE for more information on Seascape tropical Inn.

CLICK HERE to preview all current mls lisings in the Key West area. Then please call meat 305-766-2642 to help you find your new guest house in Pardise.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Such a Deal

I have been writing about potential "deals" for some time. Well, here is a deal that just closed.

This particular house was totally renovated about 5 years ago. The seller purchased the property in 2003 for $1,050,000. It is a 1530 sq ft 2 bed / 2 bath home on a very desirable block on Southard Street. The "best" block in my opinion. It has all the bells and whistles that most second home buyers are looking for including pool, off street parking, charm, location, quality construction, and no need for updating.

Why is this property such a deal you ask. It sold for $880,000. The house was originally listed for $1,375,000 in December 2005 and went thru a series of price reductions. The final asking price was $1,025,000. So the sales price per square foot was $575. Depending on the contractor a homeowner selects, renovation cost per square foot easily can go $200 to $350 per foot. Obviously when a seller sells for a price lower than what he purchased the property for there is an underlying reason. This seller's reason for selling is not important, but it is illustrative of what I have been writing. There are bargains out there and the smart buyers are taking advantage of them.

Want to find your own "deal"? CLICK HERE and search the Key West mls and then give me a call at 305-766-2642. Let me help you find your deal in Paradise.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sea Isle Town Homes Open House

We are having an Open House on Sunday, June 24th at the Sea Isle Town Homes located at 901 Windsor Lane. (Just across Truman Avenue from St. Mary's Church.) The Open House runs from noon until 3:00 P.M.

There are only six of the special town homes available. The homes are 1750 square feet and feature 3 bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths. Each home has it's own pool and off-street parking space. The lots are individually landscaped and fenced.

The homes feature 10' ceilings on the main level and 9' ceilings on the second floor. All interior finishes are high end. Additional features include extra high baseboards, crown molding, recessed lights, pocket doors, Baldwin door knobs, Grohe and Kohler fixtures, Toto bath fixtures, PGT doors and CGI windows (hurricane rated) The kitchens feature Greenfiled Cabinets and Viking stainless steel appliances. There are granite counter tops in the kitchen and baths, and the downstairs floors are travertine marble. The stairway and second level floors are engineered Teak. And each unit has it's own 20 kilowatt Quiet Source Generator to provide unlimited electricity in the event of power failure.

So all of the features sound like many new projects you say. But these homes also have individual Transient Rental Licenses that permit the homeowner to rent the home on a daily basis to help defray the cost of home ownership. The town homes are a short 5 minute walk to Duval or the Conch Harbor Marina.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mid-Centruy Modern in Mid-Town Key West

This exquisite Mid 20th Century Modern designer home was awarded the Star for its 2004 rehabilitation by the Historic Florida Keys Foundation. The home is located at 2026 Seidenberg and will by OPEN HOUSE today (Sunday, June 17th from 1:00 to 3:00 PM.

The house sits on a corner in Mid-Town. But that location is about the only thing this house in common with other homes in the area. It is spectacular. It sits on an angle and is encased inside a privacy fence. The angles, colors, textures, finishes inside bely the 1950 design. It is ultra-modern and chic.

The home was re-designed by Guiellermo A. Orozco and his partner Kent Ducote. The 1500 square foot home with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths is offered at $967,000 or $644 per square foot. Kitchen Features: Custom-made cherry wood cabinets, stainless steel appliances, wine cooler, reverse osmosis water purifier. Slate countertop and glass tile backsplash. Kitchen opens to both inside and outside dining areas.

CLICK HERE to preview all other homes and condos in Key West. Then call me at 305-766-2642 to take a peek at some of the great bargains now available in Key West.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dealing with a Pending Foreclosure

I have worn many hats over the years. My bio is at the left of the blog. One of my jobs was managing problem loans for the biggest bank in Denver and one of my responsibilities was managing the foreclosure and sale of real property securing defaulted loans.

On the off-chance that some reader of this little blog may be facing financing problems, I offer the following advice on how to deal with a banker if you are facing foreclosure. Please take note that although I am an attorney, I am not offering legal advice. You must rely on the advice and counsel of your own personal attorney who is familiar with the specific facts and circumstances that affects your particular problem loan. My advice instead is that of a former banker in the hope I can help you understand how to deal effectively with your banker.

