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Thursday, July 31, 2008

8 Passover Lane Old Town Key West, Fl

I have often written about the virtues of living life on one of the slow lanes of Key West. Well, 8 Passover Lane is about the slowest of the slow lanes as possible. It is so slow that it is really just walkway about 6' wide that provides access to the three cottages on the lane. I can see some readers thinking I must be nuts. But read on.

This is how the listing Realtor describes the home: "Absolutely perfect story book cottage in one of the most desirable locations in Old Town. Step onto the rocking chair front porch and open the front door to the main level open floor plan with a large living/dining room and beautiful kitchen with custom cabinetry, granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. Also on the first floor is the master suite w/vaulted ceiling, master bath and French doors to the rear deck,a cozy study/bedroom with built-in day bed and adjoining full bath with French door to private outdoor shower. Upstairs is a large guest bedroom with sitting area and half bath. Outdoors is a nice sized yard with heated small dipping pool and tropical landscaping. Beautiful turnkey property in absolute pristine condition."

Every once in a while a listing Realtor will refer to a new listing as a "quintessential Key West cottage" and that is exactly what this property is: the most perfect embodiment of the Key West cottage. I guess I'd describe it this way: you walk down the little lane and spy the mystical mailbox notifying you that you have arrived at 8 Passover Lane. You look to the front porch where you see the sign that you have indeed arrived "Paradise Found". Then you see the rocker on the front porch inviting you to seat yourself. Then you open the front door and enter into another world. A world far from the madness that has become the daily life up north in America. The place is done to a Tee, but not over-done. You just feel at ease. At home. In fact there is a sweet little sign over one of the doors that says it all Home Sweet Home. There isn't anything cookie cutter about this cottage. Everything, every view, every last detail is unique.

This two story dream house can be yours for $799,000. It is 1120 sq ft and sits on a lot that is 2349 sq ft. So the asking price equates to $713 per sq ft. They didn't make a lot of these cottages. In fact this is the only one. That's why it is so special. So desirable.
CLICK HERE for more detailed information on this charming two story cottage and additional photos. But understand you must see this living doll house to appreciate it. There is not another like it in Key West. Not at this price, anyway. There are some equally charming homes, but they are all priced much, much higher.

Want to see this property? Please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642, or e-mail me at This is the place everybody dreams about. But only one person gets to own it. Maybe that person will be you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mad Men and Key West Real Estate

I discovered Mad Men a couple of weeks ago. It is an AMC Cable TV series that is executive produced by Scott Hornbacher (The Sopranos). The first season of Mad Men takes place in the year 1960, and you can watch every episode if you have On Demand on your cable. Spend an afternoon or two and invest in some good TV if you have not watched it.

The sets, the furniture, the lamps and artwork, the cars, the clothes, the hair styles and hair cuts, the incessant chain smoking, the expense account lunches, and the martini drinking transport us back to a kinder, gentler time. Forty-eight years later those of us who lived through that time can look back, not in anger, but with nostalgia, and remember how much easier life was then.

In one of the first episodes Betty was shopping in the grocery store. Vintage products whose brands have disappeared or whose logos have changed remind us of things we have long forgot. In the vegetable aisle we see prices that look like food was almost free by comparison to today's prices.

The interior shots of the characters' homes look so dated. Betty Draper, the wife of Don (Juan) Draper (the male lead) looks like Betty Furness in her 1960's kitchen complete with knotty pine walls. Some of the rooms look like some houses I occasionally show in the New Town area of Key West, except people still live in those houses--houses that were built and furnished in the 1960s and not updated except for maybe a plasma TV or computer. And the Key West version is nowhere nearly as swank.

Later we see the corporate office with the IBM Executive Typewriters and other almost antique office furniture and fixtures. But it is when ad exec Pete Campbell states his salary is $75 per week salary that we are shocked into 21st Century reality. Seventy-five dollars! Per Week! In one of the last episodes Peggy Olsen gets elevated from secretary to junior copywriter and a salary of $35 per week. That is a time when most women were relegated to being either homemakers or the servants to men in the workplace. That is pre-glass ceiling. And pre-civil rights as well. Not a black to be seen in the office except a janitor who gets to spy a sexual romp through the opaque glass of an adman's office.

Later we see Pete Campbell and his wife Trudy go shopping for a Manhattan apartment that was offered at $30,000. Now I realize this is TV and that the apartment is a set, but CLICK HERE this is how much you could buy in 1960's New York for thirty grand. Most cars cost that much these days.

I was 13 in 1960. I remember it quite well in some respects. I remember that you could buy a regular Coke for a nickel and a King Sized Coke for a dime. McDonalds was new to Denver, and you could buy a hamburger for 15 cents, fries and a Coke for a dime each. I could eat a nice lunch for about fifty cents--the original Value Meal. There used to be roadside truck stands where my mom would by fresh farm produce in the summer. I remember Rocky Ford Cantaloupes and ripe watermelons for about a nickel a pound. And gas cost about 20 cents per gallon for as long as I could remember. I have some old black and white movies my uncle took of a Skelly Gas station he owned on Speer Boulevard in Denver in the 1940s. Gas cost 15 cents back then. Twenty years later it cost 20 cents per gallon. Almost 50 years later it costs about $4.35 per gallon.

