Archive for May, 2010

St. Augustine Local Flavor: We Say Sonny’s BBQ No Longer Sucks

Friday, May 28th, 2010

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty (   Follow us on Facebook.

I moved to Florida 16 years ago with my friend Steve.  Besides having a Lil’ Champ convenience store nearly every other block, there was a barbeque place we kept seeing called Sonny’s.  We weren’t real into bbq back then but were lured into the place by the all-you-can-eat pork special. 

And eat we did. So much so that when we got back to my Uncle Larry’s place in Orange Park we both collapsed from food comas. 

That night was the begining of a long and wonderful relationship.  I loved Sonny’s so much that years later my wife and I chose it as the place for our wedding rehersal dinner.

When I hit my thirties and became a competitive cyclist, the Sonny’s pork barbeque plate (with beans, sweet potato and cornbread) was an almost magic elixir when it came to refueling my body after the very toughest workouts.  Something about that mix of sugars, carbs, protein and fat could bring me back from the brink.

Then about three years ago the food, and the service, started getting bad. 

The first thing I noticed was that the baked beans started to go…I don’t know how or why they changed them but something that was smooth and sweet suddenly became awful.  Then the pork…the staple of southern bbq…started to go.  Instead of a plate of pork bbq, you would get a plate with some bbq and about just as much burnt trimmings.   Not good like chitlins either, just nasty dregs they threw on to fill out the weight on the plate.  It looked a bit like burnt cat hair with red highlights.   

Then the service, which was always fast and friendly, became as nasty as the beans.  The waitresses were surly and disinterested.  After I got served by two versions of America’s Worst Waitress in 2007, I quit going.  Where I went to Sonny’s about once a week before it went to less than once a year, and when I did go after it was always somebody else’s treat.  Watching Sonny’s decline was like watching a beloved alcoholic relative die slowly. 

So this week, while you were sleeping and before sunrise, I was out on the road doing a cycling exercise called a “CR interval” that basically entails going as hard as you can until you throw up.  By Wednesday I was feeling pretty rough and then I remembered how well Sonny’s used to refuel the engine.  So I went there for lunch, expecting to be spat upon.

But I was pleasantly surprised.  The service was good and the food was back to where it was before, pre-2007.  Ane even better my legs had some pop on Thursday that I hadn’t seen in a week.  So I hit lunch there again on Thursday.  Same good food, same good service.

I am cautiously optomistic.  Is Sonny’s truly back?  Only time will tell but its money I’ll be there after intervals next week.

St. Augustine Condos for Sale: Beginning of the End for the Condo Buyer’s Market

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty (   Follow us on Facebook.

Last November we opined here that the end of the buyer’s market was near for single family homes.  We were right.

Now we’re saying that it’s the begining of the end for the buyer’s market in St. Augustine condos.

I’m saying that because the below market “deals” that have been there since the beginning of the year are gone.  About the lowest I can find for a two-bedroom/two-bath in an ocean side community is $160,000 for a short sale at St. Augustine Ocean & Racquet.  Whereas last month we helped an investor get a Colony Reef Club condo for $124,900. 

Those deals that we were so used to seeing in the $120,000s and $130,000s are gone.  And the “deal of the century” units at Seaside Villas of Anastasia (about half a block west of FA), nearly all of which were bank owned or short sales selling for $60,000-$90,000 are now sold out.

The upshot is that the price floor has essentially moved up from “below market” to “market.”  And thus the recovery has begun. 

If there are still deals available its in the higher end condos, where there has never been a huge buyer pool.  And the range between $250,000 and $300,000 still has a lot of inventory.  It’s my guess that those units in the $250,000s to $300,00s will be the ones to go next because an investor can still cherry pick.

The reason this is happening: down payments are now between 20% and 30% for a condo as a 2nd home (you have to have the assets to back it up, however).  This is way better than the 50% we saw for most of 2009.  So more people can get in than could even just six months ago. 

Also, investors are pretty sure the market has bottomed and are moving in…I think that’s pretty obvious with the disappearance of the below $150,000 condo near the beach.

There are still fence sitters.  The logic is “I don’t see any reduction in inventory,” and, “I don’t want to put down more than 10%-15%-20%.”

I would counter that by saying it’s not the overall inventory that is important right now, but instead, it’s which inventory is selling that’s important.  That the “deals” are gone is a harbinger of things to come.  The serious rank-and-file buyers who were watching but haven’t jumped in will see the properties they bookmarked are gone, which means they’ll jump in next to get the second best properties available.

As for not wanting to put down over 20%, what, are you nuts?  In the last month investors were willing either to put 20% down or pay cash for properties that were selling at 65-85% of value.  Put down 20% and gain 15%+ equity right back?  Sounds like a deal to me.  But now you’ll have to put that same 20% down to get something for full market value.  So I don’t get the waiting to pay more, if you can get in right now.

But that’s just me.

We love your comments, please e-mail them to

St. Augustine Homes for Sale: Selling the home with Tenants

Monday, May 24th, 2010

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty (   Follow us on Facebook.

When setting up showing appointments the thing Realtors most dread hearing is “tenant occupied.”  For my personal site today I did a post on how difficult it is to sell a home or condo with tenants in it.  I hope you enjoy the post!

Land for Sale in St. Augustine: 6 Great New Lots (Mobiles Allowed)

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty (   Follow us on Facebook.

Whenever we list an affordable piece of vacant land in St. Augustine one of the first questions we get is, “Are mobile homes allowed?”

