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Friday, April 29, 2011

Mother May I Buy a House in Key West?

It's May Day. Spring break is over and the hordes of breakers and seasonal tourists have headed up north where Spring is in full bloom across much of the United States. The reason to escape the cold of New Jersey and Massachusetts and other temperature impaired states has abated for a few months. The exodus also means that many of the buyers who came to Key West to buy houses has gone north as well - at least for a few months. The warm weather lovers and those who dream of owning a place in Key West will return late this year when it starts to get cold and snowy up north. It happens every year. Like clockwork.

I have been selling houses in Key West since early 1997. I have watched the way buyers buy and sellers sell houses in Key West. I developed a theory that explains how housing prices escalate in value in our little town. I don't know if this theory works the same elsewhere. I see Key West real estate as not being like real estate "elsewhere" because I don't know that there is anyplace quite like Key West any place else. Sure there are little towns on islands along all three coasts. But Key West is unique because it is a year round destination as opposed to places like Martha's Vineyard, Fire Island, Catalina, or the San Juan Islands. And the people who live here are surely not the same type of folks you would expect in Martha's Vineyard. Thank goodness.

Remember the game Mother May I? It is premised on one child being "mother" who commands the other children as they attempt to reach mother. The children are required to ask Mother for permission as take a few steps toward mother. Mother may say yes or she may give a response which makes the child do something else. The first child that reaches Mother gets to become the new Mother.

I see buying houses in Key West as being akin to that game. The majority of houses are priced in "sets" or "price points" that define the kind of the type of property the house is. Those price points include cheap "fixer-uppers" or modest homes that are normally located in the Mid Town and New Town areas of Key West but there are some houses in Old Town that fall into that category. (The inexpensive Old Town houses normally have very small lots, need work, have no parking, no room for a pool, or a combination of factors that diminish the price.)

The second price point group of houses are houses in good repair that have many of the features a permanent resident or second home owner would want including good location, renovation, pool, and parking. Homes in this category are normally ready to move into but may need some updating down the line. They typically look good but may be a bit dated or need some work. Houses in this group may include larger homes in the Mid Town, New Town, Key Haven and Key West Golf Course.

Houses in the third price point tier are higher end houses typically located in Old Town or Casa Marina Area. These houses are normally ready to go from the day the house closes. Most houses have been recently redone and have the features wealthier buyers want including location, design, quality construction, and superior amenities.

Key West has a fourth price point group which are the high end and truly one-of-a-kind houses. These houses have the best locations and best features. While not all may be magazine material, they embody the types of second home owners dream about. These houses sell for the highest prices because they have the most sought after features and locations. In my opinion it is this group that performs the Mother function that gives permission to the children (buyers) as to when these big houses become worthy of being purchased. It is as if the buyers ask "Mother May I Buy a House in Key West?". The buyers test the price point cautiously often taking baby steps in hopes that Mother will not shoo them away. When one bold buyer makes an aggressive move toward mother, others watch to make sure the first risk taker does not falter and fail. As more and more buyers edge closer and closer to mother, prices increase as well.

I have noticed a repeated "resistance" to meeting the top price point. Buyers get near it but don't quite reach it. It is when that price point finally gets surpassed several times that the market acknowledges that it is now safe to buy in the new (and higher priced) price point range. This is when Mother has granted permission to be replaced.

I think we have rebounded from the lows of 2005 through 2008. We had Hurricane Wilma in 2005 that damaged much of New Town and Mid Town and scarred buyers away from Old Town as well. That fear of hurricanes turned into a fear of short sales and foreclosures as the national economy faltered. As locals and second home owners walked away from houses and mortgages, the supply of houses increased and prices decreased. Between 2009 and today, most of the over supply of houses has dried up in the Key West area. Buyers came back and bought up the inventory. The inventory of houses for sale in Old Town is very low in all four price groups. As the supply of houses in each price point group shrinks, the top price point in each group edges up.

