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Wednesday, August 20, 2008



Last week I wrote about the deal that was. The deal that got away and that will not return. A real deal in a down-trodden economy.

Yesterday two properties sold and closed. Our office used to have the listings on both properties, but lost them when the properties did not sell. They were not my listings, but those of this office. No harsh feelings, I'm working with one of the owners on another deal. So what I am about to write is not sour grapes or anything like that. But it is intended as illustrative of what is going on in Key West at this time.

Remember what life was like after September 11th: all of the uncertainty and the feeling of having been savagely violated. I remember that the Key West community came together like no time before or since. Everybody was nicer. Kinder. More caring. We did not know what was going to come next. The tourists stayed away in droves. Fantasy Fest did occur, but it was not like before. And then everybody left town and we waited for Christmas. The Christmas crowds arrived and then, like gangbusters, everybody started buying property. Prices soared as inventory shrank. Money was cheap and plentiful and the buying spree was on.

The effect on prices was that homes that a couple of years before that sold around $250 per square foot shot up to near $1000 per square foot. And many sold in or near that price range. Even crap. Forget about who caused it for point of discussion. It happened.

Fast forward to 2005 and the beginning of the downturn in the real estate bubble nationally. Add the awful summer of four hurricanes in Key West and the crippling of our tourist business. Hurricane Wilma through everybody for a loop because for once Key West actually got hurt by a hurricane. Normally it is just a bunch of wind and rain and falling tree limbs or an occasional tree that falls on a house. But Wilma was different. It was a real hurricane and it did real damage.

Christmas in 2005 came and I think we all assumed it was going to be like it was in 2001 after the memories of 9/11 started to subside. Wrong. There was resistance to buying in general and resistance to price in particular. But there were sellers who thought that the market would bounce back and many resisted reducing prices.

We listed 730 Passover Lane in January 2006 for $795,000 or $1338 per square foot. The owner had the property appraised and priced the property a little higher. My assumption is that the owner might have thought that would give some downward negotiating ability. I held numerous open houses there and many folks just loved the property. There were two detractions to the property: it only had one bedroom and there was no room for a pool. Oh, yeah, the price was way high. Nobody made an offer. Nada. The price eventually got reduce, but only to $599,000 in mid 2007.

The owner listed the house with another company in February 2008 at $579,000 and progressively dropped the asking price. The last asking price was $499,000. The property sold at $430,000 or $724 per sq ft for the 594 sq ft cottage. CLICK HERE for more info on 730 Passover Lane.

The Artist House guest house at 534 Eaton Street is a Key West landmark. We listed that property in December 2005 at $2,975,000. Guest houses are traditionally listed like hotel rooms or by the number of "keys" or "rooms" available to be rented. Since many guest houses have phantom units, rooms without required transient licenses, pricing can sometimes get difficult. Key West banks have no problem loaning money to purchase guest houses, but they typically only loan on legal units and discount any phantom units even though everybody knows the phantom units produce income. The fact is that phantom rooms could be shut down by city code enforcement so those rooms just don't count. The Artist House had six rooms plus an additional room and not the required number of transient licenses.

In November 2007 The Artist House was listed with another real estate company for $2,600,000. It sold yesterday for $2,130,000. It was a short sale. The price per room or key was about $300,000. That was a good price considering that there are more rooms and transient licenses, but it falls in line with what pricing on other units has been or should be. CLICK HERE to see what you missed buying.

I think there are some who will see these prices as still being too high. There are some readers who may want some sellers to be punished even more by even larger price reductions. There are some short sales in progress that are waiting to close. I am not sure that the prices will cause the market to drop that much even though I am pretty certain that the price per square foot on some future sales will be lower.

If you CLICK HERE and search the Key West mls database you will see that there are two Key Wests. First there is Key West's Old Town area full of cute cottages and majestic conch houses. Second is the Key West Mid Town and New Town areas. Many of the houses in those areas were damaged during Hurricane Wilma. Many of the condos and town homes were sold at inflated prices and are now bank owned or offered as short sales.

There just are not that many really nice properties remaining for sale in Old Town.
Sellers who do not need to sell do not have their properties on the market. If a property is listed for sale in Old Town it is probably listed because it needs to get sold. But with a shrinking base of available properties I don't know that the prices will necessarily get depressed much more.

But the Mid Town and New Town areas are the reverse. The inventory of available properties is still large. I read the Monroe County Clerk's website and see all of the new properties going into pre-foreclosure. It is not stopping. So prices in those areas will likely continue to drop until this mess is over.

If you want to catch the big one before there are no more big ones left, CLICK HERE to search the Key West mls database. If you see a property you like please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or e-mail me at kw1101v@aol.com. Let me help you find your little (or BIG) place in Paradise.





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3 comments:

Susan said...

I read something the other day about concerns relative to global warming and the rising sea level. The writer was discussing the fact that Key West is barely above sea level and there is no questioning the fact that it is just a matter of time before much of the island is under water, maybe even within the next 50 years. Any chance in your opinion this will start putting downward pressure on real estate prices?

Anonymous said...

Don't believe everything you read!

Gary Thomas said...

New York has the same problem as do many cities on the east, west, and southern coasts.

I'll be long gone by then anyway.

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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.