Rule Number One: Stay in contact with your banker. Don't hide. Return phone calls promptly. Keep appointments with your banker. Bring all documents that your banker requests to any and all meetings. Respond promptly to any written communication from your banker in writing. Keep a copy of everything you give to your banker and every thing he sends or gives to you. You may need these items at some future time if you end up in court or if your banker leaves and you have to start a new relationship with another banker.

Rule Number Two: Tell the truth. That's a good rule to follow in life anyways. But do not lie or misrepresent the truth to your banker. Do not give a false or misleading financial statement. Do not omit assets or overstate liabilities when you submit a financial statement. If you are uncertain as to the amount of an asset or liability, make a side note stating that the amount shown is an "estimate". Act in Good Faith.

Rule Number Three: Don't give up the ship. Many people think that if they cannot repay a loan when it becomes due and they receive a notice in the mail demanding payment under the threat of foreclosure that all hope is lost. Not so. Start a dialogue with your banker. Ask for a meeting. If you own a lot of money or have complicated loan, take your attorney with you. But don't let the attorney turn the meeting into an adversarial relationship. Lawyers like to do that. That is how they make money: they sue people. If you can't pay your loan, you probably can't afford to file a suit against a bank. Banks have more money than you. But banks don't sue people if they think they are going to spend a lot of money on a hopeless cause.

Banks make mistakes in documentation. Your attorney should examine your loan documents just to make sure that the collateral the bank thinks it has is really properly documented. Each state has different rules regarding the recordation of a mortgage or deed of trust, or other collateral for a loan. The date and time of recodation also control the rights of various creditors that may claim an interest in property that you own or that you gave as collateral for a loan. I have seen many cases where a bank does not have a correct mortgage or security instrument filed. The odds favor the banks, but it is always best to make sure that the bank has the collateral it thinks it has. If it does not, your chances of getting a better deal with your lender improve immensely.

Some borrowers can only see foreclosure, litigation, or bankruptcy as the way out of dealing with a banker who insists on repayment. Banks do not want your home or business. They already own too many. They don't need another lawsuit either. And bankruptcy may seem like an easy way out now, but it may cost you dearly in the future. And if you were dumb enough to give any false or fraudulent information when you obtained your bank loan (mortgage), you may face a tenacious lender or trustee in bankruptcy that will hound you. Bankruptcy is not a cakewalk. If you lied to get a loan or attempt to hide assets to avoid turnover to a bankruptcy trustee, you are courting disaster.

Rule Number Four: Be realistic. If you honestly know that you will never be able to repay the bank loan, admit that fact to yourself and to your banker. Offer to cooperate with the bank so that the bank can minimize its expenses to minimize its loss. Offer a deed in lieu of foreclosure if that will help the lender. But ask the lender to release you from any future or further obligation once the deed in lieu is given or once the foreclosure is completed. The bank is under no obligation to grant any request, but some lenders may work with you. On the other hand, a bank could agree to release you from further payment, but also file a FORM 1099 with the IRS showing the amount of debt forgiveness. That debt forgiveness becomes a tax obligation on your part. Not good. I used the threat of filing a FORM 1099 to secure borrower cooperation on many occasions.

Rule Number Five: Keep your promises. If you enter into a workout arrangement with your banker, make all payments when due. Drive them to the bank on the due date if necessary. If you fall short of the amount when due, go directly to the banker and explain why you are short. Ask for a short extension so that you can get current.

There is an old saying that goes something like "Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, shame on me!" As a banker I tried to always give a borrower a second chance if he acted like he was going to try to repay his debt. I always required a new financial statement (which I could use against him later if he misstated assets or liabilities to secure debt forgiveness). I usually tried to get some new collateral as an abundance of caution. If our loan documents were messed up, I would always work with a borrower so that I could get my documentation corrected and get the documents properly recorded and seasoned so that if the borrower did file bankruptcy my bank would be a secured creditor as opposed to an unsecured creditor.