I did a quick search of the Key West mls database and learned that 28 single family homes in Key West went under contract in April 2011 and that an additional 15 houses went "pending" (all conditions precedent to sale have been cleared and the house is nearing its closing date). Even more interesting is the fact that 5 of the contingent contracts and 4 of the pending contacts in April were for houses priced over $900,000. (9 out of 43 contingent/pending contracts are for houses priced over $900,000 or about 20%.)

Thirty-five single family house sales closed in April, and 13 of those were for houses that closed higher than $900,000. Seven were priced over $1,000,000 and three were for houses priced over $2,000,000.

If my "Mother May I" theory is correct, the large number of recent contracts and closings on houses priced over $900,000 will act as a catalyst or "permission" for future buyers to buy in the Old Town and Casa Marina areas for houses in the higher price point niche. Since many of the would-be second home buyers are now up north for the summer, housing sales will start to diminish just like the always do. A smaller supply of buyers means a smaller number of houses that will go under contract. Sellers that held out for the high price may have to wait another six months or longer before they see a new offer.

Someone who reads this will surely mention a story on the front page of today's Key West Citizen which reads "Foreclosures Decline as Banks Slow Processing. CLICK HERE to read the article. I've been watching the County Clerk's website like a hawk for three years now. I disagree with the premise of the article which is a spin off what Realty Trac prognosticates for the rest of the country. I reject the idea of a shadow inventory of pending foreclosures. Yes, there will be more, but there will not be a deluge. (There are still many pending foreclosures already filed in the Monroe County Court system. Each contested foreclosure eventually has its day in court and most end up being sold at public auction. When you see new Bank Owned signs popping up on the Internet don't assume that this is a new batch of loans gone bad. They have been in the system for months if not years.)

Key West is not like Podunk, Nebraska nor Lost Wages, Nevada. We are not even like Marathon or Key Largo. Key West is limited by its size, location in the middle of the ocean, and restrictions on construction that prevent it from growing larger. The number of housing units in Key West stays pretty much the same but the number of units for sale can go up or down depending on the economy, the weather, or politics. Our location, wonderful year round weather, and limited housing supply entices people to come here but also causes prices to be higher because of the strong demand for housing.

If you are looking to buy a place in Key West, please consider working with me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or by email at I am a buyer's agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc. in Key West. Yes, you may buy a house in Key West.

409 Grinnell Street - Old Town - Key West

409 Grinnell Street - Old Town - Key West - 2011

The two story house at 409 Grinnell Street is worth considering for those looking for a second home in Key West because it is as clean as a whistle on the inside, and it has room for a pool on the outside. There is no need to renovate, but the house would be a worthy of an expansion. The listing Realtor describes the property this way:
"Built in 1928 this 4 Bedroom Single Family Home is located a few blocks from the Key West Historic Seaport. A fine home now, a grand home with your effort. Own a piece of Key West History! Yard is fenced for privacy with mature landscaping.Wood floors,soaring ceilings with open floor plan. Own a piece of History."
409 Grinnell Street - photographed in 1965 - Key West

I found a photo (above) of the house as it appeared in 1965. The Monroe County Property Appraiser says the house was built circa 1914 or nearly one hundred years ago.

The house has a newer kitchen including a large picture window that looks out onto Elgin Lane that abuts to the north. (You can't see inside from the outside. I tried!) The house has 1688 sq ft of living space plus front first and second floor porches that overlook Grinnell Street.

Newer kitchen

First and second floor front porches

Second floor front porch overlooks Grinnell Street

The second floor has a center hall plan with bedrooms on either side and a front door that opens onto the second floor front porch. The "newer" kitchen at the rear might serve as a suitable foundation upon which to build a second floor master bedroom with rear deck to overlook a pool in the back yard. The yard is about 45' deep X 27' so there is plenty of room for a nice pool, decking, and garden. The house next door to the south (shown in the black & white photo above) is the same size and sits on same size lot) has a great rear addition and a large pool in the rear. It doesn't take a lot of imaginzaiton to figure out how much you could improve the back of 409 Grinnell.

