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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Are You Sure You Really Want to Buy a Fixer in Key West?

A few days ago I wrote about a very beautiful home in the Casa Marina Area of Key West. It's priced pretty high because it is very special. We have a lot of special homes in Key West. Most of our houses are expensive compared to other parts of the country, and some are much more expensive than others. We have many smaller places that still come at high prices considering their small size. Many of the buyers I work with say they are willing to do a little work to buy a place that is more affordable. They think they can buy a place that's a bit less expensive, do some of the work themselves, and thereby save a lot of money. I was rooting thru my shoebox and found some photos of places that were fixers. I thought I'd share some pics that show how the other half of Key West lives - the half that primarily live in rental houses offered for sale. .
I showed the house at the top of today's blog several years ago to a gent who was thinking about buying a fixer. This little two story located on Frances Street in Old Town was priced right. We went inside and found the place in pretty much a disarray. There were old brown grocery bags everywhere. Piles of clothes and stacks of newspapers and magazine were stacked and strewn everywhere. The lady of the house invited us to go up to the second floor. My buyer started to climb the stairs and turned around to tell me the place smelled horrible. I softly said to hold your breath and move quickly. He hurried up, turned around, and hurried down.  He didn't buy it. Someone did. The place needed much more than piles of debris to be removed. The house was basically torn apart and totally rebuilt. 

This house had a combination kitchen and bath in one room and in one place. The bedroom and living room were every bit as pretty.
The tenant here had moved out. I don't know why. The color scheme was so Key Westie. The living room had a big hole in the wall.
Some places lack closets and storage places. Tenants must improvise. There was an illegal rental at the rear. Two older men shared the bedroom space in single beds. Neither spoke English. I think a total of six or seven non-related and probably non-Americans lived in this property.
Tenant in this house created a way for his dog to get outside to do his business.

Putting on the Ritz!
A little clutter never hurts anybody.
The tenant left after he did this. Tenants burning down a house is Key West is not uncommon.
This is a two-part post. The above picture is of a child's bedroom at the golf course. The picture below is the same house. It shows a picture of termites eating their way through the house. This was at the Key West golf course.
The tenant here took not only all of the appliances but also all of the kitchen cabinets, ceiling fans, and about anything else of value. The owner had put in new kitchen cabinets and appliances, new bath fixtures, light fixtures, and fans. All went away when the tenant left.
The "second bedroom" some Realtor as described by a listing real estate agent. I have seen several where you need to access this "bedroom" by climbing a ladder. I have even written about places like this. I point these things out. I ask you: what moron would spend half a million dollars or more to buy a place that you need to climb a ladder to go to bed. Think about it. If you get sick or need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night you gotta climb down a ladder.Consider the cost and amount of real floor space you need to take up creating a stairway to space like this.
The above loft space probably adds nothing to this otherwise cute cigar maker cottage that already had a pool and a very large backyard that offered potential room for expansion. I showed this place several times. Buyers focused on the loft and super small bedroom off the kitchen and missed the bigger picture of how really cute this place could become if the rooms were modified and the kitchen rebuilt. I see buyers that fixate on the negatives and who often overlook real potential.
This place was priced right but offered challenges a lot of buyers could not embrace. It was located less than 100 feet from Truman Avenue and close to a gym. It had a neighbors on either side who properties that were not well maintained. It had a spiral staircase and late 1980s or early 1990s interiors. The spiral staircase lead to a second level loft that was actually quite large. The house had a pool and off street parking. You will see this place in an upcoming blog.
The above photo shows the living room and kitchen of one of two apartments that were a part of a larger Casa Marina Area home that had a large pool. The income from the apartments pays taxes and insurance for the owner. If you cherish your privacy buying a place with built-in tenants may not be your cuppa tea. But if you don't mind the occasional tenant who forgets to pay his rent until the 14th day of the month, a place with a rental might work out for you. Not all tenants are bad. And certainly not are all good.
 Sometimes some owners convert legal spaces into rental units that the city is not aware of. There is a difference in owning a legal rental and a non-legal one. I won't give any reader legal advice on the efficacy of owning and renting an illegal rental unit other than to say if you get caught, you are in trouble. More than that, however, is the fact that converted spaces are often neither well conceived nor executed.


