Posted: May 27, 2020
Key West Real Estate All Hands on Deck - Part III

Twice in less than three years, Monroe County, aka the Florida Keys, has rightfully closed itself to the outside world except for essential services. First time, to repair itself physically from the localized yet gutbusting effects of Hurricane Irma and now second, from the more pervasive mind, body and pocketbook effects of Covid. In both instances, the safety and continuity of the community have come first. True, businesses and their workers are now suffering a briefly stinging setback; yet, sitting at table with loved ones is forever. Decisions have not been perfect; however, sanctuaries are saved conservatively.  How is your sanctuary?

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Is Key West a paradise?  Generations of old-timey Key West families say it is.  Retirees living here since the '60's say it is.  Hippies and gays and artists and water lovers and telecommuters and second home owners from the '70's to today say it is.  And in many ways it really is.

 

This morning I bicycled early to my favorite French coffee house (La Grinote), ate a deliciously fresh mango pastry with a hand made crust, read my WSJ over a carefully crafted cappoccino and was home, satisfied and ahead of the business world before 0830. How was your commute? 

What does it take to live in Paradise?

 

It takes Money. Whatever you got.

 

I arrived in Key West on July 4th 1983.  Me and my 1974 Norton 850 Interstate. I was a jet pilot in a squadron on the Navy base, teaching new carrier jet pilots how to become old carrier jet pilots. After six months I bought the most beat-up house in Old Town Key West. Non functional rat-holed kitchen. Disgraceful walls and floors. Well-water bathroom. Rusty roof. The 15' x 30' plastic-lined pool in the back yard was knee deep in sludge. The jungle yard! Not a leaf or palm frond had been picked up in years. I had saved 5 years to buy a house and this disaster was the best I could afford. And so ...

 

... fly, save, eat cheap, sweat, save, work a project, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Three years of no a/c, no TV, no vacations. Uncle Sam then said move on - to five international moves in a row. Refinance 30 years to 15, take no money out. And then return. Since returning; two new metal roofs, new kitchen, fourteen impact/UV windows, three new a/c, tankless water heater, scores of repairs, caulks and paint jobs and thousands of hours on the yard and now, I couldn't afford to buy my own home. At an average sold price of $800 per square foot, I couldn't buy much in Old Town Key West. 

 

I am hardly alone. This oft repeated story, performed by thousands who live in Key West and by thousands more who come from multitudes of faraway places and who have chosen some slice of Key West as a rightful reward, is why, when the creature comes collecting, Key West and the Florida Keys ban together to protect ourselves from harm.  By keeping the outside out, we can focus all of our energies on safeguarding the inside in. And focus we do!

Giving Sanctuary

 

I could not list all the businesses and charitable organizations who have gone the extra many miles to help those in need over the past few months. Innumerable donations of time, energy, food and shelter. The outpouring is genuine and open-handed. So I will spotlight just one - the Star of the Sea Foundation aka SOS Foundation.

 

The SOS Foundation was founded in 2006 as a local outreach program to provide food essentials to the working poor of Monroe County. Since April 2020, the SOS Foundation has exploded its services to provide tons and tons of dry goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, baked goods, healthy snacks, milk and juice drinks, frozen beef/pork/chicken and even fresh caught seafood to "come one come all" in Monroe County. At four locations and three days a week, every week, the SOS Foundation gives donated food and drink to everyone - no questions asked. A rotating body of 55 - 60 volunteers at each site, bag and haul and wish well to those in need. Paradise in the giving. Sanctuary for the living.

Are we There yet?

 

There will not be here soon. Beginning June 1st, road tourists will return. Air tourists will follow. Cruise ship tourists not so much. Rebounding economy? Spotty. Guesthouses and eateries yes. Retail tough. Real estate flat but will finish 2020 strong. Meanwhile what of Key West's Sanctuary?

 

Every time a US Navy ship pulls into any port there are always 1-day projects in the port community looking for volunteers. I was a junior officer on a ship that was headed to Indonesia. A senior enlisted man (E-8, Senior Chief) told me of a project he was going to and asked if I would like to join. Why not. In early light a dozen of us boarded a hand painted bus, bumped along a trail and arrived at a sanctuary not on any map.  A school, orphanage, clinic, mission, borgo kind of place. The petrol, generator and hand tools we brought were matched to local lumber. Many cinder blocks and buckets of paint later and a new wing was in place. With our fingers we ate dinner from banana leaf plates. Before departing, the head of the mission walked the Senior Chief and I to her office.  Two photos, one 15 years old and the other 5 years old of the Senior Chief and her were on the wall. I wonder if the photo of me with them is still There. I hope not.

 

Not all sanctuaries are paradise.

Conclusion

 

Now is as good a time as any to reclaim the difference between need and want. Between enough and too much.  No, don't worry, I'm not going to the dark side - from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Never. Hypocrisy soon engulfs those easy words.

 

But I do wonder why those who have no mortgage demand so much blood from their tenants. Is there no moral suasion? Turning the coin over, when the Covid went off, was there really no choice but desparation?. From my 2nd Navy check onward the first $100, minimum, went to a savings or investment program.  Don't Key Westers do that?

 

I am very optimistic of a full recovery in Key West real estate. The foundation of 2020 real estate is much more sound than the real estate crisis of 15 years ago, due in large part to the skills of non-Key Westers to save, invest and buy $800 per square foot real estate. I am cautiously optimistic of the desire of Key Westers' on both sides of the coin to prepare themselves for when, not if, the next dead bat hits the fan. Howsoever, because we live together, the creature will be flushed out.

 

The best sanctuary is paradise kept.

 

If you have any comments or questions, please contact me here.

 

Good luck!