The lot stretches back 45 feet beyond the kitchen viewed at rear

Back yard stretches 45 feet along Elgin Lane

Large back yard (45' x 27') means room for a great pool and outdoor living area

409 Grinnell Street CLICK HERE is offered at $499,000. The house is in move-in condition, but could be improved with a new rear addition redoing the kitchen, adding a second floor rear addition for a new master suite, and reconfiguring the smallish bedrooms into larger spaces. Again, no construction is necessary. But for somebody that wants a project, this is one that should be an easy re-do that could garner big time returns in value and livability.

If you would like to see 409 Grinnell Street or any other property in Key West, please consider working with me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642. I am a buyer's agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc. in Key West.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

1207 Georgia on "Your" Mind

1207 Georgia Street - April 2011 - Key West

As soon as I saw the new listing at 1207 Georgia Street in the Key West Arts District hit the Key West mls I knew I had to write about it. Long time Readers may remember when I wrote about it before - in May 2009. It wasn't listed with a Realtor. Instead, there were two signs that beckoned would be buyers to the bargain. See below.
May 2009
I used the signs and preposterous price to divert readers to properties that were actually listed for sale in the mls which were priced less expensively where I might actually get a buyer. CLICK HERE to read what I wrote then. I actually did get a buyer for the John Hersey house mentioned in that blog.

But the potential seller at 1207 Georgia Street did have a point about the attraction of that property. The lot is an almost perfect square of 87' x 90' (7830 sq ft) situated at the corners of Catherine Street and Georgia Street. Click GOOGLE MAP for a great aerial perspective of the area. Use the toggle switch to move closer to the lot and to get a street view of the area.

The lot is the blank canvas on which a new owner can construct a great living space. The existing house is 1254 sq ft and sits on the south side of the lot towards the front. There is a shed at the rear and that space might be convertible to some upgraded use in a potential renovation. The magnificence of the lot are the two giant mahogany trees plus an equally large mahogany across the street. They frame this lot so gracefully.

This photo gives some perspective as to the size of this large lot - by Key West standards

I found two photos that show the same house in prior years. The photo below was taken in 1965.

The next photo below was taken in the 1980s
The update wasn't quite perfect IMO

Oh, I found the pic below from the 1980s as well. Not everything done then survived gracefully.

The listing Realtor describes 1207 Georgia Street which is now offered at 82% off the original $1.5 million price at just $275,000 like this:
"Unbelievable opportunity.Conch family decides it is time to sell. Almost 8,000 SF double lot shaded by beautiful canopy of mahogany trees. Dated wood frame house with good bones. Priced right."
Forget what the house looks like now and let your mind imagine what you could do with the property. This is a place that will sell very quickly at the asking price because it will be an easy redo from many perspectives. If you are looking for a fixer, do not over-think this buying opportunity. CLICK HERE for more photos I took early this morning.

If you want to see this house or any other property in Key West, please contact me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or send me an email at I am buyer's agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc. in Key West.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

419 Simonton Street - Old Town Investment Property - Key West

419 Simonton Street - Old Town - Key West

Just listed, but not by me, 419 Simonton Street in Old Town Key West. The listing agent describes this property like this:

"Historic, 2 story residence on a 5967 sq ft Old Town lot that's close to everything. Covered balcony & covered porch on front. Upper level balcony & covered porch at rear. Currently set up as four legal apartments (with four 1.0 ROGO's & 4 electric meters) and one off street parking space. Lot has mature Spanish Lime trees and at nearly 6,000 sq ft, it affords room for expansion or pool. HNC-1 zoning lends to many potential uses (City approval required). Convert to grand single family residence, keep apartments, condo out, put in 'light' commercial aspect, etc.., this is a great opportunity to acquire a superb Old Town property."

Click GOOGLE MAP for a great aerial view of this property. Then move the toggle switch and look at the street view. The Dean Lopez Funeral Home is across the street. Other neighbors include a Chinese restaurant, an antique store, a guest house, the Methodist Church, Voltaire Book Store, and the Marquesa Hotel and Cafe Marquesa on the corner. The setting is Key West urban for sure. As the listing Realtor says "HNC-1 zoning lends to many potential uses (City approval required)".

