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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Town Fools, Village Idiots, and Male Activists

Today's blog has nothing to do with real estate in Key West or elsewhere. If you want to know about what's for sale in Key West, CLICK HERE to search the Key West Association of Realtors mls website. Otherwise, read on.

When I started my freshman year at Colorado State University in 1969 I was the biggest nerd around. I actually read the freshman student manual, and I really did go to the Campus Shop and actually purchased a freshman beanie. And for God's sake I even wore it until I realized I was the only idiot that was wearing the stupid thing. I kid you not. I still have that beanie somewhere.

I recently unearthed my Cub Scout medal with the scout oath and my gold confirmation cross. I believed in the simple lessons I learned in school, in church, and in the scouts. I thought that everybody did. I was wrong.

I majored in political science and entered the Air Force ROTC program. I planned on getting my legal education courtesy of the federal government. Viet Nam burst onto the scene and changed everything. I went to teach-ins, lectures, and listened to and read multiple sources about the conflict that became a horrible war. I ended my ROTC training after my first year in college. Someone tired to burn down the ROTC building at my university, and someone else did burn down Old Main. I decided I would have to get my legal education the old fashioned way: earn money to pay for it.

Back in the 1960's there was a Friday afternoon tradition outside the Student Center at CSU where students would stand on an old stump and speak their minds about whatever was bothering them. I went to the stump a lotduring my freshman year. I never spoke. But I did listen. There were some screwballs that spoke but there were a lot of well informed students and some faculty that voiced their opinions. I liked the give and take of people speaking freely about the war, civil rights, and other matters of importance in our lives.

Later I wrote an opinion piece that was published in Reach, a once a week supplement to the daily college newspaper. As luck would have it my political science professor read the piece and mentioned it in a class. He noted that only town fools and village idiots participate in marches and write letters to the editor and other dribble like that. He then announced someone in my class wrote that article. Then he named me as the author. The fear of being referred to as a town fool or village idiot was immediately and completely etched upon my brain. He then added that my piece was well written and worthy of being read. Thud.

After that I was even more careful not to stand up in crowds and make speeches for fear of being thought the town fool. I've kept my letters to the editor to a minimum to avoid being regarded as the village idiot as well.

I am second from left

The next year I ran for student government as a member of the United Action Party. Our party was an alternative to the fraternity and sorority kids that until then had populated student government. Our main platform was student control over student affairs. A simple mantra. But it ended up shaking the foundation of the university.

Seven of our members were elected that year including Doug Phelps, Bruce Randall, and me. We wrote a simple resolution that turned co-ed housing on its ear. The point of our resolution was to establish equal treatment of males and female students with respect to dorm curfew hours. Up until then female students were required to be locked inside by 11:00 PM (midnight on weekends) whereas males students had no restriction whatsoever. Our resolution was adopted by the ASCSU legislature and promptly rejected by the university. We then announced a sleep-in at the MOBY Gym (arena). The place was packed with guys and gals demanding an end to in loco parentis. We made our point. The media reported the protest. The university adopted a new policy. Our sleep-in worked and rules were changed quite quickly. Reason prevailed. No blood was spilled. No potential careers were blemished by arrest records.

I did a quick Google search to see how our efforts back then were remembered. I found the semi-official history of that and other events of our era at CSU which reads
"but a group of male activists [emphasis added by me] continued pushing for change that culminated in a May 1967 demonstration in which 2,500 people "stayed out" past the 11 p.m. curfew for women.

Two weeks later, President Bill Morgan announced female dorm residents could stay out until midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends, and junior and senior coeds could live off campus. But the university retained its ban on male visits in women's rooms."

There was a peace march in downtown Ft Collins in the early spring of 1968. Several thousand students and locals marched down Mountain Avenue and stopped at an old memorial near the railroad tracks that bisected the town. We listened as different speakers railed against the war. Then we heard the roar of a huge semi as it drove directly into the crowd of marchers. Nobody stood their ground in defiance of the truck. Thank God. It did not slow nor stop but instead plowed straight through the crowd. The truck sped east on Mountain and across the small college town. The driver was eventually stopped and arrested. His excuse for putting so many people's lives in jeopardy was that he had a son in Viet Nam.

