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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Just Listed - 619 Simonton Street - Old Town - Key West

619 Simonton Street - Key West
Just listed, but not by me, 619 Simonton Street in Old Town Key West. This is the second home in the Gardens of Key West to be listed in about a week's time. This home is very similar in all manner to 617 Simonton which I wrote about last week (CLICK HERE to read), but the location, interiors, and pool areas are different. So it's nice to have a slightly different version for buying comparison. You can compare for yourselves. My job is to let you know about the property and to try to get you to go see it, hopefully with me as your buyer agent.

As you view the classic lines of this Conch house you will likely figure out that this is not an historic home but rather a new home designed to look like the old houses that populate the Old Town area of our island city.  I decided to dig deep into the old shoe box to see if I could find what was located in this same spot before the current homes were built in 1997. I recall the area as being a large lot overgrown with trees and some parking.  I had no idea that the area was once the home of the Columbia Steam Laundry pictured below.

Columbia Steam Laundry - 617 Simonon St - razed 1970
Columbia Steam Laundry - 617 Simonon St - razed 1970
 Columbia Steam Laundry - 617 Simonon St - razed 1970

If you read my blog of July 24, 2012 on 1311 Truman Avenue (CLICK HERE to read) you would have seen a reference to Benjamin Trevor who served as mayor of Key West from 1903-1905 who opened the first steam laundry in Key West.  That made me wonder if the Columbia Steam Laundry was in fact the first steam laundry that Mr. Trevor built. I did some more digging and found that Columbia was indeed Mr. Trevor's laundry.  Your history lesson for today is concluded.

The listing broker describes 619 Simonton Street thus:
 "Tucked away in the exclusive Gardens of Key West community sits this elegant and charming single family home. Beautifully appointed and adorned by a neighboring Rick Worth mural, this home will enchant the buyer who desires a quiet but centrally located experience in Old Town Key West. High ceilings, hardwood floors, chef's kitchen, and open floor plan overlooking lush tropical yard. Large master suite and spacious guest bedroom with en-suite bath. Two off-street parking spaces, multiple porches and wonderful heated pool. An Elegant Tropical Oasis in The Heart of Old Town Key West. Owner is a Realtor but not the listing agent."
 This home sits at the back of the huge parcel that makes up the Gardens of Key West.  As noted by the listing broker the home is located adjacent to a large mural on an old metal building located next to this property.  What could have been a distraction is instead a piece of art as the focal point when you drive up (or walk toward) this residence.  The home has two front balconies and a small front and side yard which provides access to the pool area in the rear for your pool man.

This 1440 sq ft home has a large main level kitchen located up front followed by the dining area and living room at the rear. A half bath is tucked under the stairway. Upstairs the guest bedroom with en-suite bath is located at the front and the master suite and its en-suite bath are at the rear. The pool, of course, is located at the very rear of the property where it is secluded from the rest of the world.

CLICK HERE to view the Key West Association of Realtors mls datasheet and to view more listing photos of this lovely Key West home that is offered for sale at $895,000. This home would make a great vacation rental because of the excellent Old Town location, the proximity to all of the tourist attractions and nightlife located within easy walking distance, and the privacy that this home with its private pool provide.  You will have a hard time finding a stand alone property like this priced this affordably in Truman Annex or anywhere else in the Old Town area.

If you would like to see 619 Simonton Street or any other residence in Key West please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642. I am a buyers agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Key West. Let me help you find your place in Paradise. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bank Owned - Key West - Price Reduction - 1111 Watson Street #D

The single family home at 1111 Watson Street #D is located in a compound in the South of Truman area or Old Town Key West was just reduced from $359,900 to $341,900. The house is Bank Owned.  This might be the bargain property you have been waiting to find.

The  home is located at the end of a meandering brick pathway that winds through lush tropical foliage past the other cottage style homes in this compound. The shared swimming pool and spa are located just to the front of this home.  The first time I entered this compound I was immediately taken by the quaintness of the garden area and the neat little homes located in the compound.  The gardens and open spaces are immaculate.

