Sarasota's residents may be significantly better educated, more affluent and more likely to own homes than other Floridians, but it doesn't take a genius to realize why buying a house in Sarasota is the best thing you can do for yourself.
With powdery beaches, lush parks and gorgeous tropical foliage, our little city is rich in natural beauty and leisure amenities. We also boast excellent schools and a wealth of options for the culturally inclined, including our very own opera, ballet and symphony.
Whether you're looking for that perfect golf course address, a walk-to-city condo, or a dock your boat can call home, your residential choices in Sarasota are wide ranging.
Join us for a quick tour of some of Sarasota's best neighborhoods and see for yourself why Sarasota continues to attract new residents with a discerning eye for the finer things in life.
THE OTHER KEYS
What's not to love about white sand beaches, curious wading birds and the occasional leaping dolphin? For island living at its finest, check out Sarasota's barrier islands, each with its own personality, some more manicured and some more laid-back than others.
Longboat Key. The nation's top executives are obviously a smart group of people; many of them chose to retire on Longboat Key, a 12-mile stretch of luxurious beach-to-bay resort living. From the multimillion-dollar condominiums of the pristine Longboat Key Club on the south end to the mix of bungalows, ranch houses, and low-rise condos of the north end's laid-back Village, the island has all the ingredients of a world-class tropical resort. The main boulevard, Gulf of Mexico Drive, is lined with hot pink oleanders and banyan trees, and bordered by a popular bike and jogging trail. The boulevard is a gateway to stunning communities, internationally renowned resorts that are a destination for the rich and famous, world-class restaurants and fashionable boutiques.
A few years ago, Money Magazine singled out the community as one of America's wealthiest zip codes, and real estate values bear that out. Recent MLS listings ranged from $200,000, for condominiums in low- and mid-rise complexes built in the 1970s, to $3.5 to $5.5 million for new beachfront condos of 2,900 to 4,500 square feet. Who's buying? According to Steve Kepecz of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, "baby boomers who are retiring early, and a very, very strong European clientele from Britain, Germany, the Czech Republic and Hungary who are drawn to us because of our cultural riches."
St. Armands, Lido Key and Lido Shores
St. Armands is a lovely, eclectic neighborhood that revolves around the world-famous shopping destination of St. Armands Circle. Beautiful Lido Beach and the Circle's terrific restaurants and upscale boutiques are just a short stroll or bike ride away. Originally platted by the most colorful developer in the history of Sarasota, circus magnate John Ringling, St. Armands Circle retains a good bit of his razzle-dazzle. On a Saturday night, tourists line up outside the ice cream shops, and Harley-hopping lawyers take over the corner coffeehouse. Older canalfront homes on the quiet, side streets are being snapped up for $1 million for the land value alone. Four new beachfront projects on neighboring Lido Key, including one being built by the Ritz-Carlton, will soon add more than 200 luxury condos to the residential mix. And nearby Lido Shores boasted last fall's most expensive MLS listing: $16 million for a Gulf-front single-family palace.
Located just before you hop on the Ringling Causeway Bridge to head downtown, Bird Key is a boater's paradise with 506 residences-half of them canal- and bayfront, half of them off the water. Social life revolves around the recently renovated Bird Key Yacht Club, where the residents, a mix of executives, physicians, recently retired baby boomers, and at least one rock and roll superstar, gather. Recent MLS listings ranged from $500,000 to $600,000 for non-waterfront homes to $1 million and way beyond for waterfront listings.
With sugar-white sands and its surfer-dude-cool Village, outdoor eateries, funky shops and ice cream stands, Siesta Key is the most family-oriented of the area's barrier islands. Fishermen line the Siesta Key Bridge on weekends and colorful tropical foliage spills onto Higel Avenue, making life here feel like a permanent vacation. Residential options range from multimillion-dollar waterfront mansions hidden behind private walls to mid-century modern houses to the older mid-rise condominiums on the island's south end. More Siesta Key homes are being remodeled than torn down.
