Residences at the Ritz-Carlton were snapped up so quickly that many would-be buyers had to take a back seat and keep their fingers crossed. But now some original buyers are putting units on the market-about a dozen, at press time. Michael Saunders urges buyers to move quickly. "Interest is extremely high," she says. "We receive a new inquiry or show a Ritz property nearly every day."
A gracious range of choice exists, offering living space from 1,900 to 5,600 square feet with prices ranging from $1.19 million all the way up to $6.25 million. You can find resales from Floor 10-the first residence level- all the way up to the penthouse, with a big variety of views and floorplans. Some owners made substantial changes, explains Saunders, adding finishes and details, even moving walls and raising ceilings. Most sellers say they intended to move in and make the Ritz-Carlton their permanent address. But as we all know, in real estate, things change.
"In the two years it required to complete the building, a great deal happened," explains Saunders. "The stock market dipped, and then we experienced Sept. 11, with a huge impact on the economy and on people's decisions about investing. Now the experts are touting real estate as the best investment, because at the end of the day, you have something to show for your dollars." In her 30-plus years of experience, Saunders has seen real estate rise and plateau and rise again. But never have waterfront and well-located properties dropped in value. "Prime real estate holds its value," she says. "And in the meantime, you have gorgeous sunsets and a lovely quality of life along with the Ritz-Carlton amenities and reputation. That is the vital constant."
Welcome to Sarasota's newest celebrity, classical guitarist Esteban, who recently moved from Sedona, Arizona, to a home on Siesta Key. Coincidentally, the home's previous owner, Estela Maclean, is also of Spanish descent, and buyer and seller enjoyed immediate rapport, sharing the same language and love of music. During their conversation, Esteban gestured to a guitar sitting in the corner of the living room, and Maclean explained that the instrument belonged to her husband, recently deceased. "Esteban politely asked if he could play for her," says realtor Karen Chandler. "It was so touching. He played beautiful melodies and sang to her, out of respect for her late spouse. Then, after the sale, he sent her some of his music and CDs along with a thank-you note for selling her wonderfully artistic and eclectic home to him." Chandler and Bill Hackett of Michael Saunders & Company listed the property, and Richard Perlman of Michael Saunders & Company represented the buyer.
A young family from Columbus, Ohio, is linking themselves to local history. Their new Venice house was built in 1926, one of the two main homes built by the Brotherhood of the Railroad, the organization responsible for bringing the railroad through Sarasota. Iron gates swing open to allow access to the walled estate, which features landscaped courtyards and manicured grounds in the heart of Island of Venice, a mere two blocks from the beach. The Mediterranean-styled villa has four fireplaces, more than 5,000 square feet of living space, tile and wood floors. Servants' quarters and a separate servants' kitchen are connected to every room in the home through a bell system, which the former owners used to ring for assistance or summon a late-night snack. Venice Coldwell Banker associates Paula Wesley and Sammy Giordano sold the home and enjoyed every minute of the process. "We had over 35 showings," says Wesley. "And every time I entered the front door I noticed another beautiful detail. The craftsmanship is simply spectacular." Selling price was $1.3 million.
Sellers looking for that competitive edge during this period of real estate dips and swerves can call Stage It! to make their home more marketable. For $75 per hour, Stage It! owners John and Victoria Shannon will come out and consult on how to stage a home for buyers, including identifying furnishings and accessories that need to be replaced. Rejects are carted off and placed in storage units. Excess and clutter are erased. Handsome furnishings are wheeled in to fill empty spaces. In some instances, sellers can make the changes themselves. For others, like the owner of a $3 million house sitting totally empty, Stage It! supplied every item in the place. Fees can run into thousands of dollars but vary according to the scope of each project. And if the homeowner doesn't care for the new contemporary sofa and glass dining table, he'd better get over it. The Shannons are concerned only with appealing to the buyer.
"Sellers in Sarasota are competing with new construction. That means gorgeous model homes decorated in colors and finishes right off the pages of Architectural Digest or the latest things from Pottery Barn," explains Victoria Shannon. "When that same buyer walks into your resale and sees dated carpeting and colors and heavy oak furniture that came down to Florida with you from the old Colonial home up North, he or she is going to say 'yuck.'" The Shannons were top-producing real estate agents in San Francisco for 16 years, and Victoria's background is in-you guessed it-interior design, so they know what buyers want. Companies like theirs have been around for a decade in California, but the couple gets the credit for introducing the idea to Sarasota last October.
"We are not interior designers," says Victoria. "Nor can we work miracles if a property is vastly overpriced. But we do excel at creating a look that is appealing to buyers. In a competitive market, we can make a difference."
STRANGER THAN FICTION
Let the buyer beware? Perhaps it's the realtor who needs to keep a close eye on his client. Reid Farrell of Farrell Realty, Inc. drove his client to her new home for a walk-through, one day before closing. She walked in and walked right back out, demanding to leave at once. "I asked her what was the matter, and she told me that there was a black light in the house," says Farrell. "She could not buy a house with a black light. She was willing to forfeit her deposit money." Farrell put her in his car and on the way back to his office, driving down a side street, they passed a pitifully neglected property with overgrown yard, peeling paint and an abandoned appearance. His client demanded that he stop the car. She jumped out to look at the house and told him she wanted to buy it. "We did not know if it was on the market, but then I found an old 'For Sale' sign lying face down in a nest of weeds, so I called the agent," relates Farrell. "He told me the price and how many bedrooms, and she made an offer that same day. She bought the place, sight unseen. Said it had an aura."
But some clients are unusual in a more charming way. David Groom II didn't know what to think when his buyers came to the closing table lugging a plastic cooler. When the papers were signed and the checks passed around, they leaped out of their chairs and filled crystal flutes with chilled champagne for everyone. "This was their first house and they were excited," explains Groom. "Wish every one of my real estate deals could end like that!"
Out-of-town buyers seeking a very special Sarasota property for a family compound called Candy Swick regarding an acre of tropical paradise on Longboat Key. The 4,000-square-foot home features lofty cathedral ceilings, open living areas, fireplace and beautiful wood and glass; but few take time to notice the interior because nobody ever stays indoors. The house is nestled in a jungle right on the bay, with rare plants including miniature bamboo, a snow-on-the-mountain plant, angel trumpet and a cinnamon tree. There's a magnificent boat dock and a shrub sanctuary for the rare white pelicans who migrate to this property each year. The current owners are leaving for California to pursue an equestrian lifestyle at their new ranch, but they will leave their mark. She is an artist; her stainless steel sculptures decorate the grounds, with a family of gorillas on the lawn and Puff the Magic Dragon peeking from behind a grove of trees. He is a dedicated marathon runner, swimmer and cyclist, with an impressive time (under 15 hours) in his last Iron Man competition in Hawaii. Hence the swimming pool is 75 feet in length and built to competitive standards. "The buyers are looking for a Sarasota getaway, where all the children and grandchildren can gather and spend time together and enjoy nature," explains Swick. "With the pool and the bay and the gorgeous property, this could be the perfect place." The home is listed at $2.595 million.