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Monday, May 13, 2013

The "Projects" of Key West

On the isle of Key West housing projects really are a 'cottage industry'. State law restricts the construction of new houses under the Rate of Growth Ordinance (ROGO) in all of the Florida Keys as a part of hurricane evacuation plan.  The fact is that Key West, like the other Florida Keys, has a finite amount of land (remember it is an island) and there are few undeveloped (build-able) lots. The City of Key West has its own restrictive ordinances that limit the size, height, and density of new housing even when a building lot and a ROGO unit are available. The scarcity of undeveloped land and the limitation on new construction means that most construction in Key West involves the renovation of existing structures. 

About a quarter of the housing stock on our little island is protected from over development and misguided redevelopment by stringent rules and regulations. Old Town and parts of the Meadows and Casa Marina areas are subject to Historic Architectural Review Commission (HARC) guidelines as well. (CLICK HERE to view the HARC guidelines.)  Most of the housing stock on the island is renovated as opposed to new construction. As a result, our housing stock stays pretty constant as far as the number of actual living units. 

The house at 319 Grinnell Street has been abused and misused for decades.The photos below show the house in 1965 and then as it appeared when it became bank owned. The house was lifted to install new piers which is the type of foundation most houses in the Old Town area have.  A former owner made the place into an illegal three unit house.  Then it was foreclosed upon by a lender. A smart buyer bought the former bank owned property and started a very smart update when the property suffered a fire in March 2013. It wasn't that bad of a fire and the renovations continue. It is looking crisp and clean again
I am so happy to see that this great property is back on track to what I hope will be a spectacular finish. I think the builder is doing a terrific job in bringing this property back to life.  I had many potential buyers contact me about this house when it was listed for sale.  All but one hesitated and the one who made an offer to buy it nickled and dimed the offer. My buyer lost out because he wanted to steal the property. To those who hesitated because of the location, there are only few really "great" blocks in Old Town and buyers who buy there pay the price.

1219 Newton Street in 2011
Speaking of abuse, the house at 1219 Newton Street in the Meadows area was the poster child for abuse. I showed houses on either side of 1219 Newton Street. Several years ago the house next door to the east (1221 Newton) was offered at a very affordable price. My potential buyer viewed 1219 Newton from the second floor and saw the back roof had fallen in. Seriously!  Key West Code Enforcement did not do its job and let that eyesore sit for years. Of course it scarred off buyers for neighboring properties. I wrote about the house next door to the west (1217 Newton St) in my blog. While potential buyers loved that house, they were fearful of spending nearly a million dollars for the perfect house only to have the creepy house next door. I get a lot those comments from buyers on various properties who voice similar fears over houses they fear located on the same block as one they might like to buy. I usually tell prospective buyers that bad houses eventually get purchased and because houses are so valuable in Key West, the likelihood is that an ugly old place will become a pretty good new place. That's what happened at 1219 Newton Street. See below.
1219 Newton in early 2013
1219 Newton May 2013
The original house at 1219 Newton Street was sold. The new buyer obtained permission to raze the former house because of its condition. A new house was permitted to be built using the former site placement as the condition. The new place looks just great.  By the way the house next door to the west sold last year and the house next door to east was re-sold this past month after an artful renewal as well. See photos of the pretty neighbors below.
Interior of 1217 Newton in 2012
A bank owned house at 1021 Fleming Street that was listed at just $321,750 had ten cash offers higher than asking price and sold for $400,000 in 2010. I wrote an offer for one buyer. He bid too low.  Dang it!  Look at what is happening now.  This is still a work in progress. The general contractor built a new house from ground up for a buyer of mine. She told me she had worked with numerous contractors on several houses over the years. She said he was the best contractor she had ever worked with.
The "little cottage that could" at 525 Grinnell Street (below) is getting a substantial renovation. The old roof was replaced with a shiny new metal roof. Many of the old piers were replaced and the exterior siding is in the process of being painted. I understand the interior is getting a substantial renovation as well.  The concrete porch is reportedly being removed and a new wood porch will be added. I applaud that. 

A former cigar maker's cottage in the 400 block of Virginia Street is getting a redo by a local duo who have revamped several Key West properties.  I remember showing this house several years ago when it was vacant. I told prospective buyers that the location just off Duval Street would make it a great vacation rental and I told them the extra large lot allowed plenty of room for a pool.  We will check back later to see how this turns out. I am expecting nothing less than Key West Charm!
Completed and Beautiful
One of the grand old Conch Houses of Key West is located at 522 Grinnell Street. I got to show it a couple of times to very serious buyers. But the very high asking price for a house that needed quite a bit of work prevented any of my three buyers from making an offer.The owner is no longer marketing the property but instead is completing the renovation.
 522 Grinnell Street had been gutted on the inside. The very tall ceilings, ancient crown moldings, and simple but elegant architectural detail remained in tact on the inside. A decrepit old addition at the rear was removed and an out building and garage were torn down. The remaining rear lot left room for a new first and second story porch at the rear. There is plenty of room for a pool.
May 2013
Many potential buyers in Key West see old houses and say they would prefer to tear down some of the old places and build new. That is not normally allowed in Old Town because of HARC (Historic Architectural Review Commission) guidelines.  Exceptions are sometimes made for non-contributing structures. Such appears to be the case for the former house located at 710 Windsor Lane shown below. The house was not historic. The lot was extra large and the option to build a big new house was irresistible.
 The house shown above was built in 1954. It was demolished and the foundation for a new residence is being poured on the quite large lot (5674 sq ft) located near the top of Solares Hill.