Recent single-family home listings ranged from $314,900 off the water to $6.5 million for a Gulf-front mansion. Condo listings start at $184,900 for a one-bedroom, one-bath off the beach, to $3.2 million for a 3,071-square-foot luxury Gulf-front unit under construction in the new Seagrove complex.
Casey Key and Manasota Key
With just 380 homes on the eight-plus-mile island, Casey Key retains some of its old-money atmosphere from the days of modest family compounds for the rich and private tucked behind screens of seagrapes and bougainvillea. Because Casey Key is long and narrow, many of these properties stretch from Gulf to bay, bisected only by winding, sand-swept Casey Key Road. Now, new construction leans toward monumental residences; two houses over 20,000 square feet in size were built in 2003.
"People move to Casey Key for one reason: Except for a couple of small hotels, it's all zoned single-family residential," says Tom Stone of Michael Saunders & Company, himself a former longtime resident of the island. "Buyers know there's not going to be a high-rise sitting next to them." Recent MLS listings ranged from $795,000 for a small, non-waterfront single-family home (almost extinct on this exclusive barrier island) to $6.875 million.
It's not too late to find vacant Gulf-front and bayfront lots on Manasota Key to the south of Casey Key, a 7.5-mile sliver of land straddling Sarasota and Charlotte counties. Dense tree canopies give the single-family homes on the Sarasota County side a private island feeling, while the Charlotte County side boasts bike trails and some low-rise condominiums and commercial developments. Prices start at $1.25 million on the Gulf and $650,000 on the bay. "Now that the vacant lots are over a million bucks, people are spending a commensurate amount on the structures," says David Lipstein of Manasota Realty. "Where a few years ago they were building two- or three-bedroom cottages, now they're building six- to eight-bedroom palaces." The average Gulf-front home last year sold for $2 to $2.5 million and the average bayfront home sold for $1.25 to $1.5 million.
With Sarasota Bay tickling her feet, Sarasota may be the only small city in the state where you can boat, dine at world-class restaurants, visit the opera, stroll in the botanical garden or take in some jazz at a bookstore, all within walking distance of your home. Downtown boasts a wealth of condominium options, from the ribbon of 1970s-era mid-rises that ring Gulf Stream Avenue to the ultra- deluxe Residences at the Ritz-Carlton. An explosion of high-end condominium construction over the past six years has yielded more than 1,000 new housing units, with plans in place for nearly 20 new projects that, when built out, will more than triple that number. Downtown condo prices continue to climb, too; current listings range from the mid $100,000s for the oldest, smallest units to $5.75 million, and they're being snapped up by former barrier island dwellers, new empty nesters and young professionals looking for urban vibrancy.
Just south of the downtown condos are the charming single-family downtown neighborhoods of Laurel Park and Towles Court. Young professional families and empty nesters have bought and freshened up Laurel Park's Craftsman bungalows and 1920s-era Mediterranean Revival cottages, and they formed an active residents association to build a small neighborhood park.
There's new construction, too. Last summer, Affinity Homes demolished some smaller homes here and is building eight to 10 modern Med Revs listed from $450,000 to the high $600,000s. On Morrill Street, 19 high-end townhomes will be built this year. Nearby Towles Court has transformed into a thriving artists' colony with galleries and coffeehouses in brightly painted Cracker-style cottages. Bargain hunters in both neighborhoods are a couple of years too late; late last fall there wasn't a single property on the market. Still interested in the urban life? Try up-and-coming Gillespie Park, north of Fruitville Road, where old bungalows around the historic 10-acre park are being rehabbed and sold to young professionals.
