A luxury home on Casey Key

A luxury home on Casey Key sold for $16.5 million this spring.

Like everybody else, I’ve been following the local real estate headlines the past year with amazement—and some worry.

But nothing prepared me for the sale of a perfectly pleasant, 2,300-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath 1962-era Florida ranch home on an OK lot in a neighborhood near mine that sold late last summer for $1.2 million—23 percent over ask—in just one day. (The asking price alone was an eye-popping $975,000, as it had previously sold in late 2019 for $650,000.)

Sarasota and Manatee counties are facing record high local home prices and record low inventory. Buyers are fleeing high-income, high-tax states to relocate to what U.S. News & World Report calls one of the top 10 places to live in America, and they’re snapping up homes at prices that are making the rest of us dizzy. Bidding wars, open houses planned and then pulled because the homes have sold in a day, and properties that go under contract before they even get to MLS are the regular order of the real estate business these days.

In this red-hot real estate environment, any part of town with a home for sale can be considered red hot. Just 905 single-family homes were on the MLS on July 1 in the entire two-county area. That’s a two-week supply of listings; a normal balanced supply is in the four- to six-month range. Compare that with 4,702 single-family homes on July 1, 2019, and 3,275 on July 1, 2020. (A slight uptick in mid-September—1,083 homes for sale—perhaps portends a return to something slightly more normal.

Here's our top 10 list of neighborhoods where sales are sizzling.

The Ultra-Luxury Market

Bird Key has an unbeatable waterfront location close to downtown and Lido Beach.

That tsunami of new buyers from New York, New Jersey, California and even Washington state has raised the bar of what defines luxury in the Sarasota area, says Craig Cerreta, managing broker at Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. It’s “an unimaginable demand-driven market,” he says.

“We used to say luxury was a million-plus, then 2-million-plus,” says Cerreta. “Now we take listings at $5 million, $9 million, $14 million every month.” To those new buyers, “We’re a bargain.”

Take Casey Key. For years, that tropical barrier island of grand Gulf-to-bay estates near Osprey had little turnover. “Now it’s boom, boom, boom,” says Cerreta. Sale prices are multiplying. The $16.5 million sale of a Casey Key beachfront estate in April—a tie for the highest residential sale in Sarasota County history (the other was Serenissima, an estate behind the gates of the Longboat Key Club, last November)—proves his point. The property had sat on the market since 2012 before its owner switched real estate companies last spring, and it sold in a couple of months. That wasn’t through any fault of the previous listing agent, Cerreta is quick to say. “The timing is just different now.”

At the end of July, there was one lonely listing on the manicured, in-town island of Bird Key, a 16-year-old garden residence (that’s what they call homes that aren’t on canals or direct bayfront) priced at a smidge over $3 million. Located off the Ringling Causeway and prized for its proximity to both downtown Sarasota and the beaches, “Bird Key is smoking hot,” says Cerreta. “If I did a search in my deleted email file, I’d come up with a few dozen emails from agents asking, ‘Anybody got anything on Bird Key?’ There’s nothing to show them.”

Prices have gone through the roof. Last summer, Rinat Sikdar of Coldwell Banker sold the most expensive canal-front sale in Bird Key history, at $4.25 million. “It went on the market in December and closed in April,” Sikdar says. “The buyer never saw it in person.” Sikdar’s other big Bird Key sale this summer was a 7,200-square-foot bayfront home, which sold for $5.7 million. The new owners are tearing it down to build something even grander.

North Siesta Key has been active, especially around Shell Road and Higel Avenue, where buyers are seeking beachfront estate-size lots. Sikdar sold two adjacent parcels on 2.4 acres last spring for a combined $8.4 million. An enclave of two to four $10 million-plus homes called Siesta Key Estates is planned. And last fall, a 1.3-acre vacant lot with a private beach on Higel sold for its asking price of $5 million; at the time the highest-priced residential land sale in either county in 2020. “People have been obsessed with Harbor Acres [that exclusive mainland waterfront neighborhood West of the Trail], but the lots are smaller there,” says Sikdar. “On north Siesta Key, you can be on the sand and on the mainland [over the Siesta Key bridge] in two minutes.”

Condo Splurge

Prices at Sage Longboat Key Residences range from the mid-$4 millions to $6.9 million.

Prices at Sage Longboat Key Residences range from the mid-$4 millions to $6.9 million.