That was not the end of violence that day. The marchers regathered as a group and made our way south on College Avenue back towards the campus. Spectators (townies and students) lined the streets yelling at us. Cruz, a college kid who lived on my floor, had the sign he was carrying ripped from his hands and torn by some townies. He then just carried the wooden cross that supported the former sign. We neared the Campus Shop located on Laurel Avenue when some frat boy a the Farmhouse Fraternity threw eggs at the marchers. An egg hit a little child in a stroller just ahead of where I was marching. The kid screamed, the mother screamed. We all screamed. It was the most frightening day of my life.

I remember going back to my dorm room at Green Hall. My roommate was not there. I knelt on the floor by my bed and looked up at a black and white poster of a nasty old man dressed in an Uncle Sam suit standing in front of the US Capitol with his right arm and his middle finger extended pointing up to the Capitol. I thought we were at the end of the world. I was wrong, again.

Later that night Norman Mailer spoke about the war - the war that divided our country so deeply.

A few months later the student legislature made a proposal to allow the sale of 3.2 beer on campus. Another student and I were invited to speak to the State Board of Agriculture (the governing body of the university) to present the argument for allowing the sale of beer on campus. This meeting was held during the summer, not during normal school session. We presented our case after which the president of the university announced the sale of beer on campus would not happen during the term of his presidency. The board voted against the proposal. But that was not the end of the story.

About one month after school resumed in the fall of 1968 the student legislature announced a "drink-in" in the Student Center ballrooms. The university fired back and announced anyone drinking on campus would be arrested. John Baker, another member of the ASCSU student legislature, and I met with the Dean of Students prior to the drink-in and arranged for an alternative to arresting a bunch of students. The Dean agreed to permit students to take the symbolic drink of beer and then be placed on social probation as an alternative to being arrested. Some students chose jail. I took the easier route. Just like the sleep-in, our drink-in made news on Denver media. We ended having beer on campus by the time I graduated in June 1969. The former college president retired. Maybe not because of us, but maybe we influenced him a bit. The world was changing.

During my senior year I got to intern for Colorado Lt. Governor Mark Hogan. I got to sit in on committee meetings and watch Senate sessions. What a bore. What a bunch of hayseeds and bigots. Rural Colorado was as conservative as any place in the deep south of the 1960's. There was a lot of turmoil going on across America during this time period. Martin Luther King had been assassinated. Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated. George Lincoln Rockwell (head of the American Nazi Party) had been assassinated. We had seen several years of riots based on racial tension across the United States. Student uprisings were going on at east coast and west coast universities and many points in between. There was a lot of discussion about a revolution. The Colorado State Legislature reacted by adopting an anti-riot bill. I saw government work. I was not amused. I decided never to run for public office. Governments react to public unrest. In Syria, for example, they shoot the protesters. In the U.S. governments restrict how and when people may safely assemble and require them to obtain a permit.

The revolution never occurred. My generation sold out and transformed from hippies to yuppies. President Johnson was driven from office, Viet Nam ended, President Nixon resigned in disgrace, the Civil Rights Bill and Voting Rights Act made it possible for blacks to become integrated into American life, and our country survived nonetheless. A little over forty years later our country is at war but against a different enemy. The racial tension still exists, maybe not as deep, but it is still there-just below the surface, waiting to explode if given the opportunity. The tension between different segments of our society is still in place as well.

Two months ago the nightly news was all about the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon that was sweeping the nation. People were occupying parks everywhere voicing their concerns over where our country is headed. For me watching the Occupy Wall Street is like watching a remake of my college years. The old guard or status quo or call it what you will is being challenged by young and old who want things to change, to be more fair for all people.

What I write won't change any reader's mind about the political or social upheaval that is going on in America. It is not meant to. Small protests like "sleep-ins", "drink-ins", political marches, and the occupation of parks often do have a causal effect on governments, businesses, and on society. I am not afraid of people who express their beliefs about what is going on in our lives. It is our Constitutional Right to be called town fools, village idiots, and even male (or female) activists. I am not afraid of the future. The future starts tonight at 12:00 PM.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

That Was The Year That was in Key West Real Estate

The end is here in Key West

I thought it would be fun to recap some of the properties that I wrote about in 2011 to see the price that was paid. I did not sell these properties. A photo of each property appears immediately below the address which appears in a blue address link. Click the address link to the particular blog so you can see what I wrote.

