Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The New Flag of the Conch Republic

Or some Conchs call it our official "flower," since they seem to be sprouting up everywhere like our trees and bushes in the spring: real estate for sale signs.

For those of us who have been around any length of time, it's not really a new thing. We've seen other cycles, way back when, when the Conchs built houses in New Town, and sold their family homes on Simonton, Duval, and Caroline Streets.

Concrete and block houses were easier to take care of. They were closer to Winn-Dixie and Food Fair, not to mention the new Sears store, and the high school. And besides, everybody was moving out there.

Then there was the great gay influx. Not that they/we/one human family weren't here all the time, but a bunch of them did bring in a certain verve, making something out of nothing. Jimmy Russell and Peter Pell set the dye on the first "Key West Handprint Fabrics" in the dryers at Pinder's laundromat, didn't they?

Before you knew it, some of the old houses downtown actually had paint again. And they were sold and resold, always in cycles. At one time or another, the early eighties for example, fully one third of the houses in some areas in Old Town were on the market. People came and went. As some wags say, "In Key West only the actors change. The roles remain the same."

Let's face it. A lot of people made a lot of money buying, remodeling, "cream-puffing," renting, selling, "flipping," condo-converting, or whatever. If you made a lot of money, you were an expert. You could rip a wing off the goose, and it would still lay that golden egg.

Three short years ago, easy mortgage money, loose appraisal practices, and good old-fashioned All-American greed led to skyrocketing real estate prices, and for a few clever ones, some nice profits. As far as the real estate boom went, as one local banker said, "We can't see the end of it with binoculars!"

Of course some of the old-timers, who hadn't sold out and joined the massive Conch emigration to Lakeland, Ocala, and points north, clicked their tongues, and said, "Just you wait and see." Sure enough, Mother Nature, the mortgage markets, insurance companies, and politicians feeding off of our ad valorem property taxes pretty much killed the goose that was suppose to lay that golden egg.

Without further elaboration, we are now at the beginning of another cycle. Some say that if we don't get another bad hurricane this year, the real estate market will recover by next winter. (Yes, they said that last year too, but that was just wishful thinking). After all, our hole card has always been that it doesn't snow here in January. The inconceivable is finally happening: prices are actually coming down.

So, barring a depression or similar national tragedy, some real estate people are hoping for the coming "feeding frenzy." And given the past economic history of this place, there's no reason that it won't happen.

And then will everything be "all right" again?

Ay, there's the rub. More of this anon.

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