Archive for October, 2009

St. Augustine Real Estate: Haunted Houses

Friday, October 30th, 2009

by Sean Hess, broker and manager, St. Augustine Team Realty

It’s Halloween and the kids (plus some adults) are all dressed up to go door to door for candy.  Some of those homes will have unseen tenants observing from within!

There are more ghost stories in St. Augustine than you can shake a stick at, and I’ve included a few below.  Just remember this Halloween to dress the kids in bright colors and watch who they’re talking to: there’s generally more to worry about from the living than the dead.

The St. Augustine Lighthouse

The lighthouse is probably St. Augustine’s most famous landmark, haunted or otherwise.  While they were building the current light (there have been several lights at the same location going back to the first Spanish period), two daughters of the caretaker drowned while playing in a haul cart. 

The cart ran down to the water for loading supplies and the girls were playing in it when it got loose.  It rolled all the way down to the Salt Run, flipped over and pinned the girls in the water.  Now the girls supposedly haunt the place with (possibly) the ghosts of their parents.

None less than SyFy’s Ghost Hunters have filmed the place and declared it haunted after the disembodied got caught on tape talking and running up the stairs. 

If you’re a ghost you couldn’t have a nicer or prettier spot.  The Lighthouse sits in a peaceful grove of gigantic live oaks just off an anchorage filled with sailboats.  You get plenty of visitors for company, and when the big storms with the personal names come calling it’s a fortress in the wind.

You can visit the lighthouse at  When Ghost Hunters were here they also hit the Old Jail.

The St. Francis Inn

Down on St. George Street south of King is the St. Francis Inn, and it’s supposedly haunted by the ghost of a Confederate soldier and a female slave.

The soldier and the slave fell in love, the story goes.  But their relationship was soon discovered and the two were forbidden from seeing each other.  The soldier killed himself in grief, and his lover now wanders the third floor, searching for him.

Many of St. Augustine’s Bed & Breakfasts have ghost stories associate with them.  A fantastic way to see most of them (the B & B’s, not necessarily the ghosts) is the Historic Tour of Bed & Breakfasts on December 12 & 13th.  You not only get to tour all of the homes over two days, but there’s great food at each stop included in the price, and all the proceeds go to charity.  Find out more at St. Augustine Historic Inns.

The Ghost in Harry’s Upstairs Bathroom

This may be my favorite St. Augustine ghost story just because it’s so funky.

Harry’s Seafood Restaurant down in the Historic District is a great go-to place when you need to impress out-of-town visitors.  The food is great, the location is on the bayfront, and the prices aren’t bad either.

The crazy thing is that there’s a ghost in the upstairs lady’s room.  People have reported seeing a woman in a long white dress there, either out of the corner of their eye or in the mirror looking back.  Sometimes there’s the strong smell of perfume when there’s no one else there.  The ghost has even been reported to leave…directly through a closed door.

Personal Experiences

Okay, there was this house on Rhode Avenue that I used to sit open that I strongly suspect was not completely empty the few times I was there.  I used to be a deer hunter in a former life and when you walk into a forest it get’s really quiet, but after you settle in it comes to life again with animals and birds and insects.

This house on Rhode always got really quiet when you came in, and it stayed quiet, like it was holding it’s breath.  No hums, rattles or creaks.  No ambient noise of any kind.  That’s all I’m going to say.

If you want to hear some of St. Augustine’s ghost stories there are nearly as many tours as there are stories. Just wander down St. George street…you’ll have no trouble finding a tour.

Divorce and Real Estate in St. Augustine

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

by Sean, broker and manager, St. Augustine Team Realty

Divorce can be tricky when it comes to real estate. 

If you’re looking for a new place the first thing to do is get prequalified by a local mortgage broker or small local bank, that way you have a real person you can talk to.  It’s imperative that you let them know about the divorce, because any child support or alimony will affect your debt ratios and what they’ll lend.  It may even prevent you actually buying until the divorce is final, so you may be forced to rent.

If you’re on the selling side it’s tricky as well…it really depends on how amicable the split is between you and your partner.

In a case where one party wants to stay on in the house, he or she may have to take out a loan to buy out the other side.  This is assuming both sides can agree on a price and the house doesn’t have to be sold to pay off other debts.

In some cases neither side can afford to buy the house from the other.  In these cases the home is usually put on the market as the divorce is proceeding (unless there’s an order from the judge not to).  A lot of times the two sides aren’t working very well together and it’s a hard sale to accomplish.  But they usually do get done.

It’s a normal sale unless you’re the Realtor.  The Realtor, like an ambassador crossing enemy lines, has to go to each side seperately to get the signatures.  Each side vents at the Realtor about the low-down, double-crossing scoundrel on the other side.  Each side secretly suspects the Realtor is working wholely for the “other side.”  On rare occasions the parties will conflict so much the deal never gets done.

In real estate circles there’s a locally famous home on Touzet Road that went through this. 

It was a gorgeous home, almost brand new, on an acre with a view of the St. Johns. It was decorated in what I call Modern Wedding: a gigantic portrait of the wedding couple, oversized pictures of the wedding party (framed) with autographed cocktail napkins, and memorabilia from the wedding scattered around the house. Clearly this was a big deal to the bride.

As the story goes, the problem was the husband was seeing another woman.  Actually, that’s imprecise.  He was married to another woman.  It turned into the nastiest divorce.

The house was put up for sale.  There were probably ten offers on it.  I put one in myself.  Every time it got down to the wire, one of the two owners would refuse to sign the documents.  The sales failed, no one made the payments, and the house went into foreclosure.  

The moral of this story?

If you cut off your nose to spite your face it could lead to seven years bad credit.