The meandering pathway leads to the front door past the community pool

The home is, as bank owned properties often are, in need of some TLC. A good scrubbing and a new coat of paint would do wonders to this house that sold in 2007 for $700,000. I looked at the listing photos of what this house looked like when it sold in 2007 and easily understood how it sold at the high price point: it was really charming.  It can be again. The photos I took were snapped quite quickly and on an overcast and rainy day in Key West. So my pics will likely seem more depressing than impressive. I urge buyers to judge the place in person and see what a bargain this home might be.

The listing Realtor describes the listing this way:
"Cute 2/1 home in a well located, well known Key West compound. Your front door faces the shared pool! Your living room and one of the bedrooms have french doors to your private walled, landscaped wooden deck. You bath and shower are glassed in within its own private space for communing with nature. Great house for entertaining. Priced right to live in Old Town."
Living room and kitchen as they appear today

Living room as it appeared five years ago.

The mls states the home has 1137 sq ft of living space under air and sits on a 2967 sq ft lot. The house is basically a 35' x 29' box plus some additional spaces that add dimension and variety that make this house really unique. Two of the features that come to mind are the wall of French doors in the living area that open out to a private garden area and the once amazing bath with an indoor/outdoor shower that lets you shower under under the sun and the stars. CLICK HERE to view the Key West Association of Realtors mls datasheet to view listing info. The agent says this house does not have off street parking, however the prior mls does show that parking is included. This is something to verify if interested. Other units do have parking as well.
 Private decked and garden area five years ago.

  Private deck and garden area of this home today. It could be beautiful again.

Indoor/outdoor shower as it appeared five years ago. 

Same scene today. It needs to TLC! It can be magical again!

If you would like to see this home or any other property in Key West, please contact me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642 or send me an email at I am a buyers agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Key West. Let me help you find your place in Paradise.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lender Liability - Think Before You Do Something Dumb-Again

Many long time Readers know that I was a licensed attorney in Colorado for several years. Later I worked in the Special Assets Department of a very large bank headquartered in Denver. Subsequent to that job, I managed a similar department for another bank. It was my legal background that brought me to the banks because my job involved the management and collection of problem commercial loans and the related sale of assets acquired through foreclosure or other legal process.

The story I am about to relate does not involve me personally. I do not feel comfortable naming names and identifying any of the people or institutions involved even though what happened occurred decades ago.  I am telling this story now because banks and bankers still do the dumb things that led to the chilling lesson learned by one time employer.

The Special Assets Department I worked in had four attorneys, two non-lawyers, and two secretaries. Our boss was a former tax attorney for the IRS.  He was a senior vice president who reported to one of two executive vice presidents.  The principal character in this story was a non-lawyer who I will call Harold. Harold haled from the Midwest. He fancied himself as being very smart. I think he thought himself to be smarter than the attorneys in the office-maybe even the smartest guy in the bank with 900+ employees.  He may have been. I am not sure. Maybe not.  But I know he thought he was smarter than most people because he had that "I am the smartest guy in the room" attitude. He always had a smart remark, a quick rebuke, or a knowing stare. He stood maybe 5'10" tall and always wore the bank uniform: a single breasted blue blazer and gray slacks. We didn't really have uniforms, but every lender on the commercial floor wore that same outfit at least once a week. Harold wore nearly every day.  He had awful breath. I can still smell it. He was a young guy, maybe thirty five years old when the incident occurred.  He had a college education from the big university in his home state. Harold was no rube.Like I said, Harold was smart. Very smart. 

The story takes place in Denver in the late 1970s. Banks located in Colorado at that time were individual entities. They were stand alone banks. They might have been affiliated with other banks whose stock was held by a holding company, but each bank operated as a single entity.  It was for that reason that the really big bank for which I worked made a large variety of loans throughout the state and even across state lines in some instances. The bank made loans to politicians. (Boy, could I tell you some stories about loans to politicians. But I won't.) The bank made loans to oil producers, farmers, and to small businesses and big businesses (sometimes through participation loans when the dollar amount exceeded the bank's lending limit). The bank also made lots of loans to regular retail bank customers in its personal banking and executive banking departments. Back in the 1970s banks did not make home loans.