Everything was cheaper back in the 1960s. As I recall most of the people I knew had one car and one TV. I don't remember any of my friends wearing a designer anything. Haircuts cost a buck and we all looked well fed and well bred.

I seem to recall the first minimum wage job I had paid $1.00 per hour in the mid 1960s. Then the minimum went up to $1.10. Man, I was rich with the stroke of a pen.

I remember my parents looked at buying a new house in the Applewood area 10 miles west of Denver in the early 1960s. I recall it cost about $15,000. I just looked at some similar houses online and they are now being offered in the $400,000s to $500,000s.

The cost of everything has gone up since the "Mad" 1960s. I don't have any idea what a Madison Avenue ad executive makes today, but I'll wager it is a lot more than the $75 per week Pete Campbell ad exec made. I know that today an apartment in Manhattan costs way more than $30,000. I would guesstimate that most shop clerk type jobs pay about $10 - $16 per hour in Key West. Most hard labor jobs pay between $17 to $25. Carpenters get paid $45 to $65 per hour in Key West. A studio apartment in Key West costs about $1100 per month. A one bedroom apartment in Key West would cost $1200 per month or more. And a buyer can probably pick up a nice two story town house at the Key West Golf Club for under $300,000.

The simple life of the 1960s is gone. Today many families have a car for every person of driving age, a TV in every room, and a cell phone for each family member capable of using one. Many families own at least one vacation home in addition to the family residence. We have so many things that have made our lives less simple.

Inflation has made the cost of many things seem terribly high, but the cost of some things we use daily have become so cheap that they are now considered disposable instead of repairable: TVs, cellphones, computers, major appliances, gas blowers, etc. You get the idea. I know that there are some people who read my little blog that think the cost of houses in Key West is still too high. I think that prices have moderated quite a bit. There are still some mis-guided missiles in the Key West real estate market who continue to over-price their listings. But there are probably as many bottom-feeder buyers trying to suck the smell off of every zero in a real estate contract.

Invest some of your time and watch Mad Men on AMC. See how much better (or worse) our lives are nearly a half century later. If you think the next half century will bring us equally good fortune, you might be interested in buying a house in Key West at some of the best prices in a long time. CLICK HERE to checkout the Key West Association of Realtors mls database of residential and commercial listings. If you see something you like please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me at

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sink or Swim -- Key West Real Estate

Two sales went through the mls yesterday that give us some insight into how the Key West real estate market is fairing these days.

Sale No. 1 was a bank foreclosure of a single family home at 1116 Eaton Street in Old Town. I showed the house about 5 weeks ago and it was pretty much the same as it was several years ago when it sold for a much higher price. The house has 2 bedrooms, one bath, a newer kitchen and a small pool. It is located on Eaton Street near the corner of White--one of the busiest intersections in town. It sits across the street from the entrance to Manley de Boer Lumber, Ace Hardware, and The Restaurant Store. CLICK HERE for more details on the house. It was listed originally for $379,900 and sold for $330,000 or $491 per sq ft.

Sale No. 2 is a Key West Landmark located at 1101 Casa Marina Court. It is the former estate of noted author Philip Caputo. It is one of the few Key West homes with a true ocean view. The home underwent some costly renovation and the gardens were extensively updated. It was originally listed for $5,750,000 and sold this week for $4,650,000 or $1,055 per sq ft. CLICK HERE for more info on this home.

For those that think the market price is Key West has totally tanked (or hope that it will), maybe your perception of the current market is a little skewed. I'm not trying to pick a fight with anyone. I think there are individual properties that are way over-priced based on condition, location, or the fuzzy logic of owners or their Realtors.

I am a pragmatist and I think the only sellers in Key West today are sellers who need to sell for some reason. Not all sales are distress sales. Some properties are "estate sales" where property is offered to help settle the estate of a recently departed. There are some divorce sales to be sure. This economic environment has cause a lot of marital stress. There are some developers or investors who have several properties that they purchased during the good times that they need to sell to reduce their mortgage payments. Those sellers may not be facing foreclosure, but they need to reduce the monthly outflow. The majority of listed properties are short sales and the offerings priced like short sales. And finally, there are the bank owned properties. They are typically, but not always, the houses that could not be sold because of legal issues, locational issues, or structural issues that made a regular sale nearly impossible.

Small houses usually sell at a higher price per square foot than a large home. Poorly located properties typically sell at a discounted price per square foot over those with a good location.
Houses on the market for a long period of time usually reflect some problem with the properties and that usually means a lower price per square foot. I don't pretend to understand how the appraisal process works, but these general rules seem to work quite consistently.

I see the sale of 1116 Eaton as being a reaffirmation of the value of Old Town as the place to buy. I remember showing similar properties to a New Yorker a few years ago. He said he didn't mind the street noise. He was used to it. He was looking for value and an Old Town location.

For those who think no house in Key West is worth a $1,000 per square foot, maybe you are mistaken. Maybe the Casa Marina sale will cause you to rethink the value of that location. I was showing a home last week to a couple who already own several homes in different locations including an apartment they purchased in the Belgravia section of London several years ago during a downturn there. They told me that the price per square foot is approaching $80,000 and that there is a line of buyers (Middle East, Russia, India and China)waiting to buy. Wish they were here!

