Top of the Market - February 2002

By staff February 1, 2002



Sunshine, surf and safety fetched more than ever last year, as a look at the top 25 residential property sales reveals.


Who bought what and why, in Sarasota's top 25 real estate residential transactions last year.


Mention a trend that has faded-like the recent scooter craze-and kids will roll their eyes and groan, "Oh, that was s-o-o-o last month!" Which brings us to the not-so-long-ago days when a million-dollar property sale would be the talk of Sarasota. Even in the late '90s, says Tom Stone, a realtor with Michael Saunders & Company, $3 million was the magic number-anything that brought that price was the absolute top of the market. But that wass-o-o-o last century. In the last couple of years, Sarasota's priciest real estate has easily fetched that much and more.


Just how pricey are our priciest properties? To find out, we looked back at the top 25 residential sales in Sarasota last year, using information compiled by the ever-accommodating Sarasota Property Appraiser's office and from the Sarasota Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service. (Because of our deadlines and the time it takes to record property sales, the year we covered ran from June 2000 through August 2001.) Sure enough, even the least expensive of those properties was still above $3 million. Prices for our top properties ranged from $3.03 million for 44 acres in eastern Sarasota County to $10 million for a prime Longboat Key property.


And who plunked down the money to buy those exclusive listings? In general, the new owners are the typical new Sarasotan: a bit younger-often pre-retirement age-wealthier, and flashier than the conservative Midwestern retirees who once made up the bulk of real estate buyers. Instead of wintering here, they fly in for long weekends and holidays. They're often like Steve Almond, a 56-year-old businessman from Atlanta, who wants a convenient getaway from big-city living, and bought his $3.1-million beachfront home on Lido knowing that he could use it only sparingly, at least until his kids are out of school.


Most Sarasota realtors will tell you that the period from summer 2000 to summer 2001 was a seller's market, with multiple buyers frantically lining up to make bids on a single choice property. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the market has returned to more realistic levels, they say, becoming more of a buyer's market. "Buyers are looking for value," says Ann Runyon, the manager at Michael Saunders & Company's Longboat Key office. "We had a bit of a runaway market, a sizzling hot market before. We have a good, solid market right now."


While some realtors expect that solid market to last, Stone is more cautious. "In such uncertain times, it's impossible to know what's going to happen," he warns. "Most people are sitting still. I think the lower-end market-under $750,000-will hold because it's a local market. The tough market to predict is the high-end market."


Still, Sarasota continues to offer what these wealthy buyers want: the water, the weather and our small-city feel with big-city amenities.


Here's a tour of the top 25-the homes and the people who own them.


1. $10 million


Sarasota County's top sale of the year was a tear-down on Longboat Key. So what's new, right? By now, we're all used to hearing about buyers paying top dollar for waterfront property only to raze the old home of low ceilings and modest proportions and replace it with a huge mansion. But this tear-down already had a megahome on it. Formerly owned by Charles Savidge, this once 9,000-square-foot home was built in 1988 and was a landmark Gulf-front estate. "Kind of amazing, huh?" asked one real estate professional about the idea of scraping Savidge's big, beautiful home off the beach.


The new owner, however, was not in the market for a single-family home. The Savidge property was purchased for its five-plus Gulf-front acres, and today, it's the location for En Provence, a 21-unit luxury condominium community developed by U.S. Assets Group in Sarasota (the same developer that's building Beau Ciel downtown). It looks like the developer made a good deal at $10 million: The units-priced at $1.7 million to $4.7 million-sold out in 21 days when they went on the market last spring.


2. $8.9 million


If you're a celebrity horror fiction writer living in the cold clime of Maine, where do you go for privacy and sun? Stephen King and his wife Tabitha chose a 6,821-square-foot home on the north end of Casey Key with views for miles and solitude to match. The $8.9-million price tag is much higher than Casey Key's $2-million average, but real estate investors are hoping-and predicting-that all of Casey Key's prices will eventually be heading there. Of course, the Kings are customizing the home-everyone who buys an existing home on the water undertakes a major remodeling. And no, Gothic spires and creaky doors are not part of the décor.