One of the loans the bank made was to a borrower who owned and operated an egg production facility located east of Denver. I referred to the place as huge chicken condos where thousand of chickens lived in cages. I was not involved in this loan at any time. I made only one visit when I accompanied Harold to inspect the chicken condos which on that date had no chickens. The place had no chickens or any sign of life.  And that is why Harold and the bank got sued by the borrower.

As I recall the borrower alleged that Harold and the bank over-reached its rights as a secured creditor and engineered an event of default which was the pretext for the bank taking possession of the chicken condos and other collateral which the bank then sold.  I recall Harold had obtained a court order giving him the right to enter upon the property and seize the collateral before he actually stepped foot on the property. The borrower hired some smart lawyers (they always manage to do that) and filed suit in Denver District Court and naming the bank and Harold as defendants. The borrower alleged the initial court order obtained was based on incorrect information that Harold supplied and upon which the court relied and that the subsequent taking and liquidation of collateral were improper from the beginning. A jury trial was had months after the chicken condos were seized. I recall that the trial lasted about a week. Can you imagine how much that cost the bank to defend? Bank lawyers don't work cheap. They churn out hundreds or thousands of billable hours to do research, take depositions, prepare for trial, and then sometimes try the case. They work in groups and carry lots of banker boxes filled with papers.Every minute that they talk to each other or someone involved in the case becomes billable time. And the big bank pays for each and every billable minute like clockwork.

At the end of the trial the jury reached its verdict. The jury found in favor of the borrower and against the bank and Harold.The bank lost its claim to any remaining collateral on the loan and had a monetary judgement entered against it in the amount of one million dollars. The judgment had to be paid (or bond posted in the event of appeal). The bank elected to pay the judgment and limit the loss.

The borrower did not trust the bank. I know why.  Few people really trust banks.  The borrower demanded to be paid the one million dollars in cash. He showed up at the bank with his attorney and a suitcase. A bank guard stood by as a bank officer (not Harold) handed over the money which was counted for accuracy. The borrower left the premises with the bank guard protecting him until he exited the front door.

Fast forward thirty-five years. Banks still have special assets departments and workout officers who deal with collecting problem loans. Sometimes they have characters like Harold who over-reach in trying to collect those loans. Bankers are supposed to rely on the advice of legal counsel when developing and implementing a collection strategy. I'm pretty sure Harold felt he had acted correctly because he got a judge to give him legal authority to go upon the borrower's premises to seize control of the chickens and the real property. The jury that reviewed his conduct months later, however, did not agree.

It seems that no matter how smart some people are or how much training they may have had, some people, like Harold, continue to do dumb things that cause big banks to have to pay up for what judges and juries decide was egregious behavior. There is a legal term for this kind of conduct: lender liability. The borrower typically claims that the lender pursued the borrower so aggressively that the lender's conduct drove the borrower out of business or destroyed the value of the collateral securing the loan. Sometimes borrowers allege that the lender's conduct in the sale and disposition of the collateral, even if rightly seize and sold, impaired the value of the collateral and reduced the amount due care would have generated had the collection and sale process been handled properly. And sometimes the borrower becomes physically or emotionally distressed for which additional monetary compensation is sought. If you have been sued by a big bank or had your home foreclosed upon or your business seized, you may understand the trauma that some borrowers really go through. If you are a banker you would think before you do something dumb-again.

