On Sunday, Sept. 9, Siesta Key realtor team Sandy and Jerry Strom sailed out of the New York harbor en route to Bermuda and turned back to glance at the fabled skyline one more time. Sandy exclaimed at the perfect view of the World Trade Center's twin towers and snapped off a roll of photographs as the sun went down. This cruise was her birthday gift from Jerry, and the pictures would be a great memento. Two days later, when the world was turned upside down, their trip was cut short and passengers taken to a Naval shipyard in Pennsylvania.
"I just wanted to get home," says Sandy. "Sarasota represents safety." And while other markets ground to a halt or at least quieted down for a time following the events of Sept. 11, Sarasota's real estate market is still chugging along. Closings are happening on schedule. Telephones are ringing in real estate offices. And most real estate experts seem to believe that Sarasota may be insulated against the financial tremors that shake foundations elsewhere.
Just days after the terrorist attacks, Sandy Strom received a referral through the Bath & Racquet Club. "A gentleman from Oregon was in town competing in a tennis tournament," she explains. "He took a look around and decided Sarasota was the place to be. Now we are working together to find his dream house in a place that affords both beauty and security. In light of all that has happened, Sarasota is now seen as something of a haven."
Marcia Salkin and Paulene Soublis of Michael Saunders & Company recently sold to two different buyers from Los Angeles, and both buyers cited security as one of their reasons for selecting Sarasota for retirement. "These buyers are professionals in their late 50s," explains Salkin. "They plan to retire in three to five years and want to live on the water in a sophisticated community that feels safe. Both are willing to leave the West Coast for those reasons." One purchased a canal-front home on Siesta Key and the other will move into a 16th-floor unit at The Renaissance.
Jack and Carlotta Wigglesworth of Sarasota certainly see Sarasota as something of a refuge. And for this couple, the term is not taken lightly. Carlotta is active on the board of the Anti-Slavery International Foundation, organized in 1830 when slavery was abolished in the British Empire and designated the oldest charity still in existence. In her work for the foundation, she has appeared before foreign embassies to plead the cases of Middle Eastern women forced to traffic in drugs and the organization is also working with woman oppressed under the Taliban. She also acts as chairman of the Friends of Venezuela, is vice-chairman of the Anglo-American Foundation and serves with the Red Cross in London.
Jack is former chairman of the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange Market and involved in free enterprise around the globe. Now retired, he called Candy Swick to sell his home on Siesta Key. He told her the couple wanted to buy a home directly on the Gulf so they can "live in the sugar sand." The Wigglesworths' Siesta Key house was listed at $1.1 million, and almost immediately Swick received an offer for the full price. But just hours later she also received a back-up offer and therefore urged Wigglesworth to counter the first offer at $120,000 more than the asking price. "Jack asked me, 'Can one do that?'" remembers Swick. "I said, 'Jack, this is free enterprise'; and he said, 'I agree with the philosophy.'" Swick's suggested counter offer was accepted and the house was sold to buyer number one.
In a separate sale, Swick made another clever suggestion. When a buyer had to back out of his contract on the home of Dr. and Mrs. Alex DeJesus because his job transfer fell through, she called the Disleys in New York and offered them an opportunity. "The Disleys are terrific clients and we understand each other," says Swick. "I told them that I had a certain house for a certain price that must close on a certain date. I had already shown them properties in Sarasota so they knew neighborhoods. We talked on my cell phone as I walked from room to room doing descriptions. Then I mailed them a video. I felt it was the right house for them." The Disleys bought the $400,000 home in Amberlea sight unseen. Their first glimpse of the property was just prior to closing the deal and Swick reports, "It was "exactly what they wanted."