I did find that most borrowers respond well to being treated as a human being caught up in a difficult situation. I have even made new loans to borrowers in trouble just so that they could earn money to repay a prior debt that was in default. This tactic does work. But few borrowers can get that kind of loan because it requires new unencumbered assets of real value and an ability to generate cash to repay the new loan quickly. The excess income goes to pay down the prior debt.

Borrowers who make promises and who don't keep them make the lender look weak or stupid. Not a good idea. Shame on you. Lender's tend to get angry when a borrower takes advantage of a lender's forbearance.

Rule Number Six: Maintain your dignity. Most people recognize a con from the get go. Don't try to con your banker. Be honest and sincere and ask if there is any way that "we" can work this problem out amicably. Don't grovel and cry. Some people (men-successful men)try it. It doesn't look good. And it usually doesn't work.
But if you come across as a straight shooter that is realistic about what you can repay, you may get a chance to save your home or business. And that is worthy goal.

There are a lot of homes in the process of foreclosure in Key West. If you are facing foreclosure please think about calling me to list your home so that we can sell it before it does get foreclosed upon. You can maintain your credit. And maybe you can walk away from the obligation with a few bucks left in your pocket.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Walls Came Tumbling Down

I don't claim to be an "expert" like some people in real estate. If you have read parts of this blog you know that I have admitted to some big screw-ups in the Key West real estate market--most of which dealt with opportunities I lost in buying property that I wanted. The bad thing about lost opportunities in real estate is that you get to drive by and see what someone else got that you missed. And it can gnaw on you for years.

Today I am talking about two properties that I did buy and what I learned from them. This will be continued through a few more updates as time progresses. I bought a large late 1940's home in the Casa Marina area in late 1995. My Realtor was the owner-broker of a very prominent real estate company. He sold a commercial property that I owned and made a huge commission on the deal. So I relied on his judgment and integrity in helping me find a new home. Bad decision on my part. I ended up suing him, his partner, his company, and the seller over allegations of fraud and misrepresentation. I settled the lawsuit after five years of litigation. And I cannot discuss the terms of the settlement or infer any outcome.

The house I bought had flooded in 1994 and the seller allegedly misrepresented in writing that the house had not flooded and had no settling or foundation problems. Since I paid cash for the property and needed a quick close, I was not required to have an inspection or appraisal. Bad idea folks because an inspection would have revealed the previous flooding and the lingering problems associated with it. It would have also disclosed that the site is prone to flood during any large rain event--not just a hurricane.

GO HERE to read my previous blog on the home inspection and the requirement of a seller to disclose material defects.

In 1998 I got the opportunity to buy the adjacent two story duplex for the price of a song. I bought it instantly because I feel any time you have the opportunity to control your property you should do so. The property was run down and looked even worse. So my initial idea was to buy it and fix it up and collect rent on two units. I did have it inspected and appraised. It appraised for more than the purchase price. I started to renovate the property and decided to stop because the cost of repair was greater than the value I expected to receive. So it sat vacant for 8 years.

A couple of months ago I decided to take down the house. The house is located in a part of the Casa Marina area that is included in HARC so I had to get HARC approval before I could get the house raised. The house was not a contributing structure (a building on a historic map noted for its construction or some other significance). So I got permission to tear it down. The approval process was actually not all that difficult and getting the demolition permit from the building department was not that difficult either.

Last Thursday this big ass monster machine arrived at the property around 10:00 AM and starteg to munch away on the house. Within four hours most of the building had been demolished. The crew returned the next day and took down the rest of the building and a series of trucks hauled the debris away. The lot is now barren and now I get to figure out what to do with it.

The owners of the house next door to the east are renovating that property. They have their house listed at $3.8 million and are happy as hell to have my eyesore gone. In fact I think all of my neighbors will probably nominate me for some award for getting rid of the ugly thing.

I am not going to build anything on the lot but rather plan to landscape it. The total lot size for my house and the vacant lot is just under 9,000 square feet. That is huge for Key West. My property taxes will go down because I won't be taxed for an unproductive building. And I anticipate that the value to my residence will appreciate significantly because of the value of the extra large lot in an area of more estate type properties. Time will tell if I am right.

Later I will talk about what I am going to do with my residence located next door.

