Archives April, 2009

Lakewood Ranch: Home On The Range

It straddles Manatee and Sarasota Counties; and borders on miraculous.  That it has developed so beautifully, let alone in such (seemingly) short order, is true testament to the developer’s determination to do things right.  Yet like so many other good things that suddenly explode onto the scene, Lakewood Ranch took years of careful planning and flawless execution to become an overnight sensation.

However magnificent it is today, one recalls the early Lakewood Ranch—such as it existed in the late 1990’s—with a healthy dose of skepticism.  At first blush it appeared to be little more than a raw chunk of the sandy 28,000-acre tract that Milwaukee’s Uihlein family (think Schlitz Brewery) purchased in 1922—for $2 dollars an acre.  As a prospective home buyer, you had to reconcile what you were actually seeing (or not seeing) with the developer’s vision of how the community’s various components would eventually come together to create a brand new town.  It required a major leap of faith.

Fortunately the developer—Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Inc.—was truly focused on creating the ideal new hometown; carved from nature, yet completely respectful of the vital role that nature would play in its acceptance and livability.   Residents would be privy to a balanced lifestyle where they could live, work, play, raise a family, worship and shop—without ever having to depart the community’s gorgeous natural environs.  At first the new community was called Cypress Banks, but a marketing firm came up with a more memorable name and the new community was re-christened Lakewood Ranch.

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Up to $8,000 Tax Credit for Homebuyers

EDITOR’S NOTE: Congress Extends $8,000 Tax Credit – For more information, view our updated Blog HERE.

Congress Enacts Home Buyer Tax Credit

First-time home buyers purchasing a principal residence on or after January 1, 2009, and before December 1, 2009, are eligible for a tax credit of up to $8,000. Unlike the tax credit enacted in 2008, the tax credit does not have to be paid back, providing the homebuyer keeps the property for at least 36 months and resides in the home.

The tax credit is not a downpayment, but it could be used toward a downpayment for those first-time homebuyers who plan ahead.

Frequently Asked Questions on the $8,000 Tax Credit*:

1. Who is eligible to claim the tax credit?
First-time home buyers purchasing a new home or resale are eligible for the tax credit. To qualify, the home purchase must occur on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009.

2. What defines a first-time home buyer?
In this context, a “first-time home buyer” is one who has not owned a principal residence during the three-year period prior to the purchase. For married taxpayers, the law tests the homeownership history of both the home buyer and his/her spouse. Ownership of a vacation home or rental property not used as a principal residence does not disqualify a buyer as a first-time home buyer.

3. What types of homes will qualify for the tax credit?
Any home used as a principal residence will qualify for the credit. The definition of principal residence is identical to the one used to determine whether you may qualify for the $250,000 / $500,000 capital gain tax exclusion for principal residences.

4.  How is the amount of the tax credit determined?
The tax credit is equal to 10 percent of the home’s purchase price up to a maximum of $8,000.

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Venice: A Town With A Plan

If you can’t quite put your finger on what gives Venice its innate sense of beauty, order, community and connectedness; you might be surprised to learn it was all planned that way from day one—back in the 1920’s.  Even now the most forward-thinking urban planners—hoping to leave their mark on the field the way John Nolen did—visit Venice to study one of his greatest successes.  What Nolen—America’s pre-eminent city planner of his day—accomplished in his 1925 plan for the City of Venice is still considered a paragon of modern planning.  Curiously enough, while today’s New Urbanism movement offers post-modern solutions to the problems created by suburban sprawl after World War II, Nolen’s visionary plan for Venice seemed to anticipate the problem long before it could even be imagined.

After working on a variety of city, town and neighborhood plans throughout Florida—including plans for Clearwater, Sarasota, and West Palm Beach—Nolen found in Venice “an opportunity better…than any other in Florida to apply the most advanced and practical ideas of regional planning.”  His success was such that people from around the country jumped at the chance to live in Florida’s magnificent new “City on the Gulf”—so called because Venice is one of the few municipalities on the Gulf Coast that occupies a coastal area with no barrier island separating the city from its nearby beaches.

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Inventories of Properties In Southwest Florida Drop to Lowest Levels In 39 Months

ALL INDICATORS POINT TO A MARKET ON THE MEND

“It’s an absolute perfect storm from a buyer’s point-of-view,” said Michael Saunders, founder and CEO of Michael Saunders & Company, in explaining the market dynamics behind the substantial uptick in sales and pending sales that continued unabated through March; to say nothing of the corresponding decline in available inventories, as measured by TRENDGRAPHIX for its latest report on monthly sales within the region’s MLS.