If you are interested in buying a home or investment property in Key West CLICK HERE to checkout the Key West mls database. It is maintained in real time and you don't need any passwords to see what is available. If you would like to see a property please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me at There are some deals to be had out there. Many properties are priced far below the Eaton Street house.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Shipyard Units -- Key West

The Shipyard Condominiums in Truman Annex have become favorite entry level properties for second home purchasers in Key West.
Although the units were almost identical when constructed in the early 1990s, many have been remodeled or updated to accommodate usage as vacation rentals.

I created a list of the units available CLICK HERE. The list shows the size, amenities, price, and price per sq ft so that prospective buyers can make a quick comparison between the different properties.

Some of the units have a transient rental license that permits the rental of the unit on a daily basis as permitted by a newly adopted City Ordinance. But other units do not have that license. So if you are looking to purchase a unit that can be legally rented on a daily basis, pay careful attention to the details on each unit.

Several of the units are offered as possible short sales. A short sale occurs when a lender (bank or mortgage company) allows the property to be sold for less than the remaining balance on the mortgage loan. The asking price may be subject to negotiation and there is no assurance the lender will agree to accept any sum less than the total owed on the mortgage. But since there are so many properties in foreclosure across the nation, prospective buyers may want to consider purchasing such a property on the chance that they may buy the property at a somewhat discounted value. (Not all properties are shown to the public as short sales. So it may be necessary to consult with a Realtor to determine whether any particular unit is offered as a short sale.)

One particular condo you might want to consider is unit no. 194 which is located in the southeast corner of the development near the corner of Thomas and Petronia Streets. This unit was just reduced in price from $539,000 to $499,000 and it is offered fully furnished. The furnishings are especially nice. According to the listing agent, this ground floor unit has a good rental history. It does have the valuable transient rental license. CLICK HERE for additional info on unit no. 194.

I would caution any buyer of a condominium or town home in Key West or anywhere else to review the condo docs and the home owner association budget to make sure the association is well capitalized and able to carry out business functions in the future without the imposition of any special assessments. I am not suggesting that Shipyard or any other association is in financial danger. But I am saying buyers need to investigate the fiscal stability of any project in which they may become an owner.

If you want to see any of the units listed here, please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me at

Thursday, July 24, 2008

623 Grinnell St. Old Town Key West, Fl

Just Listed: 623 Grinnell Street, Old Town, Key West, Florida. Absolutely charming historic home on a quiet street in the heart of old town. Original details throughout. High ceilings, 3 generous bedrooms including downstairs master. Off Street parking for 2 vehicles in tandem, wonderful porches and covered outside living area. An adorable home on one of the finest streets in Old Town Key West. CLICK HERE for more detailed information.

This 1646 sq ft home sits on a 3140 sq ft lot and is priced at $895,000 or $544 per sq ft. The home is now offered as a short sale. Just three months ago it was originally priced at $1,179,000 or $716 per sq ft. That is the reality of our current market. This property has always been a favorite of mine. It just oozes charm.

The house is located in one of the great Old Town neighborhoods. Five Brothers Grocery is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away at the corner of Southard. You can go there every morning for your con leche and catch up with all the latest Key West gossip. Everybody famous goes there. You foodies know that Michael's is a two minute walk and Mangia Mangia takes the same time to reach if you got a craving for pasta. The Historic Key West Seaport is about a five minute walk to the north. Duval Street is a five or six minute stroll. It takes longer if you stop to smell the flowering trees.

If you are looking for a classic home, this one may be what you have been waiting for . It is a short sale, so there may other potential buyers who have their offers in the mix along with yours. That is just a fact of trying to buy a short sale property. But the wait and price break may be worth the trouble.

Want to see this house? Please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me a It is not my listing, but don't let that stop you from calling me. I work with buyers all the time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dream Fulfillment in Key West

Some people vacation in Key West year after year. They dream of buying a second home that they can rent as a transition to living in Key West as a full time resident.

The recent downturn in the real estate market has made achieving that dream more affordable and attainable. And many dreamers are actively looking to fulfill their dreams.

CLICK HERE to see four similar yet very different properties all near the Old Town area. The four units are similarly priced. You can see the price per sq ft on the right hand side of each listing. In the same area you will note the total square footage of each property. The two story town home at 606 Truman in Windward Park is more than twice as large as the condo at 120 Angela Street. But the Angela Street condo is absolutely adorable and can be purchased fully furnished. There are only four units at the Angela property, but there are 19 town homes at Windward Park. The recently renovated home turned condo at 912 James Street is one block walk to the Historic Key West Seaport. Two units constitute that condominium. The two story town home at 554 Porter Lane is located in Truman Annex and has a carport. There are 55 units in that development.

Please checkout the listings and if you see something that interests you, please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me at You may find a property that will make your dreams come true.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Finnegan's Wake -- 320 Grinnell St Key West, Fl

Want to have a party every night? Want to own a Key West Landmark? You can do both. Just Listed: Finnegan's Wake at 320 Grinnell Street, Old Town, Key West.

