Homefront - October 2001

By staff October 1, 2001

By now, everyone knows downtown Sarasota residential real estate prices have skyrocketed in the last few years, sometimes doubling and tripling in price. But Claudia Meyer, a real estate consultant at Laughlin's Luxury Lifestyles, predicts another significant increase within two years when construction of downtown's new residential high-rises nears completion. "The revitalization of downtown Sarasota has helped deliver marked increases in property values to our city's older high-rise communities, and long-term owners are now cashing in," explains Meyer. "Relocating buyers and investors are hungry for these close-in gems, and they're purchasing and polishing them up for short-term profit on quick resales or holding them for rental inventory."

Downtown Rising

Meyer cites these examples: Sunset Towers has listings in the low $400,000s; in 1999 those units sold for less than $175,000. Both 888 and 988 (downtown condominium towers) are enjoying similar appreciation, and the rush on One Watergate has been phenomenal. "People who have been living there for more than 10 years saw prices around $175,000 in 1999 but are now listing their units from $270,000 to $389,000," she says. "What took us 23 years to realize on Longboat Key [in property appreciation] has been happening to downtown units in just three to five years, and that's not just the rare, spectacular waterfront property, that's even for water 'peeks!' Golden Gate is also part of this phenomenon." Meyer also notes that part of the reason for this drastic rise in value is that "anything new in that area now starts at a million, so if you can find an older unit for $260,000 in need of $30,000 in restoration, that's a bargain."

Don Sams, president of The Condo Store, sees the same downtown condo appreciation and says, "Sarasota is maturing into a much more metropolitan city. In-town housing is very desirable so people can be close to their jobs and the cultural aspects of the city." Cindi Jackson, director of sales and marketing for The Condo Store, says another factor working to the advantage of the city's condo market is that "rental rates have increased rapidly while interest rates have declined. That makes the 'should-I-rent-or-buy' analysis more favorable to the buying position. Momentum is very strong and the sheer number of units available is not that great."

Penny Hill of Chase Manhattan Mortgage says that real estate is a strong investment at any time, but especially right now. "With the ups and downs of the stock market these days, it's wise to remember that real estate is one of your safest investments, especially on the Gulf coast of Florida," she says. "Not only does your investment appreciate over time, but immediate advantages are that interest paid is a tax write-off and renting an investment property can 'make' the mortgage payment for the owner. Add that interest rates are low now and real estate investments are a good bet."

bigger & better

Rugs As Art Inc. is celebrating its 15th anniversary in style in its new home, an 18,000-square-foot building at 6650 S. Tamiami Trail. The showroom is flooded by natural light, making it possible to take in the true colors and textures of the rugs before taking them home. It's comfortable, too. Owner John Murse has provided several cozy seating areas where customers can take a break, contemplate choices or have discussions with design consultants who have accompanied them to the store or are on Murse's staff. There is also on-site repair and storage facility. Visit the Web site at

"If anyone had told me when I started in the fine furnishings business that I would be so successful so quickly that I would soon need a building the size of a supermarket, I probably would have hesitated," admits Robert Seth Ward, president of Churchill's Furnishings. Ward is moving Churchill's to 1515 Fruitville Road (the former site of Winn Dixie, House of Golf and a Neiman-Marcus outlet) this fall. The new 22,000-square-foot building will feature Harrod's of Knightbridge Fine Furniture Collection and will have a retail outlet in front for the public and a designer's warehouse in back for accredited members of the trade.

The Plumbing Place, with all its high-end, artsy bath and kitchen fixtures and furniture has always been fun to visit, but they might have to sell admission tickets soon. The Plumbing Place is putting the finishing touches on its showroom renovation, which includes 10 rooms fully decorated with Villeroy & Boch's latest designs. John Smithman, president and co-owner of The Plumbing Place, says, "This is the most significant Villerory & Boch display in the Southeast, and marries fixtures, furniture, faucets, floor/wall tile and accessories in classic European style." In addition, the showroom will feature an extensive line of bowls and vessels in glass, granite and marble.

Getting Younger

The Glenridge on Palmer Ranch is attracting a younger crowd than expected, says David Wildgen, project director. While they were expecting folks in their 80s and older, the average buyers are in their low 70s, and there are more couples than singles. Already, the community has received 325 deposits before breaking ground. "We'll have a pet floor, a take-out deli and ice cream shop, formal dining facilities, a state-of-the-art performing arts center with seating for 265 people as well as dressing room facilities and a great sound system," says Wildgen. "We'll have musical productions, movies, lectures, all kinds of great offerings."

The active retirement of Glenridge has excited seasoned custom home builder Gary Roberts, owner of Bamboo Building and Design, and he has joined its board of directors. "Many of my (private) clients are seniors," explains Roberts, "so I'm used to designing retirement homes with an eye to future needs. A little forethought may spare senior home owners the necessity of another move at that phase of their lives." The 90-acre Glenridge campus will feature 270 independent living residences (including 49 club homes), 49 assisted-living apartments, and 37 skilled nursing private rooms.