I think there are some real buying opportunities in Key West. We are in the worst selling time of the year and some sellers have to sell. So if you are thinking of buying CLICK HERE to preview all current mls listings in Key West. Then give me a call at 305-766-2642. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

What you get for your Money

Time for another comparison post of what you can get for your money. You have seen comparison properties in magazines and television shows. This is my version. I am from Denver, so I selected one home out of 4 homes priced between $1 million to $1.250 million in area code 80218--my old stomping grounds. The area includes much of Capitol Hill (gentrified in the 1970's and Denver Country Club (never needed re-gentrification). The area is a close drive to downtown Denver and the best shopping, restaurants, sports and entertainment venues in the city.

The house I picked was at 467 FRANKLIN ST and priced at $1,250,000 and is 4,365 Sq. Ft. of living space which is $268 per sq. ft. It has 4 bedrooms, 4 baths, 2 car garage and all the bells and whistles you get up north in America. CLICK HERE to see all the pics and details on this lovely home.

There were 23 active listings CLICK HERE by comparison in the Old Town Key West area and I selected 621 Canfield Lane as my comp. It is a renovated and restored wit a designer kitchen and baths, high ceilings, hardwood floors, and Dade County Pine. Private, gated and lush tropical yard includes pool and Jacuzzi, large deck and sky deck on second floor. Off Street Parking, Great Old Town location. It only has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths and 1260 sq. ft. of living space. It is priced at $1,149,000 or $912 per sq. ft. It is owned by a successful realtor who has reduced the asking price from $1,249,000 to the present price.

Key West is definitely priced higher than a similarly outfitted home in Denver. But then you would be living in Denver. Not Key West. Denver is my hometown and I loved it. I just happen to love Key West more. It's like being on vacation 24/7. If you are thinking of buying a home or condo in the Key West area, please CLICK HERE to preview all current mls listings. All listings are in real time so you will never miss a buying opportunity. And think about calling me to help you find your new home.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Road to Paradise

The photos to the right remind me of my very first trip to Key West. We drove down from Miami and arrived just before noon. I saw the big green sign with two arrows both going "South" but requiring right or left turns. I turned left and headed for the "beaches". Mistake. Wrong. I started to panic and thought I had made a terrible mistake coming to Key West. Wrong again.

We ended up on Duval Street by accident. It's a small island. Everybody ends up on Duval Street. We eventually found Fleming Street and then the guesthouse. Back then there was some free public parking and meters were not all that expensive. So I parked the car and used it once or twice during the two weeks we were here. Mistake #3 was renting a car. You do not need a car in Key West. You cannot park a car in Key West.

After a couple of hours by the pool we did the tourist thing and started the daily Duval crawl where tourists walk up and down the longest little street in the USA. You can walk from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in about 30 minutes or so. And we did. Daily.

Two blocks east of Duval is the Key West Historic Seaport. It looked really decrepit back then. We went there one day to catch a catamaran for a day of snorkeling. Bad idea if you get seasick. But it is also really fun. The photo of the Lazy Lane reminds me a lot of what a lot of Key West looked like back in 1984--before things got so gentrified. And the pic of the boat at the seaport is just icing on the cake.

I had a major downer about Key West after Hurricane Wilma. I never thought things would be the same. The damage to homes and businesses was not all that bad, but our beautiful little island got a big black eye. So many of the trees and the greenery was mangled and tortured by the winds and rains. The salt water killed off a lot more greenery weeks later.

But the rains eventually returned a few months later and the island started to nurse itself back into shape. Today the island is a green as ever. There are areas of green vegetation that were not green before. "Volunteer" plants and trees sprang up everywhere. Everywhere! And even though Florida is under a drought, when we do get rain all of the plants and trees go crazy. And the little birds bathe themselves in the streets. So many of our trees have flowers--many that are really fragrant. It is just a joy to walk or ride a bike to enjoy our little home town.

If you are thinking about buying a second home in Key West please CLICK HERE. You can preview every home, condo, or commercial property for sale in Key West and the Florida Keys. And if you see some property that you like, please call me at 1-305-766-2642. I would be glad to help you find your little place in Paradise.


The information on this site is for discussion purposes only. Under no circumstances does this information constitute a recommendation to buy or sell securities, assets, real estate, or otherwise. Information has not been verified, is not guaranteed, and is subject to change.


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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.