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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Key West Dreamin' - But Not Make Believin'

I was looking at one of those slick destination magazines last night. You know the kind I'm talking about. Magazines that promote destinations like Aspen, Vail, La Jolla, Palm Beach, Savannah or Charleston. Magazines that feature photos of designer show homes, fancy restaurants, hot spots, trendy fashions, and society types. There was a full page ad for new homes that were built to look old. The ad read "FRONT PORCH FUN At Hibbben, we're reintroducing the front porch. A place to laugh and have fun with the whole family. A place to cool down after a hot summer's day. A place where the biggest worry is if there are enough Popsicles to go around." The ad showed three new houses with front porches and a few scraggly palm trees. The houses are located in a newly manufactured town where new houses try to replicate the old town look.

I've written before about my falling in love with Key West my first trip here. I had always lived in Colorado and while I wanted to move to Key West in my mind, my mind told me I needed to be more rational. I used to travel to California a lot. I fell in love with the Laguna Beach area. I considered moving to Palm Springs, La Jolla, Santa Barbara, Carmel, and San Francisco in addition to Laguna. But each one of those places requires a mindset and a car. The mindset is to be really into yourself and in to what other people think about you. Everything in California is image in my opinion. And you need a car to go everywhere because everything is so far away.

One time I looked at real estate in Savannah and Charleston. Both places are just beautiful. The historic districts are rich in architecture. But after a couple of weeks in both places I knew I did not belong in either. Charleston had snob appeal, but not to me. And Savannah had that awful odor and the oppressive summer heat that I knew I could not endure.

During my first trip to Key West I would take my morning walk around Old Town and look at houses like the ones Jerry Herman had just renovated in 700 block of Fleming Street or the Calvin Klein house on Eaton Street. I'd compare those houses to some nearby house desperately in need of a paint job. I dreamed of what my life in Key West could be like and what I could do to a desperate house. I imagined sitting on the front porch of my house in Old Town and watching the world walk.

There is a difference between manufactured communities like the one I mentioned. The houses are beautiful no doubt. But they don't have the character that comes from people actually living in the community. The trees and shrubs are too pristine. Everything is too planned. Too perfect.

Key West on the other hand is a real city with real people who lead real lives. Our front porches bear the scars of years of use. The streets in Old Town are lined with trees of all types and sizes. The white picket fences serve a genuine purpose and are not just for show. The crazy cats, dogs, chickens, iguanas, herons, and other animals that inhabit our island make Key West a real town where the front porch never went away so it needs no reintroduction.

Real houses and real people living lives not consumed by consumption, that is what Key West is made of. I have been here for 15 years, and I have learned that so many of the things I could not live without are not even necessary. You can have your make believe towns and suburbs with houses that look old but are only imitations of the real thing. I'll take a Conch house with a real wood floor over a salt box with a new laminated floor. I prefer the Key West version of the shotgun house (we call it a Cigar Maker's Cottage) to the ranch style house so prevalent across the US. The old structures were built in a time when things were built to last. And they did. Many have been updated with either plain or fancy kitchens and baths added. Some have pools and are gentrified. Others are still plain and utilitarian. But they all seem to work.

If you consider all of the panicked selling in the in the stock market over the past three days you will see that for every seller there was also a buyer. On July 14th I wrote about the demise of IndyMac Bank and my experience in working for the RTC during the S&L crisis in the early 1990s. Bank of America grew itself by buying a lot of the assets (and some liabilities) of many failed thrifts. It recently acquired Countrywide Mortgage. And this week it bought Merrill Lynch. The acquisition of the S&Ls helped foster the huge growth of Bank of America. I'm betting that the Countrywide and Merrill Lynch acquisitions will prove equally valuable.

And I think that even though the economy is in turmoil for the near term, there really are some good deals to be had if you happen to be a buyer.

CLICK HERE to perform your own search of the Key West mls database in real time. If you see a house or condo that looks interesting please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642, or e-mail me at Don't let today's pessimism stop you from full filling your dream of owning a home in Paradise.

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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.