The Monroe County Property Appraiser shows this property as having 2469 sq ft of living space on two floors. The lot is an irregular rectangle of approximately 44' (wide) x 83' (length). The listing agent says room for a pool. But be cautious because of the big trees in backyard. This is a big property for Old Town both in size of building and lot size. The location does lend itself to several different uses. The asking price is $759,000. This is an estate sale. CLICK HERE to view the Key West mls database and more photos of this property.

Off street parking - for two cars!

If you would like to see 419 Simonton Street, or any other property in Key West, please contact me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642. I am a buyer's agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

525 Simonton Street - Old Town - Key West

525 Simonton Street - Old Town - Key West

I know the property at 525 Simonton Street pretty well. That is where I first worked when I got my real estate license in 1997. The real estate offices were on the main floor. The rest of the main building and the detached cottage were The Watson House Guest House. The prior owners did a very nice job of renovating the buildings. They operated the three unit guest house to capacity all year long. The current owners converted the previous office space into residential living space and condominiumized the property as a whole.

Fast forward to the present. This beautiful Key West landmark property is now a Short Sale. The listing Realtor describes the property this way:
"***Short Sale****The Watson House on Simonton is an historic estate beautifully renovated and restored. It is currently being managed as an upscale 3 unit guest house with excellent revenues streams year round. The home includes high ceilings, crown molding, large open floor plan with amazing covered decks overlooking the private pool. It also offers off street parking, and a separate guest house."
This property is located on Simonton Street between high-end Marquesa Hotel to the north and Sarabeth's to the south. It is one block off Duval Street. (Guests can find their way home even in the dark!) There is off street parking, a beautiful pool, and large suite like facilities as presently configured. A new owner might keep the rear cottage as an owner's unit and rent out the rooms in the main building. There are lots of possibilities on this property.

Off street parking-in Old Town!

The asking price on this property was just reduced to $1,999,000. This dear Readers, is a bargain in my opinion. If you have been looking for a guest house and have been dismayed by the high asking prices, condition, location, or all three, this may be a workable and bankable alternative.

Please contact me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or send me an email at for more information on this property. I am a buyer's agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc. in Key West. Turn this short sale into a big opportunity.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Not Key West


Key West

Potential buyers have lots of choices as where to live and who to work with when selecting a new home. CLICK HERE to search the Key West Association of Realtors mls database. If you see something you like, please consider working with me, Gary Thomas. I am a buyer's agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc. in Key West.

You could live in a box just like a lot of other boxes almost any place in the world. Or you could live in Key West. It is your choice.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Open House - Easter Sunday - Key West

If you are in Key West on Easter Sunday please stop by and take a look at 630 Elizabeth Street between 12:00 to 2:00 PM. I will be providing hard hat tours of this wonderful old Key West property that is ready for renovation. This property has received HARC approval for renovation into a 2300 sq ft single family residence. CLICK HERE to view the Key West mls database.

Turn this OLD HOUSE into your NEW HOUSE

Friday, April 22, 2011

2518 Fogarty Avenue - Key West

Instead of searching for Easter Eggs this weekend, maybe you should be searching for bargains. I recently showed 2518 Fogarty Avenue in the mid town area of Key West, and I think this is a hidden bargain for the right buyer. The listing Realtor describes the property like this:
"Single family CBS (3BD 1.5 BA) home with separate 450 sq. Ft licensed guest cottage. There is a new metal roof on the main house, recently painted interior and exterior, newer appliances, and room for a pool. The main house is currently rented through June 30th 2011. The guest cottage is open and previously rented for $1000/ month."
Large living room at front of house

Dining room opens to rear deck

Front bedroom is one of three

The house was built in 1951 and is a typical ranch, of sorts. The Monroe County Property Appraiser shows the house as being 1880 sq ft (including the guest cottage). The listing agent says the house has 3 bedrooms. There is a nice sized living room, kitchen, and family room plus office/study/ or fourth bedroom.