Not in any one neighborhood, but too hot to ignore is the area’s brand-new crop of luxury condominiums. In July, just seven months after its launch, all 16 beachfront units at Sage Longboat Key Residences went under contract at prices ranging from mid-$4 million to $6.9 million. That’s a year earlier than expected, says Cerreta. (Premier Sotheby’s was the development’s exclusive sales team.)

A rendering of the St. Regis Hotel and Residences on Longboat Key

A rendering of the St. Regis Hotel and Residences on Longboat Key

Farther south on Longboat, it took just a year for the developer of the St. Regis Hotel and Residences to sell 57 of the 69 planned units, at asking prices between $2 million and $12 million, says Georgia Kopelousos of Michael Saunders & Company, whose company is repping the development, “although I just got off the phone with someone, and that number may be 58 by the end of the day,” she says. (Two of those units are being combined for one buyer at a price of nearly $20 million). The 18-acre Gulf-front site, the former home of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, will have all kinds of resort amenities befitting the St. Regis brand.

A rendering of downtown Sarasota's Bayso

A rendering of downtown Sarasota's Bayso

Demand for those sleek new downtown condos hasn’t cooled, either. In the Quay Sarasota Waterfront District under redevelopment between Boulevard of the Arts and the old Ritz-Carlton, Bayso launched in the fall of 2020 and by mid-summer 2021 was already two-thirds sold. That’s 110 units out of a total 149 at an average price of $1.2 million, says Cerreta. Bayso joins the new Ritz-Carlton Residences as the first two condo towers planned for the Quay. “The downtown condos are still hot,” says Cerreta. “We see people selling condos in the old Ritz to move into the new Ritz.”

Older But Established

A tree-lined street in Arlington Park

A tree-lined street in Arlington Park

A neighborhood doesn’t have to be sexy to be red-hot. Arlington Park, that leafy old neighborhood of some 1,500 houses east of Tamiami Trail between Bahia Vista and Webber, is particularly in demand these days. Buyers, mostly families but empty nesters, too, are drawn to its central location near both downtown Sarasota and Sarasota Memorial Hospital and city-owned Arlington Park itself, with its shaded walking trails, dog park, basketball and pickleball courts, and public swimming pool.

Whether you like it or not (and everybody has an opinion), Arlington Park is a neighborhood very much in transition, as many older, affordable homes have been razed to make way for modern white boxes and large traditional-style residences. Premier Sotheby’s realtor Carolyn Collins and her husband built a Craftsman-style home on Hawthorne Street in 2019 and sold it this summer for $1.15 million. “It really was a labor of love, and we weren’t planning to sell, but we said in the market if we didn’t try, we’d be silly,” says Collins. “The first person who saw it came in and bought it.”

A home in Arlington Park

A home in Arlington Park

In the first half of 2021, 64 homes sold here at a range of $200,000 (most likely as a tear-down), to $1.64 million—a price unheard of a few years ago. By early August, only 17 homes were on the market. “I’ve been in this business over 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Collins. “It’s a shame there are so many buyers and not to have the properties [to sell them].”

A little farther south is Oyster Bay Estates, which winds along Sarasota Bay between Pine Bay Drive and Field Road, bisected by the oak-lined residential boulevard Camino Real. Full of estate-sized homes on oversized lots, it’s probably where your banker or lawyer or doctor, or maybe all three, have lived at one time or another.

Kim Ogilvie of Michael Saunders & Company sold her own home there in 2018, a beautifully updated residence on a large lakefront lot, for $1.85 million. What a difference a few years makes. In early August, Ogilvie tells us, the few active listings here ranged from $3,126,000 to $3,985,000—at $688 to $988 per square foot. “Two years ago, those were our bayfront averages; these are our landlocked prices,” Ogilvie says.
Those sky-high list prices are taking their toll. Only eight Oyster Bay homes sold between Jan. 1 and Aug. 9 this year, versus 10 homes last year. But the number of days on the market has increased—averaging 75 days this year versus 35 days in 2020. Ogilvie thinks that’s due to “aspirational pricing” on the part of sellers. “I think that’s where we’re going to find our balance in the market,” she says. “Homeowners are beginning to see symptoms of aspirational pricing. I had some buyers say to me, 'We are willing to purchase at 10 percent over market, but we're not paying over that.'" The canary in the coal mine? Maybe.