The real bad boy in the above photo is not the missing facia but instead is the concrete spalling on both sides of this house. Spalling is the visible deterioration of concrete whether it is cracking, flaking, or pitting. The above photo shows cracking. What cannot be seen is the more probable corrosion of iron rebar inside the concrete. Spalling repairs can be very expensive.
The new owner of this previously bank owned property ultimately decided to take the house down rather than to fix the spalling. I tell people all the time that just because a property is bank owned does not mean that it is a "deal". There is often a reason properties become bank owned and that is that there is an underlying problem with the house that makes them very, very difficult to sell. Buying at a cheap price is not indicative of getting a good deal if you have spend oodles of new money to fix something or to build new unless the new property is worth a whole lotta money.

I showed this apartment multiple times but I only went inside this space twice that I remember. I do remember the smell of the huge dog that lived and crapped in this place. I don't have any idea why a landlord would allow some moron to have a big dog in such a small apartment.
See the black cat on the bed? You would not believe the odor that cat left in this otherwise really nice apartment. If you buy a place with cat pee smell, you may very well have to remove the wood or tile floors to eliminate the odor.

What do you expect for $1500.00 a month for a one bedroom apartment like this? A lot of people do. Rent in Key West is very expensive.
Tenant came home late one night. Fell asleep. Burned the house. Killed her dog. House torn down.
I knew the couple who lived here. She was an administrator at a public facility. He was a carpenter. I had no idea they were such slobs. Not one straight line in this house. This became bank owned. I had a young couple that thought about buying it. I told them they would be pouring money down the drain. I may have been wrong, but I doubt it. I think most houses can be fixed but is the price worth it, especially if the city won't let you add a pool or if you cannot create off street parking.

Three pic series below. Big house in Old Town. Very good location.
 Photos show the master bedroom, guest bedroom, and dead pets on floor in one single house. The stains on the bed were from unwashed sheets. Can you imagine living in that filth - sleeping across the hall from a roof filled with caged animals with poop all over the floor?
Alive and kicking in this little house just a couple of blocks from Duval Street.
Lame swag drapes in a rather cramped bedroom in Old Town.
I can still remember the stench of dog pee and poop from this once grand Old Town house. Two old ladies lived in this mess oblivious to the odor or the mess. It was truly like something out of a movie.
 This house sat on a very large lot on a small Old Town lane. The owner lived there with his teenage daughter.
This place was a bit out of the ordinary. It was a Key West funeral home and licensed contractor shop.  I have no idea what went down that drain.
The pool at this Old Town property needed a little work.
The tenant in this third floor walk-up applied some creative paint treatments throughout the apart. You can tell the really adored the color blood red.This is why you need a deposit. However, I really doubt any deposit could repair the damage this tenant created.

This is the second floor bathroom in a golf course home. Lots of termites in this place that sat vacant for a couple of year.
The smell of mold was so bad in this place that I had to run out of the place to catch my breath. I eventually had to go back inside to lock the doors. Somebody bought this place.
There are many nice places where local owners and renters live that could be improved. The above apartment was super clean and tidy. It was smallish, but that kind of space often works well for single people who do not need big spaces. The potential problem for a new owner who wants to make a space like this "his own" is that a small house is a small house is a small house that is often located on a very small lot with little or no room to increase the size of the house.
The photo above is not a rental but it is representative of an issue all buyers may face and buyers that purchase a fixer property need to understand before they buy a house. This photo shows an old cut pier that supports an historic house. You can see how a wood wedge was driven into place to help support the floor joist. The reasons so many old houses have faulty flooring is that the piers have failed.  Replacing piers can be very expensive - very expensive.  Do fixing is often much more than adding new kitchen cabinets and light fixtures.
Sometimes some locations can be challenging. The top photos shows Bare Assets on Truman Avenue. I point out the location whenever I show a place near there. The guys always know what goes on inside. Consider locations near schools and restaurants. Schools often have the sounds of kids playing during the daytime. If children laughing bothers you, don't buy a place near a school or daycare facility. Some of the more interesting views come from the Bahama Village area which is located by several landmarks such as the old lighthouse.
I have watched a lot of TV shows on HGTV and other networks that make it look like redoing an old house is easy. It is not. And it is not easy in Key West where we have often have multiple layers of governmental bureaucracy to deal with.   Renovations are not for the poor nor the faint of heart.





1 comment:

FloridaAG said...

Think I went to an Open House at the Spiral Staircase one - Either Packer, Varela or Watson (can't remember which) between Truman and Virginia

Dean Townsend was showing it

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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.