Doug Martel has nine Sarasota bayfront properties under construction at the same time. Each home measures somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 square feet and will be finished with the finest materials available: Think marble floors, granite countertops, beveled glass, imported fixtures and more. Homeowners will pay between $3 million and $6 million to live in these waterside beauties. All the details and numbers are in place-now all Martel has to do is find the buyers.
That's because all nine are spec houses-built on the premise that somewhere out there is a buyer with expensive taste-including for Sarasota waterfront, dollars to spend and very little patience. Martel is Sarasota's sultan of spec; and so far, his empire is prospering.
"This is the perfect supply and demand scenario," he says happily. "We have Baby Boomers coming to Sarasota out of the Midwest, fed up with the weather and looking to retire early. They want waterfront and they want new and big. There just is not a lot of that around."
So Martel creates some. Martel Realty searches for waterfront properties and acquires them. Of late, most waterfront land comes with existing homes, which Martel Development Company razes. As the smaller, less expensive houses have disappeared, Martel's wrecking balls have been aiming at larger, newer and more valuable homes. "We've torn down some homes where I have asked myself, 'What are we doing?'" admits Martel. "Still, the demand is there. I am seeing a 40 percent appreciation, but my buyers are making more. I sell something for $1.2 million and the buyer turns around six months later and sells it for $3 million."
The spec house works, points out Michael Duvall of Arvida Realty
Services, because these new buyers want their dream house right now. Building a custom luxury home requires a good imagination, a good contractor and a good amount of time to complete. Many buyers do not want the long-term involvement and stress associated with building a home. Others find it difficult to visualize results from blueprints and renderings. "With a top-of-the-line spec house, buyers walk in and see exactly what they are getting," says Duvall. "Many people are coming here from out-of-town and they do not want to wait or rent. They do not want the hassles."
Bird Key is especially popular just now. Duvall says
waterfront homes there are selling for $2-$3 million and being torn down to make way for bigger and better. He was recently involved in a property sale on New Pass that epitomizes what's going on in the tear-down waterfront market. In the spring of 2000, a couple had paid $1.15 million for an older house on the water. They tore it down and began building their new dream home. Last July, midway through construction, someone offered to buy the house they were building. They sold the half-finished shell of a house-as is-for $3.3 million. Duvall estimates that the house will take another six months and at least another $1 million to complete. "This is the market now," Duvall marvels. "Buyers are willing to do whatever it takes to get on water."
PLAYING THE GA,ME
The spec-home game is so compelling right now that every now and then small new players decide to take a turn. Barbara Dumbaugh of Michael Saunders dubs these "single-lot developers" and counts herself among them. Her Hudson Bayou spec house took a year to construct, offered 3,500 square feet of living space and sold for $1.2 million last year. Hand-cut stone work, carved mantel, hand-picked fixtures and marble fireplace gave the home character, and Dumbaugh is convinced that in today's market the same house would fetch twice that price.
"Spec homes have terrific appeal," she says. "Buyers get the location they want and do not have to deal with buying a dump with low ceilings and terrible plumbing, followed by razing, design work and new construction. Everything is finished for them."
A few blocks away on the mainland, Harbor Acres offers a contemporary English Tudor-style home completely redone by a British investor. He paid $450,000 for a modest residence on the corner of Flower and Harbor Drive, gutted the interiors and added a second story. The asking price is $1.6 million.
Realtors and developers continue their frantic search for large parcels on the beach, the bay, anywhere close to the water, says Andy Cail of Michael Saunders; but lots are scarce and prices are soaring. Speaking of prices, here are some head-turners. In Siesta Key, the old Inn Between is now the swank new Siesta Villas. These town homes across the street from the beach are going for $700,000 and up. Also on Siesta, a bed-and-breakfast across the street from the beach is currently under contract for $3 million. Over on Lido, a one acre-plus lot on New Pass sold for $4,850,000. And behind the gates of Longboat Key Club on Regent Court, a 1.4 acre lot is listed at $4 million. Just the spot for a spec home.
Tennis pro Mary Pierce, winner of the 2000 French Open, and Cleveland Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar are now the proud owners of a residence on Bird Key, purchased for$1.95 million, accordingly to Kent Chetlain of the Longboat Key Observer. Although their careers tend to keep them on the road and often apart, Pierce and Alomar were spotted recently strolling around St. Armands Circle and playing tourist.