3. $7.95 million


Once owned by controversial Sarasota businessman Phil Carlton and then by Dr. Richard Devita, this 17,000-square-foot mansion on five bayfront acres on Siesta Key is packed with ultra-luxurious amenities. The latest owner is so secretive that he included a no-publicity clause in his contract, forcing realtors to stay mum about his identity. Property appraiser records only list co-trustee David C. Swalm with a Dallas, Texas, address as the owner. Included at the time of sale were a huge playground, living room with 20-foot ceilings, a master suite with two mammoth cedar walk-in closets, a library, music room, a secluded pool with marble deck, sport court and exercise area.


4. $7.1 million


Austrian-born Herta Klauser met Chicagoan John Cuneo in 1950 when she and her family performed in their famous trained bear act for the Ringling Brothers Circus at a Chicago fair. Herta was a honey-haired Goldilocks and her three bears used to pad after her into the ring to do tricks. John, whose prominent family used to print the Ringling Bros. programs and owned farms (and many other businesses), loved bears and soon took a shine to Goldilocks as well. The two eventually married and for years lived on Longboat Key. But animals influenced their lives once more, when they lamented that their Doberman pinscher, who had acres and acres of land to roam on their Illinois estate, didn't have enough room to run in Florida because their gated Longboat Key neighborhood didn't allow fences around homes.


So last year, when they discovered four hidden acres on Sarasota Bay near the John and Mable Ringling Museum, they wasted no time in buying it. The property encompasses two completely refurbished and immaculate two-story old Florida-style homes from the 1930s-one is a guest house-tennis courts and mammoth banyan trees. Best of all, there's a wall around the entire perimeter so their Doberman can run to his heart's content.


5. $6.5 million


Sarasota plastic surgeon Dr. Nicholas Gahhos, who already owned a house on Casey Key, purchased a Gulf-to-bay estate further north. The home, originally built in 1939, though charming in a vintage way, is not the basis for the $6.5-million sale. The real value-as always on Casey Key-is the land, and this property is so large it can be subdivided. The property has 300 feet on the Gulf and exquisite grounds, including a huge sculptured privacy hedge and a beautiful bayside section with a boardwalk.


6. $4.5 million


This fully furnished, three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath L'Ambiance penthouse on Longboat Key was worth every penny, say realtors familiar with its 5,000 square feet. It offers 14-foot ceilings, 2,500 square feet of terraces in addition to the 5,000 square feet inside, gorgeous stone floors and views of the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the bay and city skyline to the east.


7. $4.5 million


Set on a private road on Siesta Key, this 11,000-square-foot bayfront home was developed by Sarasota broker and Realtor Peter Laughlin. Because it's on a peninsula, the home offers water views from every room. And it was these views that the new owner, Tom Siegfried, fell in love with. Retired two years ago from his 25-year career as a commercial general contractor in Washington, D.C. (where he says that everyone is "too concerned with their careers"), Siegfried, his wife Judy and their daughter moved to Sarasota after a thorough search of Florida, including the keys and the east coast. They looked at the west coast last. Naples was too congested for them and the Panhandle was too cold. "That left Sarasota," he says. "It has everything a big city has-culture, sports and restaurants-and it has the weather, the water and the slower pace." The Siegfrieds wanted a place on the water; so after living in The Oaks for a year and a half, they found Laughlin's brand-new, three-story, four-bedroom home with marble baths, a huge master suite, wine cellar, media room, fitness room, elevator, eight-car garage, deep-water boat dock and lap pool with an underwater marble cocktail table.


8. $4.25 million


The eighth-highest sale occurred on the north end of Longboat Key-two rare and gorgeous acres right on the beach. Like many waterfront properties, this one was purchased for the land value, not the house, which was built in 1961 and will probably be torn down, say realtors. For the near future, the owner, an attorney from Tampa, will use the property as a getaway.


9. $4.2 million


All Lighthouse Point homes offer an unbeatable location on the Longboat Key side of New Pass. Purchased by Justine and George Skestos of Columbus, Ohio, this residence is a 7,170-square-foot structure of very contemporary design, built in 2000. It offers four bedrooms, four baths, a pool and walls of glass to let in the views.


10. $4.2 million


No. 10 is an Oyster Bay home purchased by the ultra-nice bachelor Frank Brunckhorst, an owner of Boar's Head Provisional Co., Inc., who relocated the administrative side of his company to Sarasota from Brooklyn last year. Moving made economic sense for his fourth-generation, family-owned meat company, he says-Florida is one of its best markets and the company has a strong relationship with Publix. But, as is so often the case, it's the sun and water that clinched the deal. "Sarasota is where we'd had an office and our employees loved to come and visit. It was superior to anywhere else we'd looked," he says.