E-mail helped sell a lovely Lee Wetherington home on the preserve in Lakewood Ranch's Edgewater. The $385,000 property had been listed a scant four days when Terry Eastman of Arvida Realty Services on St. Armands received an offer. But hot on that client's heels came another buyer, who offered the full price. The agent for the second buyer had taken a roll of photographs and e-mailed the pictures to his out-of-town clients, with descriptions of the physical layout and detailed explanations. The clients were so taken by the visuals they offered full price without ever actually seeing the property, and they got the house.
And sometimes, says Eastman, it is really just beautifully easy. A man recently walked into her office after shopping on St. Armands Circle and sat down to talk. He wanted a condominium with a view, he explained, and would prefer to keep the price under $200,000. Eastman showed him a unit at Sarasota Harbour and he made an offer of $182,000, which was accepted. Total time elapsed? One hour.
The opening of the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, is keeping the entire downtown crackling wih energy. Palm Avenue Walks on Friday evenings bring people out in droves, and more and more of these strollers are neighbors and residents. Barbara Ackerman of Coldwell Banker is sold on the downtown market, with several clients who are moving into the residences at the Ritz while keeping their beachfront condominiums on Longboat. "They want to experience the luxury lifestyle downtown for a season and see how it feels to walk to dinner and the theater and not fight the bridges anymore," says Ackerman. "If they like it, they will stay. If not, they can always go back to the beach." And because Ackerman believes the downtown scene is the place to be, she recently purchased property herself at the corner of Palm Avenue and Main Street. The building houses a fine arts gallery and an architectural firm.
Just across the street, Golden Gate Point is experiencing a ripple effect from downtown's excitement. Sarasota's only mainland island of sorts and one of the Ritz-Carlton's closest neighbors, Golden Gate Point offers an exciting location in the center of everything with great vistas of Sarasota Bay. One of the projects taking shape there is architect Brent Parker's Phoenix, a lavish contemporary condominium with wide-angle water views. The ultra-modern stucco and glass structure gleams white in the sunlight and catches the eye as you cross the bridge. Sleek and stylish, the Phoenix is reminiscent of architectural trend-setters on Miami's South Beach.
There are 13 total units in the building, two per each of six floors and a private penthouse on the seventh floor. Residences boast 3,800 square feet of air-conditioned living space plus spacious balconies. Finishes are high-end, with Sub-zero appliances and lots of marble and granite. The penthouse sold for $2.6 million and at this time, there is only one condominium unit remaining, priced at $1.3 million. Words like oversized, awesome and excellent were never used in advertising. These are exclamations from the buyers.
Salkin and Soublis of Michael Saunders are listing a rare bayfront beauty. The home is located at 3422 Flamingo on the north end of Siesta Key on deep, deep water. Michael Collingwood built the 5,200- square-foot residence in the grand tradition of old Florida for a savvy Siesta Key homeowner who purchased one lot, then another, then the lot adjacent to that one and so on until enough land was amassed to create a true estate. The property measures 90 x 300 feet, showcasing a home with an authentic tin roof, lovely open pool, hardwood floors, oversized great room and gracious porches from which to admire the breathtaking views. Asking price is $3,250,000.
And if you are still not convinced that Sarasota real estate sparks creativity as well as commitment, consider this. Kim Gilliland of Prudential Cascade's Siesta Key office found the perfect Gulf-front home on Big Pass for his client. The sellers happened to be colleagues Dan and Liz White of ReMax Properties. To save them a trip to town, Gilliland offered to bring the paperwork to them on a Saturday afternoon. The weather turned out to be exceptionally gorgeous that day and Gilliland decided to mix work with pleasure. He sealed the contract in a plastic bag, tucked the paperwork inside his wet suit and traveled by jet ski to the north end of Siesta Key. Clambering over rocks and dock, he located Liz entertaining company by the pool. Without ever taking off his goggles, Gilliland unzipped his jacket, produced the necessary papers and rushed off before the jet ski drifted too close to the shoreline. Speechless, onlookers gaped as he roared off into the blue-green Gulf waving good-bye. Call him Bond. James Bond. Just another thrilling episode in Sarasota real estate.