On The Homefront

By Carol Tisch January 1, 2012

On The HomefrontIn my growing file of dream homes, I have architect’s renderings and floor plans from the east coast of Florida, Las Vegas and Santa Fe. Those were collected before we moved to Sarasota. Here, my architectural reveries are filed by community: Lakewood Ranch, the Founder’s Club, Silver Oak, University Park, etc. The sub-folders go on and on. 

But dreams change with life stages, and the plans I linger over now are not the mini-estates and McMansions I coveted 10 years ago. Now, I’m gravitating toward villas. Until recently, villas were Florida’s euphemism for architecturally uninspiring maintenance-free homes. Typically they’re attached or semi-attached, but not always. Villas are smaller and less expensive than single-family homes in Sarasota’s mature deed-restricted communities. And if you surveyed villa owners, chances are they would be older than single-family dwellers living just a cul-de-sac away. 

But that may be changing. I’d visited the London Bay models at the Matera section of the Lake Club twice before this November’s Lakewood Ranch Tour of Homes, and never had I seen so much traffic and heard so much buzz. Lakewood Ranch marketing director Candice McElyea says there were a record-breaking 2,824 visitors, and 24 homes were sold during the three-week tour. Was this the signal of the end of the housing slump? Or is it that the villa has now been rebranded and architecturally transformed?

In newer communities villas have chic names like the Founder’s Club’s “cottages” or Matera’s “village homes.” In Silver Oak and University Park they’re courtyard homes, often with guest cottage and always the defining courtyard wall. But in all cases new designs are visually and functionally more in line with the romantic European notion of an urban villa. They’re marketed as jewel box or right-sized homes—from 2,500 to 3,800 square feet under air—and include all exterior maintenance, even the pool.

That’s the case with my dream house, the Alezio at Matera. It was love at first sight—every bit as seductive as I imagined living “Under the Tuscan Sun” would be. A constant parade of visitors during the Tour of Homes kept the staff so busy my husband and I were able to pretend the house was ours. We lounged by the pool, tested the seating arrangement in the summer kitchen, sank into the great room sofa, opened kitchen cabinet drawers and watched as they did their slow glide back into position.

London Bay Homes, the developer of the 35-lot Matera section at the Lake Club, has reduced the price of the Alezio model (replete with separate 500-square-foot guest suite above the outdoor kitchen) from $1,797,949 to $1,647,459, fully furnished. It sits across the lake from the 10 estate homes in the Showcase Circle of multimillion dollar models that debuted when the Lake Club opened in 2007. But with new incentive pricing, the Alezio starts in the $800,000s with lot. That’s the stuff of dreams come true.

Comeback Kid>>Real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran has officially declared Sarasota No. 1 in terms of real estate comebacks in the country. Now the star of Shark Tales, an investment reality show, and real estate expert on NBC’s Today show, Corcoran recently advised viewers to snap up Sarasota bargains fast. The guru, who parlayed a $1,000 loan into a $5 billion real estate business known as The Corcoran Group, cited the median home at $176,000, up 13 percent from the 34 percent drop Sarasota has weathered since the recession hit Florida. With Corcoran’s endorsement of our sophisticated city life and beachy attitude, the news is all the more encouraging.

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