Luxury Home

By Carol Tisch October 1, 2010

Follow Your Dream


When it comes to water lifestyles, Sarasota reigns, not just in Florida but arguably anywhere in the world. What sets us apart is a diversity of waterfront properties—some tailored to beach lovers, others to sailors and deepwater fishermen, many for those who simply revel in water views. We offer a sense of escape that conjures childhood fantasies of endless summers on the shore. But Sarasota is real—cultural, artistic, sophisticated—an easily accessed, uniquely idyllic yet practical place to live the water vacation dream year-round.

Yes, Sarasota caters to the rich and famous with posh enclaves along the Gulf of Mexico. But a breezy coastal lifestyle can be found for a lot less cash than ever before—perhaps in an older canal home or a cottage a few blocks from the beach that needs tender loving care. Smart buyers recognize that the land is where the value lies in waterfront homes and often purchase a house for its premium site, knowing the structure will eventually be replaced with their dream home.

That’s the case with Craig and Denise Crossley, clients of real estate agent Linda Roe Dickinson of Michael Saunders & Company. “Our first home in the area was a rental at Aquarius Club, a condominium on Longboat Key,” says Craig Crossley, owner of CrossCurrent Marine, which he relocated to Sarasota from Rhode Island. “We wanted to get a feel for the area and to see if the business would work here.”

Response to the boats, which are tailored to Sarasota’s waters, has been so positive that Crossley says his family is here to stay. In fact, Dickinson recently sold the Crossleys a modern house with lots of glass and coveted boat dockage on Cocoanut Bayou. After Christmas, they’ll replace it with their custom dream home and a larger dock customized for their waterfront lifestyle.

 “They are enjoying living on the water more than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Dickinson says. “They own boats, he sells boats. They have every toy known to mankind for water play—a kayak, canoe, paddle boards—plus there’s a private beach in the community which they canoe to for sunsets and cocktails.”  

Dickinson, who holds this year’s record waterfront sale—an 8,800-square-foot estate with companion guest residence on Westway Drive in Lido Shores for $8.4 million—says she always queries potential buyers to determine what’s most important to them about being on the water.

The idea is to hone in on beach vs. intracoastal, canal, river or lake properties. “We ask what type of view they’re looking for, active or more serene,” explains Dickinson. “How important privacy is to them must be factored in. And if they’re boaters, are they looking for protected dockage—is it deepwater dockage? For some people, there’s no view more beautiful than the view of their own boat right at the dock. But if a buyer wants beach, we need to know if it is walking beach—there are all different kinds of waterfront properties here.”

Navigating the myriad choices also involves finding a community that matches the buyer’s waterfront lifestyle needs, says Sylvia Zimmerman, a broker with Prudential Palms Realty. That was the case for a couple to whom she sold a home on Lido Shores four years ago. “They had great dockage and were living the boating lifestyle with jet skis and the works. They were very happy, but decided to trade up to a larger home with protected dockage on Bird Key,” she recalls. The pair snagged a 3,665-square-foot home on a 30,000-square-foot Bird Key lot that was originally listed at $2,995,000 for $2.3 million. “That’s an excellent price for a property with protected boating water, over 240 feet of seawall and fabulous bay views to downtown Sarasota,” says Zimmerman, whose clients plan to custom-build the home of their dreams, including a larger dock, on the property (which was in fact marketed as a potential tear-down).

Lynn Robbins, a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker, says you can find great waterfront buys for under a million dollars on the canal streets of Siesta Key and Longboat Key. “They’re some of the best values I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been selling Sarasota real estate since 1972,” she reports, pointing to a charming one-bedroom, one-bath cottage listed at $330,000 on a canal on Siesta Key.

“Our seller has completely remodeled the home, which is located where an old fishing camp and seafood store used to be,” says Robbins. “It’s on a waterfront lot with sailboat water and deeded beach access, and it appraised for $400,000 because the value is in the dockage.”

Other values in Robbins’ arsenal include a 1936 home and guest cottage in Nokomis listed at $899,000 with deepwater dockage and bay and harbor views, and two prime lots five minutes from downtown in prestigious Whitakers Landing near Sarasota Bay. Each lot is priced at $475,000 and includes its own dock across the street on a deep canal.  

Whatever the price tag, buyers are not just looking for a deal. “They’re looking for a steal of a deal,” reports Prudential’s Zimmerman. “Buyers want properties at prices that will insulate them from another downturn in the economy; they want to shield themselves from any loss at all, if that’s possible—and they’re doing their homework.”

According to Robbins, you can now snag deals in condos from Sarasota to Palmetto. She just sold a two-bedroom, two-bath unit on Golden Gate Point with views across Sarasota Bay for under $400,000. A couple who recently purchased a three-bedroom penthouse with den and two-car garage in Bel Mare at Riviera Dunes in Palmetto got a “steal” realtors are buzzing about. At 3,800 square feet on the 15th floor, their condo offers fabulous water views. “It was listed at $2 million and then dropped to $1.5 million,” Robbins says. “My clients got it for under $800,000, with all the amenities of the resort and yacht club.”

Whether single-family home or condominium, the most expensive property is walking beach, says Dickinson of Michael Saunders. “Walking beach is No. 1; after that is bayfront with big water views,” she says. But Dickinson cautions: “You have to absolutely separate single-family homes from condominiums as far as pricing—which varies as to whether you have a Gulf view, garden, bay view or sometimes a golf course view. What’s more, condos don’t typically offer all the intricacies of boating water. Once in a while they do, like La Bellasara on Golden Gate Point, which has big bay views and city views and also private deepwater docks. That’s a very rare combination.” That combination comes at a price: Units in the five-year-old building start at 3,135 square feet in the low $2 millions, and climb to $6.85 million for a 6,600-square-foot current listing.

Right now tremendous values (and options) exist for buyers looking to snare a condo in the $1-million- to $2-million-dollar range. Zimmerman is currently listing a direct Gulf-front three-bedroom, three-bath penthouse in Longboat Key Towers at $1,995,000. “And that’s the asking price,” she declares. “A few years ago a front-to-back unit here with views of the Gulf and Sarasota Bay would have sold for $2.4 million or higher.”

Though prices fluctuate to meet the market, what remains constant—and apparently recession-proof—is the appeal of waterfront living. “The demand for Sarasota waterfront properties is ongoing, perpetual and I hope everlasting,” Linda Dickinson says.

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