Dear Real Estate Junkie

Questions About Buying a Sarasota Home? Our Real Estate Blogger's Got Answers

Home-obsessed Robert Plunket answers your questions about finding the home that's right for you.

By Robert Plunket November 30, 2017 Published in the December 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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This Siesta Key home at 4011 Shell Road started out at over $13 million and dropped to $6.9 million before the bank took it back.

Dear Real Estate Junkie:

I hear McMansions are passé. Does this mean I can get a deal on one?

- Just Looking

Dear Just Looking:

Ah, the McMansion. The house everyone loves to hate. My favorite quote from House of Cards sums up the situation. Frank Underwood is discussing the difference between money and power. “Money,” he says, “is a McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”

I would replace “falling apart” with “falling out of favor.” All that heavy ornamentation that reminded you of the set of Tosca has vanished. Light and bright “coastal” has taken over the million-dollar-plus market.

I predict that someday the McMansions will come back in style. After all, they are very livable, with strong personalities and all sorts of amenities: home theaters, wine rooms, enormous closets and master baths.

And yes, at the moment you can get a deal. Consider 4011 Shell Road on Siesta Key. It’s the fanciest McMansion in town, so over the top that it transcends the genre. It’s gated and set on almost an acre of Gulf-front property—there’s even a tiny beach. The style is Mediterranean, of course, but with a Venetian Gothic twist. The outdoor living area—an elaborate pool with waterfall surrounded by something like eight separate porches, balconies, and terraces—is very Italian Riviera. When it came on the market several years ago, it was priced at over $13 million. It was down to $6.9 million when the bank took it back. Make them an offer.

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A free-spirited cottage at 1020 10th Ave. W. in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts.

Dear Real Estate Junkie:

I admit it. I’m stuck in the ’60s. I love tie-dye, Joni Mitchell and anything organic. Plus I’m a potter of some note and sell my work through a gallery. Is there any place that would have the right vibe?

Aging Hippie

Dear Aging Hippie:

You’re in luck. Village of the Arts in Bradenton is looking for people like you. It’s an eight-block-square collection of old houses that have been turned into artists’ homes and studios, the typical ones being a live/work situation: You exhibit and sell your work in front and live in back, unless you’re really successful. Then you sell your work in both front and back and live in a better neighborhood.

That’s both the thrill and the drawback of Village of the Arts. The neighborhood is seedy. Of course, for a true artist that just makes it all the better. You need to suffer, you need to experience humanity in all its forms. And here you certainly will.

The artists are not avant-garde or particularly original. A lot of them might be better classified as craftsmen. But they’ve built a colorful little enclave, the perfect place to buy handmade jewelry or decorative art and dine in several restaurants, the most notable of which is Ortygia. Best of all, real estate prices are quite reasonable. A cute 1938 cottage, converted into a home/studio/gallery for a potter, would be perfect for you. It’s priced at $165,000 and the present owner will leave his wheel. 1020 10th Ave. W.

Dear Real Estate Junkie:

I’m a beach person. I’m moving to Sarasota to spend every day on Siesta Beach. (I promise I’ll wear sunblock.) I want a place within walking distance, and don’t forget I’ll be carrying my beach umbrella, beach chair, cooler and the latest Michael Connelly novel. I have an OK pension from my library job here in Indiana, but money is tight. Any chance of finding a condo I can afford?

SPF 50

Dear SPF 50:

I hope you have $300,000 to spend; otherwise you may be taking the bus to the beach. There is usually a handful—5 to 10—of next-to-the-beach condos on the market in your price range. They are small and barebones but perfectly pleasant. Most have one bedroom, which should be plenty for a librarian, but you may even find a two-bedroom if you look really hard.

Like 6711 Midnight Pass Road, No. 14. It has two bedrooms and one bath cleverly fitting into just 685 square feet. The building dates back to 1974, but a recent remodel gives it a crisp modern look, with tile floors throughout and a brand-new kitchen. It’s being sold furnished, and the beach is right across the street, along with shops and restaurants. The price? $279,900.

Dear Real Estate Junkie:

My husband and I—we’ve been married three years—are planning to retire to Sarasota from Atlanta, where we work in musical theater. We enjoy the arts, dining out, and hope to do some volunteer work. Can you recommend some gay-friendly neighborhoods where we won’t stick out like sore thumbs?

Two Friends of Dorothy

Dear Friends:

In the old days you might have stuck out in, say, Gulf Gate, but these days you’ll probably fit in anywhere. Downtown has a large gay presence, as do St. Armands and the museum area. I suggest you work with a gay realtor, of whom there are many; you can search them online. He or she will undoubtedly take you to see Glitter Gulch, aka Glen Oaks Manor. It’s been popular with gay couples for decades. Actually, it’s popular with all kinds of couples, but something about the sophisticated layout attracts those with a knack for interior design. The villas are centered around an interior courtyard, which usually contains a skinny-dip-perfect pool. Their size (two bedrooms in 1,700 square feet) is ideal for a couple, and the layout is conducive to stylish decorating. The location is convenient although hardly chic: middle-class suburbia. Prices start around $240,000 and can go over $300,000 for a particularly nice unit.

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Midcentury style at 3820 27th Parkway in Kensington Park.

Dear Real Estate Junkie:

I’m a big fan of the midcentury modern style and it’s exciting to live in a town with so many famous examples. But those prices! Is there any way to get midcentury modern on a budget?

Sarasota School Girl

Dear Girl:

Two local neighborhoods that date back to the 1950s are full of midcentury-style homes at great prices. These are smaller tract homes of two, possibly three bedrooms. If you can get one that hasn’t been egregiously remodeled, you will find terrazzo floors, original tiles in the one bath, and an unmistakable feeling of times gone by. One neighborhood is Kensington Park, with a central location in the northeast part of town. Originally, buyers could choose from four or five models. You’ll want to find the one with the vaulted roof line. There’s a great example at 3820 27th Parkway that just sold after being listed at $167,000.