1012 James Street was a delightful small house with a pool and off street parking located across the street from Keys Energy. Asked $625,000 to start and then reduced to $535,000 and sold at $475,000.

233 Southard Street in the President's Walk addition to Truman Annex as hot property from the day it got listed. I think I showed it three times and some other realtor was there each time I showed the place. It was offered at $599,000 and sold at $562,500.

212 Angela Street was another really hot property. I wish there were more houses like this, and I wish I could have got one of my buyers to act quickly enough to buy it. This property was listed for sale on February 6th for $450,000 and went under contract five days later. The sale closed on April15th for $445,000 or 99% of asking price. I had several email and phone conversations with potential buyers who said they would think about it or would wait to look when they finally made it down to Key West on their annual visit. I told them at the time this property would not be available that long.

I called 817 Pearl Street the Love Shack and named it so with the kindest intent. The place is small but ever so cute. It truly was a love nest if ever I saw one. A lucky buyer snapped up this adorable cottage that was offered at $250,000 for just $220,000.

I invited readers to become my neighbor by purchasing 1424 Whalton Street in the Casa Marina area. The property was listed at $1,475,000 and sold for $1,375,000 or 93% of asking price in just 67 days on the market.

I referred to 1107 Fleming Street as an "old house" because the interior spaces reminded me of the compartmentalization apparent in old homes built around the turn of the last century. I know that some present buyers won't even consider a really "old" house because of that factor. This particular place had a rich rich history, partly based on a former owner. The property was initially offered for sale in February 2010 at $1,750,000 and reduced to $1,250,000 and eventually sold in June 2011 for $980,000. This was a really big house and somebody got a great property for a very good price.

I loved 405 William Street the day I first saw it in 1987. I made a lame-brain offer on it and two adjacent properties that were owned by a previous owner. My offer was summarily rejected. A lesson learned on my part. Years later I am the listing agent on the same house which has been wonderfully updated. The asking price was $999,000 when first listed. It is now under contract and awaiting closing in February. The buyers considered a recently built home that looked like a Conch house and then declared they wanted the real thing and not a "fake Rolex knock-off". I have heard similar comments from other buyers looking for a neat old house who won't consider new houses that are built to look like the grand old Conch houses.

623 Grinnell Street oozes charm. I expected the newly remodeled house would go under contract right away and it did. Something happened and it was back on the market. A few months passed. The house was offered at $995,000 and sold at $925,000 or 93% of asking price ($571 per sq ft).

I thought the Bank Owned townhome unit at President's Walk would sell quickly, and it did. I prophetically wrote "He who waits to listen to the paint peel will not get this bargain priced bank owned unit. If you want to buy this place, you need to act sooner rather than later." The unit was fully furnished, had a transient license, and was offered at just $470,900. It sold for $533,333 or 113.25% of the asking price. Smart buyers need to seize the day to seize the bargain. 550 Porter Lane needed some fix-up work and it needed a nasty old tree out back removed. Otherwise, this was a money-maker.

1327 White Street was another Bank Owned property. This time it was a big Conch house with a lots of nice features, a large pool, off street parking, but it was missing kitchen appliances. The house was offered at $995,500 and sold for just $925,000 or $383 per sq ft. That was a bank robbery.

405 Olivia Street sits across the street from the Ernest Hemingway House. It was Bank Owned and was initially offered at $450,000 then reduced to $410,000. It sold at $381,000 or $276 per sq ft. It had a good sized lot but it needed a lot of work on the inside. I showed it several times and each time I did I gained an appreciation for the amount of work and money I thought it would take to fix the ills of this old place.

1505 Pine Street was one of several The Meadows of Key West homes which were listed by Preferred Properties. A lock bank foreclosed on all of the unsold homes. The homes were originally built to be sold at $1,695,000 to $1,995,000. All became Bank Owned. 1505 Pine Street was offered and sold at $825,000 or $505 per sq ft. These units were terrific buys. I think the buyers that bought here made very smart purchases.

