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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Truth about Living in Key West

I love living in Key West. You can be who you want to be and love who you want to love. Nobody, other than the guy who parades around town with his anti-fag sign, cares what you do or who you sleep with. Gays and straights and rich and not rich mix at work and at play with ease. We have a lot of people that have moved here from all over the world. There are good people and no so good people. The bad people sometimes give the rest of us a bad name.
I was eating dinner last week when I got a phone call from a couple that recently bought a Key West dream home from me. They had a shiny new convertible delivered to their Key West house a couple of weeks ago so that they could have transportation whenever they make it down. A nephew drove the car down and parked in under the carport to protect the paint from our harsh sun. He left the keys inside the house.

A week later the couple were contacted by the Key West police. Their car had been involved in a hit and run accident a couple of days earlier, long after the nephew who delivered the car had returned to his home. Someone had got inside their house, found the keys, and went out and managed to smash the front end and the back end into a parked car on a side street a mile away. Mysteriously, the car was brought back and parked exactly where it belonged. A big chain was looped to keep the trunk from falling off the car.

I asked the obvious question: who had keys to the car?. The couple did not know. They said that workers who were doing some interior work on their house had keys to the house as did the pool man. My mind raced back to several prior conversations I had with the lady. She had told me about her Key West hair dresser who she loved. When we were looking at houses she would ask me about places he had recommended. I drove to one such place to take photos. I didn't waste any bytes on my camera. It was the antithesis of what we had been looking at.

I don't know why it is, but it is a fact that many potential buyers trust people they meet on bar stools (or in this case in a salon chair) more than they trust Realtors. I have had several buyers tell me about recommendations they have received from locals they have met in bars. Complete strangers that have told them what to buy and what to avoid or who to hire as a contractor.

After several months of looking at various properties, my buy buyers bought a great place. They hired a decorator to develop a color scheme and design plan. My buyers relied on the hairdresser's recommendation of a friend who they hired to do some minor fix-up and painting.

My buyers asked me if I would go to their place after dinner and look at the car and then remove the key to the lock box outside the front door of the house. I said I would. I was so upset I couldn't finish my meal. I immediately drove to the house and found the new car. All four sides of the new car had damage. The damage is repairable. That's not the point. My buyers had been violated by someone that had access to the inside of their house. They gave access to people they trusted. I took photos of the damage and then went to the front door to get the key. It was not there.

I got on my phone and called the owners. While we were talking this guy walks down the sidewalk and turns to enter the front yard. He was in his 30s or 40s and had an open beer in hand. He had that just-off-the-streets-of-Key-West look. I asked "Do you live here?" He replied "I'm doing work for the owners." I told him I was the owners' real estate agent and that they sent me to fetch the key. It was just near sunset and dark was approaching. He reached in his pocket and decided he did not have the key. He said to wait a minute and then walked to the side to make his way to the back of the house. Several minutes elapsed. I knocked on the door. No answer. I talked with the owners who were now mildly distressed and suggested that I go home. The gent said he would come down and sort things out. Then the would-be painter opened the front door and said to come in. The house which had been freshly painted reeked of cigarettes. The air conditioner was on so high I felt chilled. The new big screen TV was on as were all the lights inside the house. It was obvious the painter had moved in-to stay.

I asked the painter "Do you know how the car got damaged?" to which he replied "No." He turned away and walked toward the pool and jerked his hands to his head. He grabbed his hair and asked me to get out and come back in five minutes. He needed time to think.

I went back outside and spoke to the owners. I decided it was best for me to leave before this guy went completely insane. I had asked two questions in a calm and polite voice. I made no accusations in the tone or words. The guy, however, seemed over whelmed by the thought of having to leave his new house.

Many local real estate offices provide property management services. If you plan on renting your property, consider using a licensed and insured property management company. Hire licensed contractors who won't move into your property or drive your car when you are not around.


Anonymous said...

so true. we have a house down their. and yes plenty of bad contractors and property managers. not sure if you can write an article about the bad, gary. bad you could write an article about the good people you do trust.

Anonymous said...

What's the rest of the story? Did they call the police? Did the guy get removed? You've left us hanging! I am terribly sorry for your owners and hope they did!

Anonymous said...

Yes Gary, what is the rest of the story?? Don't pull an episode of LOST on us!!!!

Anonymous said...

Gary, The local TOP cop in the keys was just arrested for stealing money from his Boss,us tax payers. Does he not have a license to be a Cop? Is he not licensed to protect us? Which hairdressers the cop go to?

Anonymous said...

Word from the accident site had the thief not running, but staying with the car, freeing it from its entangled mess with the aid of KW locals. It took 35 to 40 minutes to free the car and no one called the KWPD. Who would have thought to call the police and catch a thief? It was rumored that there was a bartender in the crowd but he did not want to turn in a patron.

Gary Thomas said...

Speaking of cops and accidents, I saw a guy trying to park his car in an extra-large handicapped parking space in the City parking lot adjacent to our lot. He came in at an 45 degree angle and hit the handicapped parking sign and jammed it into a vehicle in our lot. He backed up and maneuvered his car and made another try to get the car in straight. He did. He wobbled around his vehicle to the opposite side and pulled the sign back upright to its proper position. He wobbled back to the rear of the car and started to leave the lot.

This took several minutes as the driver was very unsteady, slow, and deliberate in his movements.

I called inside our office and the owner came out to look at his vehicle. At the same time I called the Key West Police Department to report the accident. It was readily apparent to me that the driver was drunk. The 911 operator was on the line as I asked the driver to stay with his car and informed him I had called the police. He moved quickly at hearing this and approached me with his eyes aflame calling me every foul and filthy name he could utter.

I told him he hit another vehicle with the pole and needed to wait for the police. He left and walked to Duval. I followed him to a store on Duval. A police officer called me and I went back to the lot and told him what had happened. The owner said the damage to his vehicle was minor and said he would not press charges for that.

The owner, the cop, and I went over to Duval where I pointed out the driver who left the scene. The cop took my information. A few weeks later I got a subpoena to appear in court regarding the matter.

The trial date came and I was in court along with dozens of defendants, cops, and lawyers. Finally, the driver's name was called. He and his attorney moved forward as did the State Attorney who announced there was a minor incident where the defendant hit a sign which had since be repaired by the City. (It took half a day for two City workers.) The State Attorney recommended dismissed the hit and run and reckless driving charges and recommended a minor fine to an improper parking charge. The judge called my name and asked if I had any objection. Why? The fix had already occurred.

I used to be an attorney and I understand plea bargaining. That driver was drunk. He hit a vehicle. He left the scene. He verbally abused me and called me names and threatened me. Did I care? Would it have done any good? The fix was in. That's why people often don't get involved in other people's problems. It's usually not worth caring about.


Anonymous said...

Just an other person licened to protect the public. "Feds: Cop among child-porn, sex suspects arrested in Fla"--Sun Sental,today.

eric76 said...

I love that picture of the man in the bar with his dog.

It's now my desktop wallpaper replacing a photo from a beach in Molokai.

It's a little fuzzy, but quite nice.

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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.