I often tell people I have been plagued by jobs that I have held. I have been a lawyer, a banker, a federal government employee, and a Realtor. All jobs normal people hate.  I never really liked associating with bankers outside of where I worked. Many have the same arrogant attitudes that Harold had. Many are as cheap as any human being I have ever met, except when it came to buying a meal on expense account. And I found some took a bit of pleasure in making other people squirm. I left that life and those people behind when I moved to Key West where today I sell real estate. Today I help people buy dream houses in Key West.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

617 Simonton Street - Old Town - Key West

Just listed, but not by me, 617 Simonton Street. This town home is located in The Gardens of Key West just one block east of Duval Street. This home has the features most second home owners seek and it is priced at just $825,000. The listing broker describes the home this way:
" Lovely two bedroom home in highly desirable Gardens of Key West community in Old Town Key West. New construction meets Old World Charm to achieve a great downtown lifestyle. Fully renovated chef's kitchen, open floor plan and bright and airy rooms. Large master suite with ensuite bath. Private yard with heated pool and private carport for off-street parking. Great porches and outside covered spaces. A wonderful newer home located in a prime Key West location. A Tropical Oasis for Comfortable Island Living."

Lauramar Developers built this home and several others in a little compound called The Gardens of Key West in 1997. I remember the construction project quite well because I thought about buying one of the houses. I hemmed and hawed and mused and dilly dallied. The homes had all the features I thought would work for me and were initially offered for sale at an incredible price. Several units got purchased immediately, and the developer suddenly increased the asking price to meet the market demand. Free Enterprise!

The houses had the historic "look" that buyers wanted, but they had modern interior layouts and functionality that the old houses did not have. And they were built with new materials such as Hardiboard siding which is a man made material that is termite resistant and holds up to the Key West sunshine and weather.  Each house had a private pool and off street parking. Whats-more, they are all located just one block away from all of the action on Duval Street. The entire project quickly sold out. There has been relatively few re-sales of the homes here as compared to other properties built around the same time such as the town homes in Truman Annex.

The listing Realtors' description pretty much gives you the basics. The ground floor has a formal entry which opens into the great room. The kitchen is located at the front of the house and merges into the dining area and living area at the rear. A guest bath is located under the stairway. As soon as you enter the house it is the view of the pool at the rear that attracts your attention. Who could resist looking at the pool surrounded by tropical palms?

Upstairs you will find the two bedrooms. The guest bedroom is located at the front. That bedroom has its own en-suite bath. The second floor front porch is accessed off this bathroom.  This is a great people watching space all the time, and it is especially a great place to watch people during the annual People's Parade at Fantasy Fest. The master bedroom and master bath are located at the rear.

Perfect perch for people watching
Front bedroom with en-suite bath
Master Suite is located at the rear and overlooks the private pool
This home is the only home at The Gardens of Key West with covered off street parking. That means you won't melt under our sun or get drenched during a rainstorm while getting in and out of the car. The carport is located adjacent to the back of the pool area.  The home owner association is responsible only for the common area maintenance which is primarily the bricked driveway and parking area. Fees are just $250 per year.  CLICK HERE to view the Key West mls datasheet and to view the listing photos.

This home would make a great getaway home for a single or couple seeking a Key West home that requires little maintenance and that offer a great location within easy walking distance to most of the attractions in the Old Town area. It would make an excellent vacation rental and could provide a bit of extra income to help pay for itself over the years.

If you would like to see 617 Simonton Street please call me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642. I am a buyers agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Key West. Let me help you find your home in the Conch Republic. Remember, this house is located next door to the Embassy of the Conch Republic. That's status!

Conch Republic Embassy is located next door to 617 Simonton Street

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

1311 Truman Avenue - Old Town - Key West

The two old photos above show 1311 Truman Avenue as it appeared half a century ago before it was restored by two local antique dealers, Gerald Goldman and Sam Senia,  for which they received the first place and first place ever Old Island Restoration Foundation Award.