This bar and restaurant is a locals hangout and a tourist draw. It is located a stone's throw from the Historic Key West Seaport. It is across the street from the Key West municipal parking garage. Grinnell Street is the primary feeder street for traffic going to the seaport.

The building sits at the corner of James and Grinnell Streets and occupies a pretty good sized amount of land. The main building houses the pub downstairs. There are two licensed residential units upstairs that can be used for employee housing. And next door to the south is Pady O's outside bar and dining area.

This is a business and real estate package sold turn-key with 174 seats and an SRX liquor license. The Pub has indoor and outdoor patio seating. The building has two residential apartments upstairs for staff housing. The numbers are strong, making this a profitable business investment. Financials are available upon execution of a confidentiality agreement.

The asking price on Finnegan's Wake is $2,800,000. This is not my listing, but don't let that stop you from taking a look into your future. Call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail at

The New York Times even did a piece on Finnegan's Wake. CLICK HERE for the review and pics.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fear Factor -- Key West Reality

It seems like Déjà vu all over again. Back in the 1970's we were in a war that would not end, President Nixon had been deposed, the American automobile industry was reeling, gas prices were making us change our driving habits and lifestyles, the stock market was in turmoil, President Ford was defiant over his pardon of Nixon and refusal to bail out NYC, foreclosures were up, and hope was down.

After we exited Viet Nam, I think everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. Our terrible nightmare was over. We vowed "Never Again" and meant it. In 1976 the Democrats won both the Senate and House, many statehouses and governorships, and the big prize: The Presidency. Jimmy Carter took over and had his honeymoon with Congress and the public.

Fast forward 32 years. We are no longer fear the Commies. Now we fear terrorists. And rightly so.

The 1980's and 1990's were good for a lot of Americans. Reagan made most of the public feel good, even if they didn't agree with his policies. The Berlin Wall fell, Communism failed, the Baby Boomers made money in the stock market, the middle class went on a spending spree, and life was great once again. But September 11th changed all of that.

Our economy is in worse shape now than it was 30 years ago. The cost of fuel keeps going up, the price of groceries goes up or the size of packages shrink, American icons such as Anheuser-Busch and The Chrysler Building get sold to foreign entities, the threat of possible bank closings looms, and the housing crisis just gets worse. As the Baby Boomers approach retirement it looks like Social Security may not be as secure or as helpful as we once thought. It is not the Economy Stupid. It is the Stupid Economy.

There are a lot of busy Realtors in Key West this summer. We are all working with people who want deals. We send e-mails of new listings to prospective buyers who tell us what they want and what they are willing to pay. We drive them around town showing properties. Some people end up buying. Most express fear that prices will drop more and go back home hoping they do.

A real estate investor who owns a variety of income producing properties recently lowered the asking price on several. Several months after Hurricane Wilma, my client made an offer to purchase a commercial property the investor owned. The property was not used since Wilma. The owner bought the property in 2004. But his asking price was a $900,000 more than he paid for it. In early 2007 my buyer offered about $400,000 over the price the investor paid for the property. The investor said no deal. Earlier this year my buyer offered about $300,000 over the amount the investor paid. No go. Earlier this week, my buyer offered about $75,000 under what the investor paid. My buyer said "He should have accepted my price when I made it two years ago." My buyer is very pessimistic about the economy in general. He has cash in the bank and can buy without borrowing money. But he is reluctant to buy in the current market. He is fearful it will get worse. I understand.

We recovered after Nixon-Ford-Carter went away. We are going to have a new President in January. Bush will be history. I think the whole world will breath a very loud sigh of relief. And things will get better. I'm pretty sure all markets will re-bound right after the Inauguration. They may even pick up before the election. And when the rebound starts, it might just shoot up like crazy. Not everybody is poor and desperate. There are a lot of people waiting in the wings ready to buy. They just have to get over the Fear Factor.

If you think I'm full of beans, consider what Warren Buffet has to say about Market Timing: "Investors should remember that excitement and expenses are their enemies. And if they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful."

CLICK HERE to checkout the Key West Association of Realtors mls database of all current listings. If you see something you like please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me at

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

31 Seaside South Ct - Key West -- Ocean View

31 Seaside South Ct is a beautifully decorated home with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Ideally located in a secluded quiet location at Seaside Key West Residences this luxurious 3 level home includes many amenities. A few of the features of this home include designer decor, multiple outdoor spaces, private elevator, 2 car garage and breathtaking rooftop deck. This is a perfect stress free island home with poured concrete construction and impact resistant windows and doors. Seaside Key West Residences is recently built (2005)gated community with several pools and clubhouse.

This 1914 sq ft home has two bedrooms and 3 baths is offered as a potential short sale at the price of $695,000 or only $363 per sq ft. And if that price isn't good enough, the property comes furnished. There are more photos and additional information about the unit CLICK HERE. Imagine, moving into a place like this for such a potentially affordable price. The developer of the entire development owns the unit next door. That means the ocean view is just about as good as it gets in my opinion.

This is not my listing, but I would gladly show it to you. Please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me at Imagine waking up to the sunrise view at your Seaside home in Key West. It can happen.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What Happens When a Bank Fails -- My Experience

I have two sets of personal experience dealing with bank failures. I thought my experiences might prove somewhat helpful in understanding the closure of Indymac Bank and the theoretical possibility of more closures in the near term.