The legal guest cottage is the show stopper. This place is super cute, super clean and way cheap if rented at just $1,000 per month. It is located at the rear of the 50' x 100' lot and has a separate access from the front gated access to the yard.

Guest cottage living room - this place is sweet!

Guest cottage kitchen

The rear area of the main house currently has a large spa, but there is both room for a pool and easy access for construction of a pool. The front yard is nicely landscaped and protected form the street by fenced and gated access. There are two off street parking spots as well.

Guest cottage at rear - no access to the spa or potential pool

The asking price is just $399,000 or $222 per sq ft. CLICK HERE to checkout the Key West mls database and to view more listing photos. This is a good family neighborhood. I don't reckon that many second home buyers would consider this location, but maybe they should. The price is affordable and having the monthly income from the cottage would help offset taxes, insurance and a portion of the mortgage. It is worth contemplating.

If you would like to see 2518 Fogarty Avenue, please consider contacting me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642. I am a buyer's agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc. in Key West.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

4 Lowe Lane - Old Town - Key West

Author Thomas Sanchez (Mile Zero) wrote "I live on a lane called love. Love Lane's behind the library. Key West is filled with little lanes with cute names." Most of the lanes of Key West are quaint. They weren't designed for big houses or big cars. The attraction to owning a house on a lane may be the small spaces and seclusion where owners can then build a nest which they can fluff and call home.

4 Lowe Lane is a listing of Preferred Properties (that's where I work but this is not my listing). The listing Realtor describes this lovely home this way:
"This charming & elegant cottage is situated on a quiet & secluded Old Town lane. The house is approached through an inviting bricked & lushly landscaped courtyard. The dramatic vaulted ceilinged great room has two pairs of French doors opening to the front porch overlooking the garden & two more sets of French doors in the rear overlooking the solar heated swimming pool. The large sunny kitchen also has two pairs of French doors opening out to the pool and terrace. Downstairs are two bedrooms, one with a vaulted ceiling & the other opening to yet another shady porch. There is a full bath downstairs and a large laundry which could easily be another bath. The master suite is upstairs with a skylit bathroom and a sundeck. One parking space."
Living on Lowe Lane is like living on an island within the island of Key West. The rooftop deck off the second floor bedroom provides sunlight and seclusion. It is your own private little place to veg out, read a book, take a snooze, or whatever-whenever!

Master bedroom with secluded rooftop deck

4 Lowe Lane is offered at $995,000. CLICK HERE to view the Key West mls database on this lovely home.

For the uninformed Lowe Lane is an "almost" one block long slow lane that runs from Grinnell Street toward the east. It runs parallel to Southard Street to the south and Fleming Street to the north. The most familiar notable landmark is 5 Brothers Grocery which is located southwest corner of Grinnell and Southard Streets. Stop by 5 Brothers any weekday morning for a cup of coffee con leche and listen as all the big wheels, cops, politicians, contractors, and many tourists as they exchange notes on what is going on in Key West.

4 Lowe Lane is located in the heart of Old Town. Other than 5 Brother's Grocery mentioned above and Azur Restaurant located at the corner of Fleming and Grinnell, there are no commercial enterprises nearby, no guest houses, no apartments or condos. This little block is populated with single family residential homes most of which are of similar size on this lane. The homes on Southard Street to south are very large by contrast. And very expensive. Those expensive homes will help this location maintain its long term appeal and value. (The big house at the end of Lowe Lane has a street address of on Southard Street. The entrance to the carriage house is located there. Preferred Properties (that's where I work) sold that house in 2006 for $5.5 million in 2005.) All of the neighboring grand Key West Conch houses and small Key West cottages have the same quick access to the Historic Key West Seaport located at the foot of Grinnell Street just three blocks to the north and to the restaurants, nightlife, and attractions on or near Duval Street four blocks to the west.

Please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766.2642 to schedule a showing of this property. I am a buyer's agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc. in Key West. I really enjoy helping buyers find the right nesting places.


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.