1117 Stump Lane in 1965
A few months ago I wrote about the house for sale at 1117 Stump Lane. I said "Budget buyers who are looking for a place they can move right into and do a little bit of fix-up over time or a buyer who wants to do a major renovation ought to take a look at this home." I then added "This is a property that will probably go under contract as soon as you can say "Jumping Jack Flash" because it is priced to sell and there are a lot of buyers who are getting desperate for a deal." It went under contract the first week it was listed. I drove by the house last week to take new photos of a nearby house and saw the renovation in progress at 1117 Stump Lane. Please take a peek for yourselves.

Stay tuned on this one. I was told the former green tinted concrete that was the faux backyard will be updated with a pool. I can't wait to see how this place turns out.

Frequent readers of my blog will remember me writing about 410 Simonton Street. I showed that place on several occasions and wrote  a couple contracts that actually got accepted. Neither buyer was able to obtain financing because the place had been converted into nine apartments. The problem was there were only five licenses and that made getting any financing very difficult. (This goes on in Key West a lot of the time. People add kitchens or create illegal living spaces to supplement their income. Lenders won't lend on illegal units.)
The good news is that someone did purchase the property. All of the tenants moved out and demolition of the interiors began. Don't fret, the good stuff, what little there is that remain, is staying in place. The house itself is in very good condition with only a few issues that require attention. I have heard various theories of what will become of this beauty. We shall watch to see what happens.
The hand painted ceiling and floor to nearly ceiling windows are located in what I presume was the original front parlor at 410 Simonton Street. That room is going to be preserved.

The tiny cottage at 629 Elizabeth Street was featured in my blog when it was listed for sale in January 2012. I remember driving people past that house over the years and hearing them say something to the affect "I want to buy that house". There used to me many houses just like "that house". Over the years many of those houses went on the market and a buyer snapped them up and did renovations. I fully expect the new owner of 629 Elizabeth Street to do the same. The location at the top of Solares Hill could not be any better. The nearby houses are all quite valuable. The lot already has off street parking and I presume there is room for a pool. I will be that when the renovation is completed the vase open lot will have a white picket fence and tall palms and dense tropical foliage to protect the site from prying eyes.

One of the biggest eyesores in Key West was the hodgepodge building at 1200 White Street. It was purchased in June 2012. After many months a new facade is starting to emerge.

1200 White Street in 1965
Workers applied a new stucco skin to the exterior, replaced old windows with new, replaced the old roof, removed old asbestos siding from the second floor apartments and replaced with new siding, and added a new crown-type molding near the roof of the commercial space. Brackets have been placed on the exterior where I expect a new awning or covered area will be added. Tom Pope did the architectural design. I expect nothing but the best.
909 Flagler Avenue in 1965
Not too far away at 909  Flagler Avenue a stunning contemporary house is nearing completion. The former church at 909 Flagler Avenue in the Casa Marina area was destroyed during Hurricane Wilma.  That building and two smaller wood frame buildings were demolished to create a 10,381 sq ft building lot (98' x 106'). The property is located adjacent to the truly historic Reynolds property next door to the left.
Over in Bahama Village a new house has just been completed at 615 Thomas Street just opposite to the parking entrance to the Shipyard Condominiums in Truman Annex.  An old relic of a falling down house used to sit at this location. Today a substantial new two storey home sits in its space where the former cottage once stood. Instead of old school carpentry, this new house is using many modern day building features that will make this home a notable addition to the area.

The former garage at 1133 Von Phister Street (below) became a $749,000 condo in 2005. When the Key West housing bubble burst this over priced property tanked. It became a short sale. I wrote about the property at 1133 Von Phister Street a couple of times and urged buyers to buy this place. I live nearby and know the value of the location and the land in the Casa Marina area. The property was purchased for just $249,000. The new owner took down the old garage and is building a new two storey home in its place.
1133 Von Phister Street when it was a $749,000 condo!
The lot at 1133 Von Phister Street is 94 ft deep. I think there is room for a pool I hope this smart buyer is justly rewarded for the fortitude to buy this place. Good luck and welcome to the neighborhood.

If you are thinking of buying a place in Key West and want to do a remodel, please contact me, Gary Thomas, 305-766-2642. I am a buyers agent and a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties Coastal Realty, Inc. There's no time like the present to buy a place in Paradise. 

1 comment:

Rudy Molinet said...

Gary. Thanks for this great posting. As the Chairman of HARC, I am proud that we have so many folks willing to invest in our historic district so that it will be here for future generations. I also want to thank you for your support of our efforts in historic preservation by educating the public on the importance of preservation. Thank you!


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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.