The Museum Area
One of the most desirable parts of town is the museum area, home to Indian Beach and Sapphire Shores, two of the town's oldest bayfront neighborhoods. The thriving cultural district claims the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, FSU Center for the Performing Arts (home of the Asolo Theatre Company and Sarasota Ballet), New College of Florida and a branch of the University of South Florida. Tree-lined streets wind between meticulously renovated estates and modest Craftsman-era bungalows. Some homes along Sarasota Bay in the museum area are Sarasota's most expensive (one is on the market for $13.75 million); but even middle-of-the-road, non-waterfront houses here start at $200,000. The newest addition to the residential mix will be 23 modern pavilion-type homes of The Houses of Indian Beach. Homesites, starting in the $200,000s, will be marketed this winter.
WEST OF TRAIL
With an eclectic mix of architectural styles, mature landscaping, excellent schools and convenient proximity to downtown and Sarasota Bay, west of Trail neighborhoods exude comfortable character. Early in the morning and on weekends, sidewalks fill with dog walkers and joggers pushing baby strollers. "This area has everything you might want, and of course the prices reflect it," says Raul Elizalde of Michael Saunders & Company. "Median prices in Area 41 (bounded by Mound Street to the north and Bay Road to the south, all west of U.S. 41) are 70 percent higher than the rest of Sarasota County."
Harbor Acres and Paradise Shores
Ten years ago, Harbor Acres consisted of modest '50s and '60s-era single-family canal and bayfront homes. Today, grand estates in the multi-million-dollar range have risen in their places. Many Sarasota physicians live here, a stone's throw from work at nearby Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Recent MLS listings ranged from $569,000 for a home directly on Orange Avenue to $3.99 million for a more private waterfront estate.
It's tough buying a house on the "bird" streets of Paradise Shores (Sandpiper, Sparrow, Mallard, Blue Heron). Platted in 1953 and just south of Harbor Acres, Paradise Shores' mostly bayfront executive homes are quiet and conservative and don't turn over often; people tend to buy here and stay. In the last quarter of 2003, there was just one MLS listing at $475,000.
Behind Sarasota Memorial Hospital on Osprey Avenue, Southside Village has it all: a popular gourmet food market, home décor stores, trendy boutiques, sidewalk tables at restaurants and taverns. The neighborhoods around Southside Village-Bungalow Hill to the north and the "flower" streets of Clematis, Wisteria, Hibiscus, Oleander, Bougainvillea and so forth to the south-are an unpretentious mix of '50s-era ranches, Spanish style and Craftsman bungalows.
Historic McClellan Park boasts winding streets, mature oaks and a mix of Craftsman bungalows, Spanish style homes and even Tudor Revivals, most of them built between the 1920s and 1950s. At the center of the small neighborhood is the McClellan Park School, now called School in the Park, which was built in 1915 on the site of an ancient Indian mound. Last fall, an older McClellan Park home on three-quarters of an acre was listed at $1.2 million.
Cherokee Park, Cherokee Lodge and Bayview Heights
Bounded by Osprey Avenue and Sarasota Bay, Cherokee Park and Cherokee Lodge lure buyers with treed boulevards, bigger houses and oversized lots. Families also like its closeness to Southside Elementary School. Seven Cherokee Park homes sold in 2003, from $435,000 to the low $800,000s. In Cherokee Lodge, two waterfront homes were under contract, listed at $1.585 million and $1.499 million. Charming neighboring Bayview Heights boasts large oaks and brick streets that gently slope to the bay. In late 2003, there were two MLS listings at $515,000 and $558,500.
Home sales have tripled in the past three years in Granada, a lovely and not-so-quiet anymore neighborhood bordered by Siesta Drive to the north and Bay Road to the south. Home prices are reaching new heights; recent MLS listings ranged from $295,000 for a cottage offered as-is to $745,000 pre-construction price for a new Key-West-style home to be built on the lot.
THE SOUTH SIDE
Oyster Bay and The Landings
South of Bee Ridge Road, still west of the Trail, are the lovely established neighborhoods of Oyster Bay and The Landings. Leafy Oyster Bay is home to many of Sarasota's longtime community leaders. "The trees are beautiful, the lots are big, the houses are uniformly attractive, and it has a less glitzy feel that appeals to a lot of people," says Lois Bennett, of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate.