In the late 1980's I managed the Special Assets Department of a national bank in Denver. Our bank was on the FDIC's Watch List of troubled banks. Our liquidity was low and we had very limited loan making ability. Everybody knew our bank would either be sold by its owner or that the FDIC would close it. For well over a year various potential purchasers did their due diligence to identify and distinguish performing assets from problem or non-performing assets. The FDIC was in the bank during the same time as well as it prepared for its presumed takeover.

Takeovers normally occur around 4:00 PM on Friday afternoons. Around 11:00 AM on the day when our bank was to get shut down by the FDIC the president of the bank held a meeting of all bank employees and thanked them for their services and explained how the presumed shutdown would occur and what would happen to the employees. At 4:00 PM the suits (FDIC officials and attorneys) showed up with briefcases in hand and walked in to shut the place down. A meeting ensued in the president's office. The suits walked out the front door to the TV news cameras waiting to hear the announcement that the bank had been closed. Didn't happen.

The bank was owned by a man who had made Billions in oil. His name and reputation were associated with the bank. He made a last minute cash infusion that re-established enough liquidity to keep the bank afloat until it could be sold. And that is what happened about a year later.

Fast forward to the summer of 1990 when I joined the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), the federal government agency formed as an offshoot of the FDIC to manage the shutdown of failed savings and loan associations.

As I recall the way things occurred the Comptroller of the Currency identified the S&Ls that were in trouble and it made the decision to "resolve" or close those institutions. The RTC knew which S&Ls would be closed but not the specific date. There were so many institutions that it was impossible to do every "bank" in one fell swoop.

RTC employees called "managing agents" were assigned to the bank to learn bank operations and identify assets. The process is laborious and I am not writing a book. A managing agent might have been a former senior level FDIC official or a senior officer in a large bank or thrift. A managing agent would be the defacto CEO of the thrift once the bank was closed. The managing agents often "lived" in the banks for months before the day we actually showed up to shut the old bank down. Other outside contractors, such as Coopers & Lybrand or Arthur Andersen, would perform due diligence and scrutinize the assets and liabilities so that when the resolution date occurred, a potential purchaser or purchasers would have a credible list of assets available to purchase.

Once closure date was known worker bees such as myself would "visit" the bank prior to closure to identify assets for which we would be responsible. The mission of the RTC was to shut down the failed thrifts, not to manage them for years to come. The banking operations were to continue in without interuption to maintain the value of the assets.

On the fateful Fridays we would show up in suits at the appointed time and get the glares from the disheartened employees as they saw their old lives abruptly change. The RTC retained most of the employees on for the short term basis while the assets were sold. The RTC would typically re-open the failed S&L on Monday with an almost identical name with the appendage "Federal Savings Bank or FSB" to distinguish the new entity from its former self.

The RTC usually had a "suitor" or an "acquiring bank" in hand to purchase the cash deposits and "banking" operations of the old bank. In reality the cash constituted liabilities so the RTC paid the acquirer to take on the responsibility. Again that process is way too involved to discuss here. The Western Regional Office of the RTC where I worked sold many of the failed thrifts to Bank of America. And I consider the purchase of all of those failed thrifts as a significant factor in the explosive growth of Bank of America during the 1990's.

The RTC Operations Department did massive conversions of bank loans from their old accounting and reporting functions to the universal RTC system. Again, this is what I recall. I was never a "loan guy" so if I err in my report, forget it. Notices were mailed to borrowers telling them to make loan payments to a new loan servicer. Eventually, the loans were securitized and sold. But the loans were not lost or forgotten. If you happened to have a mortgage with Indymac Bank do not stop making payments. Do not listen to people who do not know what they are talking about. Your credit is valuable. Don't trust people who tell you to do dumb things! You are only hurting yourself and your credit if you do.

Eventually the assets were sold or transferred and the managing agents came back to Denver only to get re-assigned to another failing institution.

The procedures the RTC used are basically what the FDIC use because the FDIC set up the RTC to be run basically the same way.

The process of what happened on Friday with the closure of Indymac Bank is different than a typical FDIC closing because it reportedly came as a surprise to everyone. Indymac Bank was not on the Watch List, meaning it was not being scrutinzied for possible bank closing. It is my understanding that the run on the bank deposits created the liquidity crisis that required the closing. Because the Indymac Bank closing occurred so abruptly the FDIC did not have a "suitor" or "acquiring bank" in place. And since Indymac Bank was so large it may be difficult to find one suitor to buy all of the assets.

The FDIC is organized and they have done lots of bank closings. The FDIC is not FEMA. The FDIC has a new website set up to explain exactly how operations will continue. CLICK HERE to view. For would-be buyers of foreclosed homes in Key West or elsewhere do not think you are going to get a "deal" because of bumbling "Feds".

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Regulators Shut Down IndyMac Bank! Friday July 11th

Regulators Shut Down IndyMac Bank! Re-printed by Permission of Ruben Concepcion, Keys Financial.

Bank regulators today shut the doors of IndyMac Bank and have transferred its assets to the FDIC. IndyMac had stopped lending activities earlier this week due to lack of capital and had seen a run on its deposits over the last couple of weeks due to concerns about its ability to survive.