Brunckhorst wanted a home on the water in an established family-friendly neighborhood with old oak trees. He found his perfect home in Oyster Bay. Designed in the Key West style, the home has the space and features you'd expect in a home with this price tag, including a fabulous in-home theater, antique carved oak bar, boathouse, dock and priceless water views.


11. $4 million


Elita and Daniel Kane are known for their philanthropy and their beautiful homes. Their latest Sarasota home is on Bird Key and is a stately modern mansion perfect for all their fund-raising entertaining. It has an open floorplan, disappearing glass walls and wall-to-wall sunshine. The entire second floor is set up as private guest quarters. An interesting tidbit: The Kanes' old Lido Key home set a local record when it sold for $6 million in May 2000; now it's on the market for $12.8 million.


12. $3.8 million


Ron Pickard and his wife adore Casey Key-so much so that they've purchased their second Casey Key home. A former chief operating officer of a medical device company in Memphis, he traveled with his wife throughout Florida after he retired, looking for the perfect spot. Casey Key answered their needs. "It's laid-back," he says. "Even in the winter we only see one to two people on the beach when we go for a walk. It's got that island feel, a number of full-time residents and you can bring your dog on the beach." Pickard and his wife have two beagles and a "runaway basset."


The Pickards built their first Casey Key house on the bay because Ron liked to boat. Now they're trying the beach. The existing home is a tear-down, Ron says, even though it was built in 1992. "It's just not what I wanted," he says. "It's a nice house and well done, but it has wood shake shingles and more of an Oriental feel, not a Florida style." He also wanted to center his new home on the two lots. He plans to build a Mediterranean home with plenty of breezeways and covered terraces, a media room or home theater, a large master suite and a six-car garage. He figures the total square footage will run about 14,000.


13. $3.5 million


Robert and Jayne Gunther have owned quite a few properties on Casey Key before buying this $3.5-million Gulf-to-bay estate. Again, the value is in the land, say realtors. The house will be a tear-down. The property contains beautiful, large oaks, a wide private beach and a lagoon on the bay side. Rumor has it that the Gunthers just bought an adjacent property as well, this one for $3.7 million, and will probably keep the home on this latest purchase as a guest house.


14. $3.49 million


Samuel and Renee Hamad were living in France when Samuel decided it was "time to slow down and smell the flowers." A former top executive with pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb, he called his good friend Carolyn Spizzirro, a local realtor with Coldwell Banker, who told him to take a look at Sarasota. The Hamads were sold. "It's hard not to like," Hamad says of Sarasota. "It's very pretty, very safe and has at least one of everything-music, theater-and it's close to Tampa and the rest of the world." (Important since the Hamads still have homes in Paris and New York.)


After buying on Longboat Key, the Hamads decided they wanted "more of a neighborhood environment." Spizzirro found them a four-acre mainland property located south of Stickney Point Road in a development tucked away off U.S. 41. Purchased for $3.49 million, the property is extremely private with 225 feet on the bay and is walled as well. "We have a dog and it needs to roam," says Hamad, who adds drolly, "Life is based on our dog."


The Georgian-style home was built by William Rothenbach in 1990 and it's huge-about 14,000 square feet with five bedrooms and seven baths. The Hamads-Samuel is now a consultant for drug companies and a land developer-also bought an adjacent property with a smaller, older home for Renee's concert pianist mother, and then bought an empty lot across the street as well, where the Hamads' daughter and son-in-law (both physicians) and grandchild will eventually build a home.


15. $3.45 million


Finally! A property on Casey Key where the house as well as the land has tremendous value. Bought by Ronald and Carol Whitehouse, it's a brand-new bayside home built on spec with all the bells and whistles you'd expect in this price range, such as a zero-edge pool, granite kitchen counters and high-end lighting. The ceilings are 20 feet high and the master suite is more than 1,000 square feet with two large walk-in closets. It's set on 1 1/4 acres with 192 feet on the bay, a private dock and an easement to the beach.


16. $3.3 million


This big, beautiful monster of a home on two lots on Lido's New Pass was originally a builder's dream home, complete with built-in aquarium overlooking a wet bar, a media room, billiard room and elevator. While it was still under construction, just to see what would happen, the builder put a "For Sale" sign out front and it sold for $3.3 million.