Unfortunately, the closer you get to the core areas of town, the answer is often, “No.” 

But we just listed 6 very affordable lots, very close to St. Augustine’s Heritage Park development and just north of SR 16, and MOBILES ARE ALLOWED.  This area is maybe an 8-minute drive to the Historic District and maybe 12 minutes to Vilano Beach.   Best of all there is SELLER FINANCING AVAILABLE

Four of the lots are priced at $25,000 while the two largest are priced at $35,000.  All are cleared; some are already graded and filled with the impact fees already paid.  All are on a paved road.  I could go on an on but it’s best just to follow the links:

Click here for the $25,000 St. Augustine lots.  Or click here for the $35,000 St. Augustine lots.

Moving to St. Augustine: Do Realtors Really Listen? Part 2.

Monday, May 17th, 2010

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty (   Follow us on Facebook.

Last week’s post Do Realtors Listen? was such a hit I decided to follow it up with Do Realtors Listen? Part II on my personal site.  I hope you enjoy it!

St. Augustine Homes for Sale: Do Realtors Really Listen?

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty (   Follow us on Facebook.

“His answer to everything was ‘drop the price, drop the price,’ even though we had already told him our bottom line.

“We told our real estate agent several times our bottom line on our house,” said the Midwestern seller. “We couldn’t go any lower but he pressured, pressured, and pressured.”

Real quotes from real sellers from a recent article in Realtor magazine called “Are You Listening?”

We hear statements like this a lot, especially when a home or other property isn’t selling. 

We are listening, but Realtors have a tough role.  We are hired to sell properties, and properties are subject to the same market forces of supply and demand as any other thing in the world that is being sold.  So after you’ve done all the marketing and advertising in the world and it still isn’t selling, it always comes back to price.

Realtors have maxims:

“There’s nothing price can’t fix.”

“Everything will sell at the right price and terms.”

“All the advertising in the world can’t sell an overpriced listing.”

When a seller tells me this is their “bottom line,” I respect that.  But when it becomes clear that the bottom line isn’t low enough, I go back again.  My assumption is that the seller wants to sell the property until it expires or is pulled from the market.  It is my job, it is my duty, to get that property sold, and it’s my role to make sure my sellers are as educated as I am about the market.

I always tell my sellers to envision an aisle in the grocery store.  My job is a realtor is to make sure that their product (their home) is front and center, and at eye level on that aisle in the grocery store.  Everybody that comes down that aisle will see that home and know it is for sale. 

But home shopping is like everything else.  Buyers compare one product to another.  They look for the best value, or the most upgrades or the most bang for the buck.  Because every property, regardless of price range, is always competing against at least one other home. 

So the buyer sees my home for sale, but looks at the price tag and says, “gee, this costs $30,000 more than this other one right over here.”  If you have two homes that are nearly identical…and we see this a lot in condos…why would you pay $30,000 more for one over the other?  The ocean view is better, maybe, but then they wouldn’t be equal homes would they? 

Let’s carry that a little further then.  So the view is a little better, and it may justify a higher price for one home over another.  But let’s say demand is light and there’s only going to be one sale this month/quarter/year.  Doesn’t it make sense to lower the price to get that single sale, to make sure you get the buyer and nobody else does? 

If you wait another year and pay the mortgage and interest and association fees and taxes and maintenance and upkeep, how much does that cut into the amount you hope to gain at a higher price?  Could you do more with the money by selling today at a lower price, but getting a better return by re-investing it, instead of holding out for a higher price?  At the end of the day, is that higher price you’re holding out for really even there? 

Lots to think about.

We do listen.  But our job is to get properties sold.  When we enable, we’re not really in business at all. 

Email your comments and questions to

St. Augustine Homes for Sale: National Flood Insurance Program Reform

Monday, May 10th, 2010

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Become a fan of ours on Facebook.

The National Flood Insurance Program lapsed for a few weeks this spring.  Reform is on the way that will extend the program for 5 years.  Rates will also go up on some properties.  Read the whole post on my personal site about the NFIP reform.

Selling in St. Augustine: Sales Tax Hoax on Home Sales

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Become a fan of ours on Facebook.

We love the internet.  In fact, your presence here at our blog is the reason we stay in business, and we like to think we give good information here.

But bad information is also out there on our beloved interweb, and there’s been some of it out there lately about a tax on home sales that was part of the recent health care legislation passed by congress.

There is no tax on a home sale or other property transfer in the healthcare bill.

In the healthcare plan–and only if you have an adjusted gross income of above $200K (single) or $250K (married)–there is a 3.8% tax on net investment income.  Since the sale of an investment property might result in capital gains, a capital gain might be considered net investment income.  So an investment property sale might give you enough capital gains to trigger this tax on net investment income.  But only if your gross income is already above the $200K/$250K level.  So there’s a lot that has to happen before you see that tax. 

Also, if you are selling your primary home you are allowed a $250,000 capital gain tax-free that goes up to $500,000 if you are married.  I’ll say it again, Tax Free. 

How does that work?  In the most basic sense, if you buy a home for $100,000 and sell it for $300,000 you have a capital gain of $200,000.  Which is a tax free gain if it’s your primary home.

So don’t worry about the Sales Tax Hoax on Home Sales.

Moving to St. Augustine: Two Great Homes Easy on the Wallet

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Become a fan of ours on Facebook.

We have two great listings in St. Augustine Shores that are easy on the wallet and still survived Tax Credit Madness.  I did a post about both on my personal site, read about 871 Capri Avenue and 31 Tarragona here.