I often write about homes in the Casa Marina area. The house at 1203 Von Phister had some of that special Key West magic that makes certain houses so damned interesting. This house was offered at $1,695,000 and sold for $1,550,000.

901 Thomas Street was one of three homes located in a small Key West compound offered for sale during the past year. The houses share a common pool and a small rear courtyard area. Otherwise, the houses are owned in fee simple. The house itself was adorable and had a successful history as a legal vacation rental. It was offered at $499,000 and sold at $450,000.

1001 United Street is a newer Key West house that needed a bit of updating. It was offered at $537,000 and sold for $500,007 or $316 per sq ft. The house was huge and a little different than what most buyers expect. The buyer got a good deal in my opinion.

One of my favorite houses to sell this past year was the former Bank Owned bungalow at 830 Simonton Street. A couple of Key Westers bought the place from a local bank. They did some necessary repairs, dolled the place up, and sold it for a profit. The sellers' asking price was $749,000. The property sold at $675,000 or $561 per sq ft for a lovely home. Great deal in my opinion.

The short sale at 735 Poorhouse Lane created a flurry of interest. The house was cute and had lots of potential. It needed some work but the asking price was certainly affordable: $469,000. The place sold at $415,000 or $409 per sq ft.

1114 Varela Street was another short sale, except it had something special that is not available in most homes: a transient rental license. This place was really cute and was initially offered at $700,000 and then reduced to $575,000. It sold at 550,000.

Another Bank Owned house at 912 Windsor Lane garnered lots of attention. The place was a royal mess. Still, I thought it was a terrific property for a buyer that wanted a fixer in a great location with lots of upside potential. The house was offered at $299,900 and sold for $310,000 or $238 per sq ft. Remember, this place needs major work!

911 Grinnell Street was yet another Bank Owned houses that was offered for sale at a terrific price: $399,900. I submitted an offer for a buyer. He did not get the property. He offered more for the same house a year earlier when it was a short sale. It sold for $450,100 0r 112.55% over the asking price or $347 per sq ft. The house has some locational issues but it is a great buy for a nice house with a pool in Old Town.

1006 Southard Street is a nice two bedroom two bath home located with a great location. Unfortunately, it sits behind another house, it has no parking, and it needed some work. It was on and off the market for several years and listed at varying prices - the top being $909,000 in 2007. After a succession of agents, it was listed at $575,000 and reduced to $499,000 and sold at $475,000.

319 Grinnell Street was another Bank Owned houses with lots of woes. I don't quite understand why so many would-be buyers think that bank owned is equivalent to 'good deal'. I used to manage bank owned real estate sales years ago. There is normally a good reason why properties become bank owned: either the property has something wrong with it or the owner has something wrong with his or her head and can't get a damned deal completed. Some owners are so pig-headed that they lose property that they think is so special. If it is ruining one's life it ain't special. It is a burden. The house at 319 Grinnell Street had lots of 'issues' that the City of Key West Code Enforcement should be aware of. The house was listed at $299,500 and sold at $308.059 or $326 per sq ft for a major fixer. The house and location have a lot of upside.

1025 Elgin Lane was such a good deal. It sold in a flash. It was a Bank Owned 'condo' offered at $249,900 and sold at $262,000 or about 105% of asking price. I had several potential buyers call on this. They wanted to offer less than the asking price to make the deal sweeter. I explained that the property was a condo by legal definition because of some shared common areas but the other condo was a similar single family home that was converted into a condominium to share the common outside area. I managed to get one buyer to finally offer full price. It was like pulling teeth. He did not get this great deal. Deals like this often have multiple offers and it is usually the buyer who offers the highest price and who has the least contingencies that gets a deal like this.

731 Waddell Avenue created quite a stir. The owner purchased it a year earlier as a short sale for $900,000 in October 2010. He got a wonderful new house at a bargain basis price. Opportunities became available away from Key West, and the owner put the house on the market in October 2011 for $1,425,000 and sold it in 21 days for $1,200,000. That is a $300,000 in exactly one year of ownership.

The little Bank Owned cottage at 626 Samaritan Lane was another big hit as far as interest goes. It was offered for sale at just $119,00. There were more than 10 full price or higher cash offers. The property sold for $165,000 or $308 per sq ft or 136% of asking price. The place had no kitchen, no bath, nor any finished interior space. It is located behind the Bourbon Street Pub which means I hope the new owner has ear plugs.

