Homefront - January 2005

By staff January 1, 2005

Aiming Sky high

A major player has a new role in the Sarasota real estate market. Sky Real Estate Co., founded a year ago by Brandyn Herbold and Chad Roffers, has become part of the Sotheby's International Realty franchise network. The company will now do business as Sky Sotheby's International Realty.

Says Roffers: "Sotheby's is one of the most globally recognized luxury brands in the world. It stands for quality, experience, discretion and service. Those attributes are very consistent with the vision we had when we formed Sky Realty a year ago. Sotheby's mirrored who we are."

Since its establishment in 2003, the company has grown from three to 13 associates and, by late fall, was in place to exceed $100 million in transactions. Their average listing is $1.2 million.

"Growth is in our plans, but we do not want to be the biggest firm in our market," says Herbold. "We want to be the best."

Michael Saunders forges Christie's relationship

Michael Saunders & Company has been selected to be the area's exclusive affiliate of Christie's Great Estates, Inc. Christie's brings buyers and sellers of luxury properties together through an international network of the finest brokerage firms around the world. Working with 128 firms with 650 office locations and 15,000 agents in 19 countries, the network has a combined sales volume of more than $75 billion.

Says Saunders: "Our association with Christie's offers our buyers and sellers of distinctive luxury properties unique opportunities for exposure to a qualified, global audience. The Gulf Coast is attracting a growing base of affluent international clients and Christie's is an effective way to reach them."

Christie's Great Estates, a wholly owned subsidiary of Christie's, the world's oldest fine art auction house, was established in 1995. Founded in 1976, Michael Saunders & Company is a privately held, independent real estate brokerage firm with annual volume in excess of $2 billion.

The importance of being fragrant

Many realtors may have had this unpleasant experience: showing up with a prospective client to a house that just doesn't look or smell particularly appealing. Not Robin DiSabatino of Michael Saunders.

"I always preview homes that are on the market before showing my buyers," DiSabatino says. "Selling a home that is lived in is quite a different story from selling a model home, but there are a few tricks of the trade that every seller needs to know."

Objectionable odors will turn buyers off nine times out of 10, says DiSabatino. In addition to pets, cooking, smoking, mold and carpets and uncleaned drapes present prospective buyers with reasons not to buy your home. Do a thorough cleaning to dissipate stale odors or use an air filter, she says. Many real estate agents will sprinkle a few drops of vanilla on a baking sheet and turn the oven on low for a half-hour or so before showing a property or holding an open house.

Home prices will hold steady

Interest rates are rising as the economy grows and the Federal Reserve is trying to keep inflation at bay. But does that automatically mean home prices will head south? Probably not, says Lynne Koy of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, because strong price gains over the past several years have been fueled as much by housing supply shortfalls and demographic trends as by historically low rates.

"There is nothing on the horizon to suggest this supply-demand equation will change soon," says Koy. "Government-imposed growth restrictions are in place in many areas, and builders have been conservative in matching supply with demand. Also, move-up baby boomers, new households and immigrant and minority households continue to expand home ownership ranks, keeping demand high. In areas where supply is less of an issue, you might see price softening. But these would be the exception and not the rule."

Casey Key is hot, hot, hot

Realtor Tom Stone is a Casey Key expert; he's already viewing 2004 as his best year, with $40 million in closed business by early fall.

"With $72 million in closed residential sales on Casey Key as of the end of September, 2004 will be a record breaker by a substantial margin," says Stone. "This compares with $37 million in 2003. The final 2004 number is likely to be over the $90 million mark."

In the first nine months, 31 homes and two lots were sold. Eleven of them wereover the $3 million mark, including seven over $4 million, says Stone. The main reason for the sales leap is increasing land values, but Stone says he is also seeing more newer homes sold.

"Land value increases are not like those experienced in the boom years of 1998 to 2000, but the peak values are holding and in some cases increasing at low double digit rates annually," says Stone. "There are always some exceptions that do better or in remote cases even not as well. Historically, we have had very few spec homes on Casey Key, but we have seen some more investor-type activity lately."


Only in Southwest Florida could a beachside condo be such an appealing commodity that 26 condominiums averaging $1 million get snapped up before a spadeful of dirt is moved. Such is the case with the U.S. Tower Division of Taylor Woodrow's Beleza on Venice Beach, which now has a resales office, too.

By the time construction began last fall, all the units in the eight-story building, including four penthouses, were already sold.

Future residents were attracted to amenities such as private elevator lobbies and two terraces for each apartment, an outdoor heated pool and spa, a deck and trellis garden, club room, bar and a professionally equipped fitness center.

Chic plumbing

To stay classic or go modern, that's the dilemma facing stylish Sarasota homeowners making over their bathrooms.

"Traditional styling is still number one when it comes to buyers' choice for fittings and fixtures in their luxury baths, with old world finishes like oil-rubbed bronze, antique copper and Tuscan brass becoming the norm for the classic look," says John Smithman, president of the Plumbing Place. "Advances in metal finishing technology have produced these beautiful colors that wear as well as chrome."

Smithman says he also is seeing a major shift toward contemporary styling in Sarasota with glass, stainless steel and soapstone being used in new and exciting ways in the bathroom.

"Sleek minimalism is transforming many sanctuaries into dramatic environments only before seen in chic South Beach or Soho," he says.

Design for life

"Good design should not only answer the functional needs of the client, but improve lifestyle and increase efficiency and organization," says Pam diTomaso, of the Ryan Alexander Group.

DiTomaso wants to remind customers that good design doesn't simply mean picking out things that match or look good; a more holistic principle is at play.

"Good design should not only integrate the basic design elements of balance, color and proportion, but also reflect the personality, lifestyle, workstyle and culture of the people who live and work in the space, and then add an element of surprise," she says. "Your home or office is a living entity that develops with time and evolves as individual lives mature and business goals and philosophy change."

Saying it with drapes

A fresh and elegant home that speaks of character, comfort and sophistication: that's where home fashion is headed in 2005, says Marcia Boyle of Parker Robinson, Draperies, Fine Linens and Accessories for the home.

Draperies, says Boyle, have gained prominence in the home through their ability to transform the character of a room. "We want to achieve a softer, more elegant look," she says. "Decorative sheers behind voluminous draperies take us back to a more refined time of elegant entertaining while the strong accent colors keep our interiors fresh."

Color trends will lean toward a stronger use of rich, natural colors such as warm spice tones, bold reds with innocent pinks, she says. Brown mixed with aqua or blue remains popular, but often accented with clear greens.

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