“Several key fronts have merged to cause buyers to shrug off fear, cast indecision aside; and respond to the notion that right now is the best time to buy properties since the turn of the century.” Saunders explains. “In addition to the lowest prices in recent memory, interest rates are presently hovering around 4.78 percent, lenders are back in their comfort zone lending again; and buyers who haven’t owned a home in three years are apt to qualify for a first-time homebuyer tax credit—of up to $8,000—as long as they purchase by December 1.  In other words, the bottom that everyone has been looking for is beginning to form; and the smart money is back to considering prime location even as it searches for unprecedented values.  The best-priced opportunities in the choicest locations are selling first and fast.”

TRENDGRAPHIX’s latest report for March—just released—shows that months of inventory based on closed sale transactions have dropped to their lowest levels in over 39 months according to the latest MLS data for March, 2009. In the Tri-County region of Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties, inventories are at their lowest since December 2005.

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Michael’s Web

It was extremely gratifying—to say the least—to learn that Michael Saunders & Company took home two of the top individual honors at this year’s Leading Real Estate Companies of the World conference, held two weeks ago in Scottsdale, AZ.  Company founder and CEO, Michael Saunders—along with the company’s Director of Relocation and Referral Services, Joan Erni—were recipients of the 2009 Chairman’s Service Award, in recognition of the many important contributions each has made to the Chicago-based organization.  Leading Real Estate Companies of the World is a worldwide real estate network comprised of nearly 700 of the best-known local and regional real estate firms in the U.S.—with more than 5,500 offices and 170,000 sales associates in the United States—and 38 countries abroad.   From hundreds of worthy and potential honorees representing hundreds of the world’s best firms, only five people were thus honored this year.  Two of them were from Michael Saunders & Company.

But the night was still young. Before it would wrap-up, the company would return to the podium several more times to claim additional awards, each related in one way or another to how we market properties for our clients.  While we are certainly honored to have won each of these prestigious accolades, by far the award that makes the most difference to our clients and customers is the one labeled:  Best Web Site.

In real estate’s new world order, upwards of 84% of buyers launch, facilitate and otherwise refine their search for properties by making frequent use of the Internet. There—unshackled from the limitations of the print media—they can pour over many more photos of any given property, compare more of its pertinent details with similarly-priced properties; and quite often enjoy a complete virtual tour.  In short, the Internet vastly improves their ability to make wise, well-informed and quick decisions.  That’s why it is of utmost importance to make sure the company you select to sell your home can demonstrate a mastery of the Web that is second to no other in your market area.

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Louise Would Be Pleased

It seems the more things change the more they stay the same; to wit, Sarasota’s enduring love of living in neighborhoods west of the Trail.  (West of Route 41—Tamiami Trail—that is, for those just becoming familiar with the city’s grid)

Neighborhoods including Oyster Bay, Cherokee Park, McClellan Park and Harbor Acres—in roughly the area west of Route 41, between Mound Street (to the north) and Field Road (to the south)—are considered by many to be mainland Sarasota’s gold standard, residentially speaking.  Walk-able, bike-able—and for many yacht-able and kayak-able—these long-established canal and waterfront neighborhoods are prized not just for their mature natural beauty but also for being in the middle of everything that makes the city tick—its best stores and boutiques, bars and nightclubs, restaurants and gourmet food markets; to say nothing of its top-rated schools and hospital (and surrounding doctors’ offices) and, of course its supremely gorgeous bay front.  Once considered remote from downtown Sarasota (these neighborhoods were, after all, its earliest suburbs) they found themselves in the thick of things once the city began to spread out.

Living West-of-Trail hasn’t always been the ideal it is today.  As automobiles became more available and easier to afford; and gas was cheap and plentiful, migrating to newer, more distant suburbs became the new normal. Suddenly it was a sign of upward mobility to live further away from town.  Just as suddenly, areas west of Tamiami Trail were considered passé.  Families, newly empowered to motor off in search of greener pastures, were demanding new homes on more spacious lots with plenty of room to grow and spread out—not to mention an attached garage (or two) to house their newest lifestyle accessory.

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