I wrote about 507 Amelia Street a couple of times over the past two years. I think it was initially way over priced when listed for $1,025,000 in 2008. The house had an extra large and sunny lot, off street parking for two cars, and excellent location just off Duval Street, and it was zoned to accept a value transient rental license. Smart buyers pounced when it was repriced at just $479,000 in July 2011. It sold for only $401,000.

Last month I wrote about six new condo listings at 616 Caroline Street. A smart one bedroom offered at $425,000 just closed at $415,000. Two other units are under contract. Three more are left. This, in my opinion, is the best buy in Key West right now for the buyer that wants a turn key place that can be rented occassionally to make a few bucks to help defray ownership costs. It beats the competition big time.

In the past couple of weeks I wrote about 811 Carey Lane, 920 Cornish Lane, and 1025 Thompson Lane. All three are now under contract.

People are buying houses again. And not just short sales or bank owned properties. Local banks have money to lend. Interest rates are still at historic lows. There is not a lot of inventory of houses for sale. If you see a place you really want to own, don't make a lame-brain offer that has no chance of being accepted. Make as clean an offer with the least number of contingencies to make your offer more acceptable to a seller.

If you are hoping 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. Let me help you find your place in Paradise.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Key West Garden Cottage

The Key West Garden Cottage is located at 526 Southard Street, just steps east of my office. It is owned by Dominique Barrera and Laurie McChesney (both of Preferred Properties). A couple of years ago they converted the former real estate offices into a shop that could offer one of a kind items for home or garden including fountains, lattice work, benches, mirrors, fences and gates, as well as hard to find or limited editions of special home and garden items that you will likely not find anywhere else. There are also vintage and new treasures for the home or garden. And of course there are gifts and mementos unlike the kind you'll find at a dozen stores on Duval Street.

Come by, sit down, relax, converse. You are sure to find something that you absolutely cannot live without.

Starting today all holiday items are 50% off the regular price. If you aren't in town right now, make a note to stop by on your next visit and mention that you read about The Key West Garden Cottage in my blog and you will receive 10% off your next purchase. Hours are 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM daily. Or shop online at Key West Garden Cottage.

And if you want to buy a house to go with your new found treasures, my office is located steps away at 520 Southard Street in Old Town Key West.

Monday, December 26, 2011

1021 Johnson Street - Casa Marina Area - Key West

1021 Johnson Street - Casa Marina Area - Key West

1021 Johnson Street is located on one of the best blocks in Key West, just a one block walk to the Casa Marina Resort and the Atlantic Ocean is only to blocks to the south. I found an old aerial photo taken of the area in 1970 that shows the edge of 1021 Johnson Street. You will note that the house is located just a couple of blocks north of the great Atlantic Ocean and Higg's Beach. The Casa Marina Resort is just a block to the west.

The house was originally constructed in 1958, but it has been updated several times over succeeding years. It received the 2006 Historic Restoration Award. For those readers who were born sometime around 1958 I am sure you are delighted to know that people of your era are now deemed "historic".

1021 Johnson is a big ranch house set back from the street and surrounded by a large privacy fence. The house has lots of room for either a local family or for a second home buyer who wants a lot of space for family and guests.

The living areas have large open spaces with terrazzo floors and flying ceilings. The master suite is located at the east rear of the house. That space is extra large. It has immediate access to the pool. There is a nice sized second bedroom at the east front which has its own bath. The house has rare double garage on the west side plus two large guest bedrooms above. The pool is sunny and inviting - a must for you sun worshipers. The covered lanai offers respite from the sun. CLICK HERE to view the Key West mls datasheet on this property which is offered at $1,995,000.

I was driving some potential buyers through the Casa Marina area last week and took them past Louie's Backyard and Salute Restaurant on the beach. Louie's is high-end and expensive. Salute is cheap. Both serve good food and both are located about five to seven minutes away by foot from 1021 Johnson. Several gyms and yoga studios are located about six blocks away. Good food and a place to work off the fat nearby. What a winning combination.

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


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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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.