Recent MLS listings ranged from $479,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bath single-family home to $1.5 million for a large home on the canal that adjoins Sarasota Bay. But prices reach skyward for direct bayfront residences; late last fall a sale-pending five-bedroom, six-and-a-half-bath manse was listed at $4.295 million.
Developed in the early 1980s, The Landings is the area's first in-town gated community and has a mix of large executive homes on well-kept lots, villas on quiet cul-de-sacs and attractive mid-rise condos, peopled by families and active retirees. One of its main attractions is its popular tennis club. "It's very safe for children, they can ride their bicycles anywhere, the gate is strict, and the homes are uniformly nice," says Bennett. Recent MLS listings ranged from $520,000 for a single-family non-waterfront home with pool to $3.8 million for a rare direct bayfront residence.
Coral Cove and South Point Shores
And further south of Stickney Point Road along the bayfront, new homes are springing up in Coral Cove and South Point Shores among the older suburban ranch-style ones in these adjoining neighborhoods of 250-plus waterfront and non-waterfront residences. Land values alone have more than doubled in the past several years; canalfront homes that might have sold for $350,000 eight years ago are selling today for $850,000 to $950,000, and the houses are being torn down to build new ones. Last year, home sales ranged from $350,000 for a non-waterfront home to $4 million for a newer bayfront residence.
Southbay Yacht and Racquet Club
On the bay between Sarasota and Venice, Southbay offers affordable homes and a community marina that offers deepwater boating. Few of the 350 custom homes are waterfront, but all homeowners can take advantage of the neighborhood marina with 172 protected slips, the clubhouse with a pool and lighted tennis courts; and the active power- and sailboat clubs .Last year, the lowest sale was $300,000 for a 2,000-square-foot suburban ranch home built in 1981; the highest was $1.3 million for direct bayfront. Buyers are "retirees for whom the boat is the center of their life, tennis players, and a resurgence of younger people because it's close to Pine View [a public magnet school for the academically gifted]," says Candy Swick, of Candy Swick & Company.
EAST OF THE TRAIL
East of Tamiami Trail, families flock to the established neighborhoods of The Lakes, Hidden Oaks, Old Forest Lakes, Woodland Park and Sherwood Forest for the good schools, quiet, bicycle-friendly streets and well-maintained homes. Easy access to I-75 and Fruitville Road and the shopping and restaurants that have developed around them are also pluses.
"These are the most densely vegetated neighborhoods," says Nancy Falkenstein, of Re/Max Properties. "When we get people who say they have to have a lot of trees, that's what we show them."
Except for Old Forest Lakes and Sherwood Forest, which were developed in the 1960s, these neighborhoods were built in the 1980s, and offer that era's California contemporary style architecture: vaulted ceilings, wood and brick exteriors. The Lakes has its own recreation center, fitness center, pool, tennis court, and shady walking paths around the small namesake lakes. Current resales are in the upper $200s to upper $300s range.
Hidden Oaks, distinguished by its estate-sized one- and two-acre, heavily treed lots, features homes from the low $400,000s to $795,000 for a five-bedroom, two-bath on two acres. Late last fall, there was just one active MLS listing in sought-after Old Forest Lakes: $439,900 for a three-quarter--acre lakefront residence.
Southgate and Gulf Gate
Southgate and Gulf Gate are great family neighborhoods of unpretentious homes built from the late 1950s through the 1970s, centrally located just east of the Tamiami Trail. Easy access to shopping, libraries, the beaches and downtown Sarasota, good neighborhood schools and lots of fruit trees are the draws. The ranch-style architecture-concrete and stucco exteriors, terrazzo floors, screened-in Florida rooms-are becoming sought after again by the creative crowd, and current MLS listings range from $120,000 to $500,000.