IndyMac is the largest thrift ever to fail and the second largest financial institution in the U.S ever to do so.

What you may not know about IndyMac, is that it was founded by Angelo Mozilo and David Loeb, the same two geniuses who founded Countrywide and likewise ran it into the ground as well.

What’s important to note here:

The last major round of lender closings (Fall ’07) was primarily due to liquidity problems. Credit markets seized up at that time due to investor fears of exposure to subprime paper. Investors stopped buying mortgage securities and lenders were unable to sell their loans. No cash to continue operations – and therefore no choice but to shut down. Those failings were not due to actual realized losses at that time.

These were primarily mortgage bankers and not banking institutions.

The IndyMac failure is different because now we are seeing a major lender/banking institution failure due to actual losses. Rising defaults at IndyMac deteriorated it’s capital position. That called it’s survivability into question and depositors began a run on the bank – resulting in today’s shutdown.

In my opinion, the best thing that’s happened to the US housing market is Bank of America’s takeover of Countrywide. The takeover will in effect serve to hide the actual level of losses at the nation’s largest mortgage lender. If the magnitude of the actual losses at Countrywide were to become public, the resulting panic in the market would make what we’re experiencing now seem mild by comparison.

Are the failures of Countrywide and IndyMac indicative of systemic problems in the banking industry, and should we expect more of the same?

I don’t think so. What sets Chase Manhattan, Wells Fargo, BB&T (our primary lenders) apart is that they are well diversified banking institutions first, and mortgage lending is simply a component of what they do.

Countrywide and IndyMac were sales companies by design – and financial institutions by default. They had an overly aggressive high pressure sales culture with notoriously poor underwriting standards. If you can believe this, their underwriting departments reported to their sales managers! The end result doesn’t seem so surprising when you think about that one.

Go to Keys Financial to get Reuben's e-mailed analysis of how money market news affects you in Key West.

Our office is doing several short sales right now with Indymac Bank. I worked for the RTC in the early 1990s and we closed dozens of small to very large S&Ls. The first couple of days are always edgy. But things start to move smoothly within a few days. Indmac Bank was doing a credible job in addressing short sales that we presented to them. I hope that the FDIC's takeover will permit the process to continue. If the old RTC model is used by the FDIC, the former Indymac Bank employees will be retained by the FDIC or its successor to perform exactly the same job functions as before the takeover. We shall see.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Key West on National Open House

Announcement from the Key West Association of Realtors

Key West will be featured in HGTV’s popular television series “National Open House”. Hosted by local real estate Broker, Rudy Molinet, the show compares homes in Key West with those in Las Vegas and Virginia Beach. The show features local homeowners showing their homes in several parts of town and in different price ranges. There is even a houseboat on the show, probably the first time one has been featured.

The episodes were filmed last year with local Key Westers “showing off their homes” and Rudy Molinet acting as the local real estate expert and ambassador for Key West. The show was filmed at local landmarks including the Old Town Historic District, the Oldest House on Duval Street, the Southernmost Point and many other Key West scenes.

This show will provide national exposure for Key West. This is the first time our city has been featured. The episode will air on Tuesday, July 15, 2008 at 9:30 PM on Home & Garden Television.

The pic at the top is Rudy Molinet about 40 years ago. He uses his pic in all of his advertising. (He even has his pic in one of his listings on Pecan Lane along with the photos of the homeowners children. I kid you not!) The guy right below Rudy is me about 30 years ago. Rudy looks pretty much the same. I look much older and have lots of grey hair these days.

I'm neither an expert nor ambassador. But I know a thing or two about Key West real estate. CLICK HERE to preview all Lower Florida Keys real estate listings. If you see something you like please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me at Let's all watch Rudy next week.

Monday, July 7, 2008

1211Catherine Street Key West Bank Owned Home

Behind the once carefully manicured ficus hedge at 1211 Catherine Street sits a hidden 1930's vintage home with great potential. The 3 bedroom 2 bath home totals 1463 sq ft. The living room has really interesting architectural features including original hardwood floors and elegant windows. The master bed and bath are quite large and were redone by the previous owner. Very nicely done. There is a door leading from the master bath to one of the gardens.

The two other bedrooms share the second bath. One of the bedrooms has French doors that open onto the pool. Another set of French doors open onto the pool area from the kitchen. There's a separate laundry area and outdoor shower as well.

There are good sized side yards on both sides of the house. (The lot is 500 sq ft.) The property to the west is Island Gym. There is a huge ficus hedge that screens that property from view. The property next door to the east are apartments. Across the street on the corner is a real estate office. Then there are three successive houses for sale: 1212 Catherine St., 1214 Catherine, and 1216 Catherine.

This property is Bank Owned and it is priced at $589,000 or $402 per sq ft. I like the house. It has some issues (I think the roof needs replaced--at least repaired--as there is evidence of minor leaking in one bath.) But the listing agent has not let this property deteriorate. Hooray for responsible listing! CLICK HERE for more info on 1211 Catherine St.

I think somebody can pick this house up for around $535,000 to $550,000. If you want to look at this house please call me, Gary Thomas, at 305-766-2642. I am not the listing agent.