St. Augustine Real Estate: Realtor Speak

Monday, October 26th, 2009

by Sean Hess, broker and manager

Here’s a “stunning, immaculate” post I just did on my “breathtaking” personal site that discusses that “spacious, open feeling you get” when you encounter Realtor Speak.  I hope you enjoy it!

Real Estate in St. Augustine: When Buyer Services Are NOT Free

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

by Sean, Broker and Manager

In our last post we focused on the conundrum posed by a (in our opinion) crazy buyer.  The buyer didn’t want to use a Realtor and why wouldn’t you use a Realtor when services to a buyer are normally free?

Well, sometimes buyer services aren’t free.

Some companies, definitely NOT us, charge the buyer a “transaction fee” or other bulls**t fee on the back end.  Basically the agent takes the person around and then when the buyer writes a contract he or she also signs a disclosure that says there will be a transaction fee at closing.  Most buyers just sign the paper.  The fees can range anywhere from $200 to $600 in this market.

To be fair to agents, agents hate these things.  It’s the companies that mandate them, and if the agent wants to work for the company he has to charge the transaction fee (which goes to the company only).

To be fair to the companies, there really is a good reason for them.  In a business where it’s difficult to predict income (because income is based on a percentage commission in markets where prices rise and fall), if you can at least predict unit sales you can predict income from a fixed transaction fee.

This summer the Federal government took a look at these fees and basically said you can’t charge them anymore, at least not the way they’ve been done in the past, which is on the settlement statement at closing.  The Fed said if the fee isn’t actually tied to an actual closing “thing” (like title work is), you can’t charge it. 

Some brokerages have now dropped the fee from the buyer side.  But they’re still finding a sneaky way to hit sellers with it.  In some instances it has been re-named a “broker only commission.”  Essentially it’s a second commission. And again, agents are forced to sell it.

A good Realtor friend of mine always says, “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”  Words to live by, I think.

Real Estate in St. Augustine: No Realtors Allowed

Monday, October 19th, 2009

by Sean Hess, Broker for St. Augusitne Team Realty

I just did a post on my personal site about “NO REALTORS ALLOWED.”  A buyer, whom I assume is either an investor or on drugs wants…well, I don’t know what he wants!  Just read the post!

Real Estate in St. Augustine: A Better Question to Ask a Realtor

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

by Sean

I was looking at some real estate websites today about good questions to ask a Realtor.  One that stuck out was, “What is your marketing plan?”

I know there are probably 1000 agents that have been on the other end of that question who all of a sudden got the “deer in the headlights” look.

It’s not that it’s a bad question…I’ve a power point presentation that answers that question point-by-point (or I did until my laptop melted down last week–I now have to re-build it).  But it’s a bit of a loaded question.

For example, what if you went up to a Coca-Cola ad exec and asked what was Coca-Cola’s marketing plan.  He or she would probably stumble around and say, “Well, we do TV and multi-media, and billboards, and I think we do this and that…”  And you’d come away thinking they were morons and they had no marketing plan, but the truth would be that Coca-Cola’s marketing engine has made it into the best selling soft drink in the world.

So the better question to ask your Realtor is, “How successful is your marketing plan?”  If you get an “I don’t know,” or “It does really good,” then you know you’re in trouble.  Because an agent should know how successful he or she is.

But if you get, “Well, I took 24 listings last year and sold 18,” then you know you’re working with a pro. 

I can tell you mine is historically 86% successful.  That means I’ll typically sell 86 of every 100 listings I take, and 14 will expire. Of those 14, 13 typically received offers that the sellers rejected (nothing I can do about that, but it still counts agains the average).

Real Estate in St. Augustine: Mythbusting the Open House

Monday, October 12th, 2009

by Sean Hess, Broker.

I just did a post on my personal site on Mythbusting the Open House…enjoy!

Grand Opening of NEW office for St. Augustine Team Realty!

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

We are pleased to announce the opening of our brand new office at 2746 U.S. 1 South in St. Augustine! 

We’ve were at our former location for almost nine years and it’s nice to have fresh, new digs.  Our new office has wireless networking and printing, color printing and is e-fax capable, with a kitchen, conference room, technology room and offices.  It is a wonderful, capable, and comfortable place to work here in the “real estate corridor” of U.S. 1.   

Look for our new office signage soon, and make sure you drop by and visit!

St. Augustine Real Estate: Does Anyone Want to Sell Anything Here?

Monday, October 5th, 2009

by Sean

I am working with a couple who this weekend put an offer in for the third time, all on homes in the same neighborhood. 

The first offer was on a short sale.  We offered a good price, but not full price.  The bank countered at a high price.  My buyers walked.

We put a verbal offer in on a second property.  Again, a good price but not full price. The listing agent refused to present it because she did not like the price and “did not like verbal offers.”  I prepared a written offer to force the listing agent’s hand, but after thinking about it for a few days while this was going on, the buyers decided that maybe the first house was the best one anyway.  So they agreed to meet the bank’s price on the short sale.

But the bank had closed the file and it would need to be re-processed all over again.

A week later another house came on the market that my buyers liked.  Since the bank was dragging their feet on the short sale, my buyers took a look at this new house.  They liked the new house so much they made another good offer.  What did the seller do? Countered the offer by $7,000.

Does anyone want to sell anything here?

Note to sellers, this is the worst real estate market since the Great Depression.  Unemployment is the highest its been since the Reagan administration.  And if you need financing to buy a property, it better be residential because the banks aren’t even lending on condos.  So if a buyer comes to you with an offer is within 8% of list price (the market average is 7%-9% for list-to-sale price), in this market, take the f***ing offer!

Real Estate in St. Augustine: Market Recovery

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

by Sean

Here’s a post I did for my personal website on Real Estate Market Recovery in St. Augustine.  Enjoy!