The new owner is a Tampa businessman who just sold his metal manufacturing business and thinks he will eventually make Sarasota home. "We were looking for a beach place and had originally tried St. Pete," he says. Then he saw an Arvida Realty ad that showed a rendering of the half-finished New Pass home. "We knew it was the one for us," he says. With three grown children and grandkids, the Tampa owner needed a large home with plenty of parking and plenty of room for the little ones to run around in. It also had a dock for his boat and a gated access to the beach that his wife liked. For the time being, the home will be used for weekends and summers, but the new owner says he envisions moving to Sarasota permanently in a year of so.


17. $3.3 million


Purchased by German Carolyn Kirch, this is one of those ultra-exclusive properties on the north end of Casey Key. The home is a fairly new, 6,000-square-foot, one-story structure built in a classic style with a two-bedroom guest house and 50-foot by 30-foot lap pool.


18. $3.25 million


This St. Armands bayfront home was built in 2000. Its 6,094 square feet include four bedroom suites, media room, three-car garage, pool, spa, bar, outdoor fireplace and protected dock.


19. $3.2 million


Joe and Julia Collins bought their third Casey Key property last year, this one a $3.2-million property on the Gulf with a bay easement. (Only a year earlier, the home was being offered for a million less.) The Collins came to Sarasota 10 years ago from Indiana, where Joe recently retired from the vice presidency of a wholesale electronics business. They looked at all the keys in Sarasota, and even bought a condo on Siesta Key, but once they discovered Casey Key, they knew they'd found their island paradise. "It's got the old Florida look with the winding road, but it's close to a metropolitan area," he says. Their latest purchase, built in 1996, has three bedroom suites, a library and pool-perfect for when their kids come to visit.


20. $3.175 million


Purchased by Michael and Deborah Turillo from Massachusetts, this is a Gulf-to-bay Casey Key home that's won architectural awards for its Moroccan-inspired, modernist style. Included in the $3.175-million sale price are a gourmet kitchen, three fireplaces with antique French surrounds, a wine cellar, separate guest house with mini kitchen and a master suite with a roof-top patio. Every room has a different ceiling treatment. Formerly owned by Dr. Sydney and Anita Holec, it has 150 feet on the Gulf and another 150 feet on the bay.


21. $3.175 million


This Country Club Shores home was built by Sarasota luxury waterfront builder/investor Doug Martel in 2000. It offers 130 feet of bayfront and 120 feet on the canal. Inside, the house is filled with Italian marble. Approximately 5,300 square feet, it was purchased furnished.


22. $3.1 million


This Longboat Key residence is a vintage 1946 stucco beach house of 1,400 square feet and looks like a sure bet for a bulldozer. But the location is virtually priceless. The property offers 100 private feet along the Gulf of Mexico and plenty of trees to make it feel even more isolated.


23. $3.1 million


Steve and Robin Almond had been coming to Southwest Florida for 15 years, starting in Captiva and Sanibel and Naples, before discovering Sarasota. Because they live in Atlanta-Steve founded and is president of a metal distribution business-ease of travel was a priority. "We could get to Sarasota very easily," he says. "You have a great airport; and, if we want to, it's only an eight-hour drive from Atlanta." Originally the Almonds bought a condominium at The Water Club, but Steve wanted his "own dirt."


He found a unique property on Lido Key-a house that stretches from the street to the Gulf. "I can walk out my front door and go two blocks to St. Armands and walk out my back door to the Gulf of Mexico," he says. He also has an eye toward its potential value. "If you draw a straight line from the Ritz-Carlton to the [Ritz] beach club [also on Lido], you can guess what's happening to this area. The quality of life is going to go to a new level," he says.


The Almonds are updating the three-story 1995-built home and plan to spend occasional vacations here until their children graduate from high school. Then, like many other luxury homeowners, they plan to spend winters in Sarasota.


24. $3.1 million


By now, it's safe to assume that if it's a Casey Key property, the value is in the land and not the home. That's the case here. The house is a funky old A-frame on the north end of the key. Even though it's not a great house, the Gulf-to-bay property is prime and the home has twice set a record on the key for highest sale per square foot of beachfront.


25. $3.03 million


This 44-acre property used to be a small ranch and was bought by JLand Development Corporation for the development of Secluded Oaks, a new community near Bent Tree of 82 single-family homes that will sell from the mid-$200,000s through the 300,000s.

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