July 9, 2008 Please read the Comments Section Below for more discussion of issues the listing agent feels I failed to disclose when I wrote this item.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fixers - Key West

I don't get enough of real estate working it full time almost every day of the week. No, I gotta watch those stupid "reality" TV shows like Flip That House and Property Ladder. My favorite is Flipping Out on BRAVO. I was showing a $3.4 million house last Saturday when I opened the linen closet. The shelves were stacked with towels and bed linens that had been ironed. And each shelf had neat little tags that told the maid exactly where each item must be placed. I made a remark to my clients and the woman said something like "Jeff Lewis must live here". (He's the neat freak on Flipping Out.) And then we all confessed we watch that show religously.

There are so many shows on TV about fixing houses that it almost looks easy to redo a house. It isn't. Don't kid yourself. Especially in Key West.

On my first trip to Key West many years ago I saw lots of old homes and shacks and thought "somebody ought to buy that place and tear it down and put up a nice new house." The reality is that you can't do that in the Historic District (Old Town) Key West with a few exceptions. Most of the Historic District (Old Town) area falls under the HARC (Historic Architectural Review Commission) Guidlines. CLICK HERE to view the entire HARC Guidelines in pdf format. The purpose of the guidelines is to preserve and protect the architectural environment and unique character of the historic neighborhoods of the Key West Historic District.

The stated purpose of the HARC Guidelines is "to assist property owners, architects, developers, and the HARC Commission in making appropriate decisions concerning renovation methods and materials used. Those guidelines extend to signs, kiosks,out buildings, streetscapes, street furniture, murals, and other new construction. Sometimes it seems that HARC rules with an iron fist and other times it acts like a change agent. I take no position on HARC. I've had good success with HARC.

The photo of the humble house on Thomas Street and the shack CLICK HERE are good examples of why locals don't tear down existing structures even though they serve no useful purpose. Before the City of Key West had building codes and rules of adornment, property owners pretty much built what they wanted where they wanted it. But that was in the old days. Today there are set backs, side yards, floor area ratios, etc. that direct exactly what a property owner may construct on his property. But if a buyer acquires a property with a non-conforming structure, such as a shack in the rear corner of the back yard, the current set backs do not apply. It might be possible to renovate the shack into a pool house or a guest cottage by expanding the property from its present location.

I have just enough knowledge about land development to be dangerous. So I always tell prospective buyers to go to City Hall and discuss their general development plan with someone in the Planning Department. Every time I have done this the people at City Hall have been very helpful. I don't recall any city official ever saying something like "Yes you can do that". But I have heard them discuss the method by which approval is granted and that usually makes it easier for a buyer to make a decision.

Most of the flip reality shows get the houses totally renovated in 30 minutes. In Key West it takes more like 30 months. Plan on several months of working with your architect to get the plans done the way you want. Then you have to go through the HARC process. Maybe you'll have to go before the Board of Adjustment for a variance. That always takes a little more time. And then you get to deal with the contractors, electricians, plumbers, dry wall installers, painters, swimming pool installers, and landscapers. Maybe you even get to use an interior decorator. Thirty months. Count on it.

Or you could buy a house that is already done. CLICK HERE to search the Key West mls database in real time to checkout all real estate listings. Set your search parameters. If you see something you like, please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me at

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Single Family Homes in Key West under $500,000

I just went through the Key West Association of Realtors mls database and created a list of select single family homes under $500,000. There were a total of 67 such properties, but our system will not allow me to generate a report with that many listings. CLICK HERE to see all of the properties I was able to include.

Many of these properties are short sales (A short sale occurs when a property is sold and the lender agrees to accept a discounted payoff, meaning the lender will release the lien that is secured to the property upon receipt of less money than is actually owed). A few of the homes are bank owned and are priced to sell. In particular look at 2615 Staples. It was purchased for $900,000 not too long ago. That's a deal waiting to be made. And there are a couple of actual market sales as well.

Take a look at 1010 Whitehead Street. It is a very small and unpretentious house located one block off Duval near the Key West lighthouse. This house, believe it or not, was the home of one of Key West's most colorful characters: Larry Formica. He was the genius who created the World Famous La Te Da's on Upper Duval Street. He had other properties but his finances failed him. He lost La Te Da in the last economic slow down. But if this simple little cottage could house a giant like Larry Formica, maybe it could house you as well.

Three banks owned houses to consider at 3711 Duck (compare to 3713 Duck), 2005 Fogarty, 2816 Staples that is priced at only $275 per sq ft. There are more bank owned in the group. Some of the bank owned properties come with easy to obtain new bank financing, free appraisal, low closing costs.

If you happen to see a property that you like, please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me at There are some buying opportunities. Some of these properties are challenged. (That's a polite way of calling 'em dogs.) But there are some real nice houses in good locations. Let's see if we can make a deal and get you that Key West house you have been dreaming about. Maybe you can lay back in your Foster Grants and let the palm trees of Key West reflect your little piece of paradise.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Licensed to Make Money

Many people dream of buying a really charming home in Key West with a pool that they can eventually retire to. But in the meantime they want to be able to rent the house to help make the mortgage payments. Sounds easy. It isn't.