You should also check out Bayshore Gardens just over the border in Bradenton, which offers several midcentury styles to choose from. Both neighborhoods are a little shabby, but they keep improving, with cute vintage homes being restored to their original look. And the prices can’t be beat.

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A lavish horse ranch in Venice priced at $9.45 million.

Dear Real Estate Junkie:

We’re a horse-oriented family. The kids ride and the oldest two compete in dressage. What’s your take on all those equestrian communities to the east of Sarasota?

Horse Mom

Dear Mom:

I love them. Saddle Creek, Gator Creek, the Polo Club. Who wouldn’t want to live there? You have considerable acreage, lots of privacy, an upscale home and yet you’re 10 minutes from Saks and 20 from the beach. OK, 25. The Polo Club is the most horse-centered. It really is a community of like-minded polo players. The other two are more “pretend” ranches for upper-middle-class families. Certain people, me included, prefer them since you aren’t always stepping in horse manure.

And don’t rule out Venice. Your kids have probably heard of Fox Lea Farm, the show horse center east of town that’s become one of the most prominent in the state. They put on more than 40 events a year and it’s very family-oriented. Nearby you’ll find all sorts of gentleman’s ranch-type properties that are every bit as impressive as those in Sarasota. The ultimate has to be 600 N. Jackson Road—a 100-acre working horse ranch with an eight-bedroom house, a 22-stall barn and a five-furlong oval race track. The price is pretty impressive, too: $9.45 million.

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Now under contract, this home in Mote Ranch was listed right at the midpoint of the market: $339,000.

Dear Real Estate Junkie:

I just read on Zillow that the median price of a home listed for sale in Sarasota at the moment is $335,000. What exactly can you get for this price?

Playing the Numbers

Dear Playing:

I wish the median had been a different number, because at this price you get the most boring house imaginable: a newish three-bedroom, two-bath, two-car garage in white-bread suburban neighborhood. On the other hand, these homes are practical, well-built, and the bread and butter of American housing. Many are in builders’ communities with names like Colonial Oaks, but you can find them in almost every neighborhood in town.

They have many nice features. You enter into a hallway, not the living room; ceilings in living areas tend to be high; you’ll find a semi-open kitchen; the master suite will be nice, particularly the bathroom. There will be lots of natural light. Some will be villas.

And some stand out from the crowd, usually because of a special feature—a pool, a lake view, a recent remodeling. These are the ones to look for. Like the one at 5898 Carriage Drive in Mote Ranch. It’s been nicely updated, has a great pool, and the added bonus of being sold furnished. It went quickly—in two days, in fact—and is already under contract.

Dear Real Estate Junkie:

I’m looking for a nice 1920s cottage I can remodel, but all the ones I’ve seen are too expensive or in Bradenton. I have to be in Sarasota, and the closer to downtown the better. Any suggestions?

Urban Adventurer

Dear Urban:

Have you considered the part of town known as Central Cocoanut? It runs alongside Central Avenue, from Fruitville up to Ringling College. It has many older homes from that era. Sarasota was racially segregated up until the 1970s, and Central Cocoanut remains predominantly African-American. But things are changing. If you’re not African-American and you buy a house there, what does it mean? Are you a heartless gentrifier pushing out the original residents and jacking up prices? Are you “culturally appropriating” a neighborhood where you don’t belong and thus changing its fundamental character? Or are you just a happy participant in the gradual desegregation of Sarasota’s housing market? Given the current state of racial issues in this country, it’s anybody’s call.

To see an example of what you can find in Central Cocoanut, drive by 1433 15th St. It’s a classic Spanish bungalow from the 1920s, nicely remodeled, with two bedrooms and one bath. It recently sold for $167,500. You could easily pay twice that in any other part of town.

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This Sanderling mansion on the Gulf ($13.9 million) is one alternative for a top—make that very top—recently retired government official.

Dear Real Estate Junkie:

I’ve recently left a government job in Washington and am trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. My wife and I have two teen-aged daughters, one already in college, and after eight hectic years we want some peace and quiet. Do you think Sarasota would be a good fit for us? We need a secure location, a large home for entertaining, and we’d like to be on the beach. Price is no object. What with book advances and such we’re raking in the money. Oh, we’ll need a lot of storage space, too; I’ve got all these papers to sort out, plus some obsolete international treaties. And a big safe for my birth certificate.

P. Otus

Dear P. Otus:

People like you gravitate to the north end of Casey Key, where personalities as diverse as Stephen King and, reportedly, even the Gotti family have found refuge from the world. There is no gate but the narrow, twisting road is kept in such awful condition that it’s not worth it for rubberneckers to make the trip just to see walls and a glimpse of something through the trees. What they can’t see are mansions of all styles that are housing the truly wealthy of the world. These people usually have nothing to do with Sarasota. Their incredibly glamorous lives take place elsewhere and their Casey Key home is a rarely used retreat. Their wealth has made them recluses.

A more fun alternative might be Sanderling. It’s a venerable old gated community on Siesta Key that has a more neighborly feel. Here the homes are just as pricey and stylish, and it’s a lot closer to Rectrix Aviation, where you can come and go by private jet. In fact, the two most expensive homes currently on the market are in Sanderling. First place goes to a modernist mansion that looks like the setting for a fashion shoot ($15.5 million). It’s not really you. I’d pick the more traditional home, at 8218 Sanderling Road. It’s got 10,000 square feet set on three-and-a-half acres ($13.9 million). It could use some glitzing up but nothing that a few $400,000 speeches can’t handle.

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