Up North

North River Ranch

North River Ranch

Image: Rob Harris

North of the Manatee River in Manatee County, where a head-spinning 24,000-plus new homes have been permitted for construction, the former farming community of Parrish is a magnet for buyers from Bradenton to St. Pete. And in Parrish, there’s no development hotter than North River Ranch. The mammoth, 2,600-acre master-planned community, being developed by Neal Land & Neighborhoods, is slated for an eventual 6,000 homes. In the couple of years since the first shovelfuls of dirt were flung, a thousand lots have been developed in its initial Brightwood and Riverfield neighborhoods. A mix of national and local builders is offering single-family homes and townhomes from the high $200,000s to $500,000. Residences are rising, people are moving in, playgrounds and community pools are open, new nearby public schools are filling up, and 25 miles of trails are beckoning walkers and bicyclers who can take advantage of the new Neal community bike share program. “People see the vision,” says a company spokesman. “They get it.” Next up: 400 homesites in the Wildleaf neighborhood, coming online in early 2022. Additional phases are expected in the next 20 years.

Down South

Wellen Park

Wellen Park

Sleepy no longer, Sarasota County from Osprey southward reached a tipping point a few years ago, surpassing the population of north Sarasota. The hottest hotspots are North Venice and the mega master-planned community of Wellen Park.

More than 4,000 homes are planned for North Venice, primarily north of Border Road. Together, Neal Communities and Neal Signature Homes are developing Cielo, Vicenza, Aria and Milano, with 1,380 homes at build-out. A mile east of I-75 off the Laurel Road exit, Emerald Homes’ Toscana Isles will have 967 homes at build-out.

Coming soon to 80 acres along Border Road and Jacaranda Boulevard is D.R. Horton’s Palencia, with 203 planned homes. Nearby, Meritages Homes and Toll Brothers are building 263 homes in Venice Woodlands. And two additional developments are permitted: the 1,000-residence Rustic Road, on 318 acres just east of I-75 off Knights Trail Road (no builders have been announced to date); and a rental community of 239 units called Generation at Venice nearby.

In unincorporated Sarasota County abutting North Venice, DiVosta is scraping acres a half-mile south of S.R. 681 for the 926 homesites planned for Talon Preserve on Palmer Ranch. And along the former farmlands flanking State Road 681, Taylor Morrison is building 320 homes in Palmero. Whew!

A model in IslandWalk in Wellen Park.

A model in IslandWalk in Wellen Park.

Wellen Park continues to grow. Named the fourth top-selling master-planned community in the U.S. in both 2019 and 2020, the south Sarasota County community is already home to nine large-scale developments, and an additional 7,000 acres of undeveloped land are slated for development in the future. At build-out some 15 years down the road, 60,000 people will call Wellen Park home. Phase one of Downtown Wellen is expected to open in late 2022; its 175 lakefront acres eventually will include waterfront dining, a town hall, children’s playground and splash pad, food truck kiosk area and an outfitter who will rent e-bikes, paddle boards and kayaks. A 250-unit luxury rental complex called Tropia at Wellen Park to be built in Downtown Wellen was announced last summer; it’s the first rental complex to be located here.  

Meanwhile, Back on the Ranch

Rendering of Waterside Place, a lakefront  town center at Waterside.

Rendering of Waterside Place, a lakefront town center at Waterside.

No surprise, Lakewood Ranch is once again making headlines, and this time not because Mick Jagger bought a home there for his girlfriend last December. Lakewood Ranch was named the best-selling master-planned community in the nation, with 1,535 new home sales in the first half of 2021 alone. That’s an 83 percent leapfrog over last year.

Much of the action this year has been in Waterside, where Pulte’s Shoreview neighborhood, launched in 2017, is going gangbusters. (Also currently building here is Homes by Towne.) Pulte won’t divulge exact numbers, but “our sales are 135 percent over last year,” says Josh Graeve, vice president of sales for the Southwest Florida market. Shoreview single-family homes are marketed from the $700,000s to $1.5 million.

The Camelot model at Waterside

The Camelot model at Waterside

Shoreview is one of the closest communities to the soon-to-open Waterside Place town center. Located on a 36-acre peninsula, Waterside Place will have shops, restaurants, office space and the future Players Centre for Performing Arts. A regular farmers market and community events are planned. Two rental projects, the Botanic Waterside apartments and Waterside Place townhomes, are almost at capacity within months of completion, says a Lakewood Ranch spokesman. “Our residents are very excited about the ability to walk, drive a golf cart or ride a bicycle to Waterside Place,” says Graeve.
And beyond Waterside, Lakewood Ranch continues to sizzle. Two new villages, Star Farms and Sweetwater, with a combined 3,000 planned residences, will be under construction by the end of 2021, joining the 21 villages that already encompass the master-planned community.