The City of Key West has a transient rental license ordinance that prescribes how single family homes, condos, and town homes may be rented on a transient (daily) basis. The city fathers created a map of locations with existing transient licenses and carved those areas as being permissible. Individual properties that had a transient license were allowed to continue to rent on a transient basis. Residences in permissible areas may rent on a transient basis if they have a license. Residences without a transient license may not. Furthermore, you can't just go to the city to buy a license because they don't issue new ones. Some transient licenses are offered for sale from time to time in our mls. So having a single family home with a transient license, even if you do not want to rent the house that way, the license is a valuable asset to have for re-sale at a later date.

There are two houses interested buyers should consider. The first is a new listing at 1307 Royal Street. It is a really cute property that is loaded with options! The front house has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, and is in exceptional condition with cathedral ceilings, a heated pool, roll down storm shutters, off street parking and a TRANSIENT license. The back house is a legal 1 bedroom 1 bath cottage which can become completely private and separated by a rolling fence. The property is priced at the June 2008 appraised price.

1307 Royal Street is a five block walk to Upper Duval. El Siboney Cuban Restaurant is located a couple of blocks to the east. The asking price on this property 1438 sq ft property is $1,200,000 or $834 per sq ft. CLICK HERE for additional detailed information and photos.

Then there is 523 Louisa Street. It is just a hop, skin, and a jump off of Upper Duval. It is offered furnished. CLICK HERE to preview this charming abode of 3 bedrooms, 2 baths with 1080 sq ft of living space. It is priced at $1,195,000 or $1,106 per sq ft. Great rental history on this cute story and one-half conch house renovated in 2000 with new roof in 2007. First floor contains open living/dining/kitchen with a bedroom and en-suite bath. Upstairs is two bedrooms with adjoining bath between. Small lagoon style, black bottom heated pool added in 2003. Turn-key property. Strong advanced bookings for buyer to start with immediate cash flow. CLICK HERE to checkout the rental company's listing page for Lousia. And CLICK HERE to preview the advanced bookings that Louisa has in place.

Now it is permissible to rent a single family home, condo, or town home as a legal vacation rental. Such properties may be rented only once per month whether it is for one day or thirty days. That is why having a home with a transient license might be the better investment. I encourage prospective buyers to look at the websites of property management companies like RENT KEY WEST and AT HOME IN KEY WEST. Do the math. You'll be surpirised how profitable owning a house with a transient rental license can be.

If you are looking to purchase home in Key West that you can rent to help make your dream come true, please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642, or e-mail me at

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Six Months Sales Report for Key West

I've said before that I am no statistician. I did failed miserably in algebra. But I got an "A" by being able to distinguish "Up" from "Down".

I always go back to 2005 to use as a comparison point to current market activity. In 2005 there were 197 single family home sales in Key West (Key West to Shark Key) during the time period of January 1st to June 30th. The least expensive house sold for $200,000 and the most expensive went for $6,950,000. In 2008 there were 105 home sales with the least expensive selling at $210,000 and the highest going for $4,667,055. But the overall sales volume is the clear indicator of what is going on today. In 2005 single family home sales totaled $236,620,239 for the first six months. During the same period in 2008 the sales amounted to $91,786,605. If I did my math correctly that means that the 2008 single family home sales are down 61% from what they were in 2005. Ouch!

In 2005 there were 173 condo and town home sales between January 1st through June 30th with sales totaling $120,736,398. The cheapest unit sold for $160,300 and the most expensive sold for $2,300,000. During the same time frame in 2008 there were 75 such sales totaling $36,357,096. The least expensive unit sold for $114,484 and the most expensive went for $1,700,000. This is the really scary part: condo and town home sales are down 70% from what they were in 2005.

Our mls database doesn't distinguish between short sales and foreclosures from other "market" sales. I did a very quick scan and found 18 of the condo and town home sales during the first six months of 2008 were such sales or 24% of sales for that period. The bad thing I see from this is that those sales seem to be driving the market sales activity downward. If I am wrong,I am sure somebody will point out my erroneous conclusion.

There are 102 current residential listings (single family, duplex, and condo / town home) shown as contingent, contingent/kickout, or pending. Of those, 61 are short sales and 7 are bank owned foreclosures. That means 60% of our contingent and pending listings are distressed sales. Oh, there is one very opulent mansion under contract on Sunset Key that is listed at $5.1 million. The seller: The United States Government. I guess that could be classified as distressful!

A year ago today I wrote in this blog about where the market was at at that time. CLICK HERE to read what I wrote then.

The next three months are traditionally the worst. Town is hot, locals go away, not much sells. The hurricanes of 2005 and the market downturn have put a chilling effect on a traditionally down market. We shall see what happens this year.

My suggestion: if you are a seller and you don’t need to sell now don’t list your property for sale. If you must sell now, price it correctly. Don't tell your Realtor the sales price. Have the property appraised by a qualified independent appraiser. Then price it at appraised price. Don't play games. If you are a buyer, now may be a good time to buy. The market may not have totally bottomed, but good properties will get purchased before the dregs. Get the right property at a price you feel comfortable with. Do not buy cheap properties because they are cheap. You will regret it.

CLICK HERE to checkout the Key West mls database in real time. If you see some property that interests you, please contact me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642, or e-mail me at


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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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.