Art in the park

Louis Chalupa, gallery owner and director of Galleria Silecchia, says the Sarasota Public Art Committee and Sarasota City Commissioners have unanimously approved the installation of Glenna Goodacre's bronze sculpture "Olympic Wannabes" in downtown's Selby Five Points Park. A public fund-raising project, initiated in May by the Art in the Park Committee, is being spearheaded by Kacy Carla Bennington . The Community Foundation is also a partner in this project, allowing public contributions to be tax-deductible. "I love the energy, vitality and joy of kids caught in uninhibited poses so I arranged the five children in various stages of cartwheels so they seemed light and free, defying the actual weight of the bronze," Goodacre says. The artist will be in Sarasota in January 2002 for the installation of the piece. "Olympic Wannabes" is on view at Galleria Silecchia's Orange Blossom Tower location at 12 S. Palm Ave. For information about participating in this project, visit

Also at Galleria Silecchia is work by Jorge Blanco. If you're headed to Chicago this month, be sure to visit the prestigious Navy Pier Walk Sculpture Exhibition where his bright yellow 12-foot-high sculpture "Smile," which graced the Sarasota bayfront last season, is on invitational exhibition.

Design Gems

Katrine Karley of Absolute Harmony Feng Shui is now offering her own line of personal jewelry and jeweled accessories called Jewel Vision, which can adorn a person, handbag, home or office. Made of the finest crystal in beautiful colors and blessed by feng shui master Lin Yun, the collection consists of bracelets, necklaces, malas (Buddhist rosaries) and hanging jewels. Designed to enhance love, prosperity and joy and to heal the spirit, the jewelry feels good and looks beautiful to wear as well. Visit her Web site for a peek, or walk in to Soji on South Tamiami Trail and IOPTICS on Pineapple Avenue, where the jewelry is available.

Judy Graham of Graham Interiors says customers are going crazy for the wonderful new exotic fabrics, which look like ostrich skin, snake skin or alligator skin. These fabrics come in deep, lush colors such as liquid ruby or burgundy, rich yellow-greens and iridescent golds and bronzes. She also notes that the best all-round chair right now is a swivel by Grafton; it's sinfully comfortable and fits every body type. Upholster it with your choice of fabrics (faux ostrich, perhaps?) and use it in the living room, breakfast area, bedroom or office. Best news yet: it comes at a great price.

Margaret Cook of Cook's Custom Cabinetry says the company is proud to be donating the kitchen for the family home of Paul Salter, who was paralyzed during a middle school football practice in September 1999. The building and design community has donated labor and materials to build a wheelchair-accessible home and therapy pool for Paul. Cook's Custom Cabinetry considered the special clearance and accessibility of controls, switches, cabinets and lighting while designing the kitchen to make them easier to use for someone in a wheelchair. "This is a true community outreach," Cook says, noting that RCS Appliance of Sarasota donated the appliances and Distinctive Surfaces of Sarasota supplied the Corian countertops and sinks.

Wonderful wood

If you like wood floors you'll like this news from Tom Goering, owner and president of The Floor Doctor. Wood flooring has undergone significant recent improvements and innovations, including new finishes that make them more durable (especially in Florida's climate) and five-year warranties that have increased to 25 years. Wood floors are also being engineered to be installed over concrete in high humidity areas. Messy floor sanding is history, he reports, revolutionized by special floor-sanding equipment that contains all dust. Today's trends, says Goering, "are toward wider planks, darker colors and exotic woods such as mahoganies and cherries. Borders and laser-cut specialty medallions are also growing in popularity."

Marcia Hartery of Contemporary Furniture and Interiors says rich wood veneers with metal accents are hot news on entertainment systems, dining collections and in bedrooms. "Wood is always warm and inviting while the metal creates an updated retro look," says Hartery.

Master wood finisher Diego Valotti, owner of Old World French Polishing, learned how to restore and refinish antiques and museum-quality pieces in Italy from his uncles Enrico and Sergio. Today Valotti lives in Venice in Southwest Florida, and he's brought this traditional method of refinishing by hand (French polishing) to private customers and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, where he is currently restoring John Ringling's bedroom suite of 15 pieces, including a couch that is more than seven feet long.

Super Models

DiVosta Homes has newly furnished models open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at The Palmer Ranch (Honore Avenue just south of the Palmer Ranch parkway). Prices for the two- to five-bedroom, single-family homes range from the $160s to $300s.

Westfield Homes has two new furnished models open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday at Villa Rosa (on Honore Avenue just west of I-75 and south of Bee Ridge Road). The Tiffany is a redecorated rendition of the home voted best in its category in the 2001 Parade of Homes. The Miriana is a new two-bedroom plus den home with an open floorplan.

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