In his book THE HOUSES OF KEY WEST Alex Cammerer relates the history of this home back to the turn of the 20th Century when it was built by Benjamin and Mary Fogarty Trevor. Mr. Trevor opened the first steam laundry in Key West and later served as mayor from 1903-1905.  Later the house was used as a church and as the site of the women's club.  Messrs. Goldman and Senia purchased the property in 1975 and began their restoration. The current (and only the fourth owner) purchased the property in 1999.  The house was not abused and retains most of the original architectural and building elements in tact.  Subsequent renovations expanded the wrap-around porches, remodeled the kitchen, and added the guest house. The gardens on the Truman Avenue, Florida Street, and Albury Street were planted with numerous varieties of trees and tropical vegetation. The gardens are irrigated and have subtle lighting along the red brick pathways.

In his book Cammerer describes the house at 1311 Truman Avenue as being typical of the "Folk Victorian" style that evolved using mass produced decorative elements such as turned spindles or square posts with beveled corners seen in many Italianate porches. He describes a mix-mash of styles that came together by various Key West builders who used these mass produced decorative elements without apparent adherence to any architectural guideline. Instead, it appears that what was available became that which got used. It worked.

Cammerer states that although "1311 Truman Avenue  resembles many vernacular houses in Key West, it has predominantly Victorian features. The asymmetry of design, the bay windows, the front door, along with the decorative details are all Victorian. The front door is from the Southernmost house, a gift from the owner." Cammerer concludes "Key West houses really are conservative ladies in ornate Victorian clothes". 

The listing broker describes this property by stating:
 "Spectacular turn of the century estate, available with Seller financing. Completely renovated in 1999, this grand Queen Anne home features two story wrap around verandas overlooking lush gardens and a large, sunny swimming pool. Rooms are large, ceilings high, floor plan surprisingly contemporary, Dade County Pine finished with great attention to detail and many, many french doors and large double hung windows bring light into every corner of the house. Main home is 4 bedrooms, 4.5 baths house, guest cottage a new 3/3 with its own hot tub. Covered, gated carport and access gates from Florida and Albury make parking no problem."

I walked inside the old house for the very first time Sunday afternoon just as an Open House had ended. The day was unusual for Key West -the sky was mostly gray. We had showers on and off for most of the day. I took a lot of photos which readers can see if you CLICK HERE. I encourage readers to examine the photos of this wonderful old home that looks to be in remarkably good shape.  The house has not been abused or neglected. Instead, it has been lovingly maintained and treated as a valuable asset.

Welcoming Entry
Large formal dining room with bay windows

1311 Truman Avenue is a large property by Key West standards. The lot has got to be one of the largest on the island at 14,490 square feet. The main house sits back from the street behind lush gardens on three sides. According to Monroe County Property Appraiser records, the main house was built circa 1899. It has  3102 sq ft of living space under air. This does not include any of the two tiered wrap around porches or verandas.  Nor does it include the separate guest cottage built in 1999 at the rear of the lot. That cottage has 1192 sq ft of living space. Total combined living space for both structures is 4,294 sq ft under air.  That does not include the separate cottage which houses the laundry and utility room nor does it include the covered off street parking. The guest cottage has a shared living and small kitchen/dining area plus three large bedrooms each with en-suite baths. The current owners installed top quality bathroom and light fixtures throughout the house and guest cottage. The floors, windows, doors, window treatments are all top quality.

There are many features to savor in this home but the rear veranda that overlooks the back garden to the north and the pool to the east has got to be among the top. The veranda beckons you to have a cozy brunch or casual Key West dinner party with family or friends. This home has lots of space for entertaining a lot of people in many different locations at one time.  I also think this property would make a fantastic vacation rental. It has the size to accommodate a very large family or group of travelers. The grounds would make a wonderful venue for a romantic Key West wedding. 

1311 Truman Avenue is a very special property that will appeal to a buyer who seeks a large home with lots of living space for friends and family. Each of the bedrooms and bathrooms in the main house and the cottage are equally attractive and all are spacious. This is a grand home for grand living.  This property is available at $2,700,000CLICK HERE to view the Key West mls datasheet.

If you would like to see this property or any other home in Key West please contact me, Gary Thomas, 305-76-2642. I am a buyers agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc. Let me help you find your home in Paradise.


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.