For those seeking an active life in beautiful, well-cared-for surroundings, one of Sarasota's numerous country clubs could be the best bet. Besides great golfing at your doorstep, most offer tennis, swimming, fitness centers and a wealth of social events. Most communities offer an attractive mix of condominiums, maintenance-free villas and single-family homes. Residential real estate choices are bountiful in such fine golf course communities as Bent Tree, the Country Club of Sarasota, Foxfire, Laurel Oak Estates, Misty Creek, Oak Ford and Serenoa Lakes.
The matriarch of master-planned communities is The Meadows, located in northeast Sarasota County. Developed 28 years ago off 17th Street and Honore Avenue The Meadows now boasts 3,400 homes, 700 of them single-family, and another 2,700 garden apartments, villas and townhomes. The Meadows Country Club is undergoing a $2-million renovation of its golf course and clubhouse; the tennis club was redone last year.
Meadows residents run the popular "Meadows U," teaching classes in everything from knitting to photography; and attend winter concerts and big Meadows-wide garage sale each fall. The Meadows' polling precinct has the highest voting percentage of any in Sarasota County. "It's a very, very, very close community and an active one," says Paul Sullivan, broker/manager with ERA Mount Vernon Realty, Inc., himself a 20-year resident. "But people can take it at any speed they want."
Recent listings ranged from $120,000 to $140,000 for garden apartments; $150,000 to $180,000 for one-car villas and townhomes; and $190,000 to $250,000 for the largest two-car villas (the better the golf course view, the pricier, of course). Single-family home listings ranged from $200,000 to the $700,000s.
A gracious, very private 1,000-plus-acre country club community midway between Sarasota and Venice, The Oaks has a rich history as the former winter estate of Chicago socialite Bertha Honore Palmer. Nature lovers will appreciate the 10-acre bald eagle sanctuary and proximity to nearby Historic Spanish Point and Oscar Scherer State Park. West of Tamiami Trail are classic Georgian-style custom homes on heavily wooded properties, some directly on Sarasota Bay. On the east side is the grand Oaks Country Club, with championship golf, tennis, pool complex and croquet.
Recent single-family MLS listings ranged from $340,000 to $3.4 million for a five-bedroom French country estate on 1.25 acres. At The Oaks Preserve, the 10-story Meridian Tower IV is under construction; the last tower of its kind in the development, pre-construction residences are being offered from the low $400,000s to more than $1.6 million.
A sweep of 10,000 acres south of Clark Road and east of Tamiami Trail comprises Palmer Ranch, Sarasota's largest master-planned community. With nearly 30 different neighborhoods offering everything from zero-lot line villas to luxury golf-view estates, nature trails and recreational centers, and two championship golf courses, there's something for everybody here. Families appreciate the excellent school district, and the proximity to shopping, movie theaters, the beaches and the county's newest YMCA, with a very popular aquatic center.
Some of the newest developments here include the Enclave at Silver Oak, with 21 maintenance-free homes in Spanish-Mediterranean styles; the single-family Hamptons and Stonebridge, Botanica and Pinestone condominiums; the luxury estate neighborhood of Silver Oak; and The Glenridge on Palmer Ranch, a continuing care community for seniors.
Friendly little Venice sits in south Sarasota County, offering residents hours of diversion at the small shops and restaurants flanking wide, palm-lined Venice Avenue and nearby Venice Little Theatre and Venice Art Center. Within walking distance of the compact downtown shopping district are historic 1920s-era Mediterranean Revival estates surrounded by more modest single-family homes. A few blocks west leads you directly to the Gulf of Mexico and Venice Beach, a favorite spot to comb for shark's teeth.
Carol and Chuck Palmeri, of Prudential Palms Realty, late last year listed and sold the highest-priced home on the Isle of Venice: $2.6 million for a 4,200-square-foot beachfront residence. New two-bedroom condos with beach views are listed in the $250,000 range.
Surrounding south Sarasota County golf course communities offer a wide range of suburban ranch homes and villas with vista views. Long-established communities such as Jacaranda Country Club, Plantation Golf & Country Club, Waterford Golf Club, Mission Valley Golf & Country Club, Calusa Lakes, Capri Isles, Englewood's Boca Royale Golf & Country Club and Pelican Pointe Golf & Country Club (now selling its final phase of single-family homes from the $300,000s to the $700,000s) have been joined by posh newcomer Venetian Golf & River Club, offering homes from the $170,000s to more than $600,000.
Families and value-conscious retirees are drawn to the affordable subdivisions of one of Florida's fastest-growing cities and the fifth largest in land area, North Port. Young homeowners, most of whom commute to work in Sarasota and Fort Myers, can find new three-bedroom, two-bath homes from $100,000 to $150,000. Neighborhood parks, a multitude of youth programs, good elementary schools and a long-awaited high school that opened last year are turning North Port into a real community. Even the cultural amenities are developing; the North Port Performing Arts Association presents a concert subscription series in the new high school's theater.
Three major new golf course communities-Bobcat Trail, Heron Creek and Sabal Trace-offer a mix of residential product: two-bedroom villas in the mid $150,00s, patio homes from the mid $200,000s to $300,000s, and single-family homes all the way up to $700,000 and $800,000.
Situated just east of I-75 between S.R. 70 and the Sarasota County line is one of the region's most successful master-planned communities, Lakewood Ranch. Residents embody the development's "live, work, learn and play" philosophy by taking advantage of the public and private golf courses, a recently expanded athletic club and tennis center, shops, restaurants, and even a polo club. Nature trails connect a series of neighborhood parks; Lake Uihlein is a haven for water birds. Neighborhood schools are excellent. And developers have announced plans for a $46-million sports and entertainment arena that will house a minor league hockey team. "It provides a lifestyle for all ages and all walks of life," says Jim Soda of Prudential Palms Realty, himself an enthusiastic Lakewood Rancher.
Four thousand residences (out of an eventual 6,500) are clustered in five villages-Edgewater, Greenbrook, River Walk, Summerfield and The Country Club. There's every sort of residential style: condominiums, villas and single-family residences ranging from the low $200,000 for condos and smaller villas, to more than $3 million for the most opulent single-family custom homes in The Country Club.
"Buyers are coming from across the country, California, the Midwest, New York, and they're coming from Sarasota and Bradenton, too," says Soda. "It's very easy to get to know people, with more than 70 organizations-from Rotary to a photo club to the duffers, the women's tennis league, book clubs, mom's groups, gourmet clubs. You can choose to participate as much or as little as you want."
Up next for Lakewood Ranch is an upscale shopping district called Main Street to be built on the shore of Lake Uihlein, across the boulevard from the hospital that's under construction, and adjacent to a new cluster of condominiums that breaks ground this winter.
At University Parkway and Honore Avenue, 400 residences are planned for developer Pat Neal's new gated, master-planned community of University Place. The architecture is a gracious Southern style that evokes old Charleston, S.C. Four local builders are already at work here, offering homes priced from the low $200,000s to the low $400,000s. Two recreation and fitness centers, a community pool and nature trails are in the mix.
Neal is also developer of neighboring University Park Country Club, whose beautiful, heavily wooded winding main drive leads to an immaculately maintained 27-hole, four-star rated championship golf course, private tennis center and Braden River nature and fitness trail. The final maintenance-free single-family neighborhood, The Boltons, is now open; prices start in the high $300,000s. Another custom single-family neighborhood will be under way in 2004. Home packages range from the high $300,000s to over $1 million.
Long-established Palm-Aire Country Club, just to the west, remains a popular option for people who love the golfing lifestyle. And neighboring Mote Ranch, along the Braden River, offers executive custom homes, a community pool, recreation pavilion, nature trail and fishing pier.