Archive for October, 2010

Halloween Fun: St. Augustine’s Most Haunted Part IV

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

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

It’s Halloween so its time for our Second Annual St. Augustine’s Most Terrifying.  This year we’re going to do things just a bit different.  First will hit you with some famous local ghost stories, then we’ll go for something a bit more down-to-earth scary.  This is part IV (it goes on and on, just like a bad horror film series).

In today’s post the famous local ghost story meets down-to-earth scary.  You’re right, I’m talking about the famous (or should I say “infamous”) Tihsllub Hall, considered Florida’s most haunted building.


Ghost "mystery face" of Tihsllub Hall

Ghost "mystery face" of Tihsllub Hall

While the lighthouse, the Castillo and even some of the B&B’s get all the television limelight, within paranormal circles Tihsllub Hall is considered “spook central” of the southeast.

“Tihsllub Hall is a magnet for the supernatural,” said Detrich Shvader, director of the Southeast American Paranormal Service (SAPS), “in the few years that we were allowed in to investigate the building, it never failed to provide evidence of  the massively paranormal.”

Click image to see more photos of Tihsllub Hall.

Said police lieutenant Gilroy Brown,  “We rarely have to police the structure.  I have personally never experienced anything there, but I find it fascinating that even though its a vacant structure, even the most hard-up transients won’t even sleep within fifty yards of it.”

Built in the late Flagler Era by Romanian immigrant Farsa Tihsllub (Henry Flagler’s personal engineering liason) at the corner of Engano and Fantasma Streets, Tihsllub Hall was supposed to be a refuge for the engineer while not traveling on business.  Unfortunately, Tihsllub died shortly after completing the home, and since then its only been a refuge for spirits.  

In fact, it may have been the place for spirits since before Tihsllub built on it.  While doing renovations duirng the 1980s, Florida’s regional archeologist Tims Bradley found the burial site of a Arawak Indian on the property.  And since the Spanish South neighborhood that Tihsllub Hall is located is notorious for unmarked Arawak tribal sites, could this be the source of the Hall’s mysterious residents?

“Well, I don’t know anything about ghosts,” Bradley was quoted in the newspaper of August 2, 1982, “but if my grave was built on I’d be shaking the chandeliers too!”

The first stories about Tihslub Hall came not long after its builder’s death, when lone travelers walking down Engano Street reported seeing strange lights and a “face in the window” of the residence.  This mysterious “face” was captured (see image above) most recently by local photographer Justin Wilco while doing a photo essay of St. Augustine’s famous buildings in 2009.  Wilco didn’t even realize there was a face in the shot until he was editing the photos several days later.

“It gave me the creeps,” Wilco was quoted as saying, “to know that thing was looking at me and I didn’t realize it.”

The ghostly activity was pretty much confined to “the face” until a tragic event in the 1950s.  In the years since Tihsllub died, the home was expanded and enlarged to create a ballroom for gatherings and special events.  During an acrobatic performance during that period, one of the gymnasts became entangled around the neck with a rope and died while the crowd watched.  Since then people have reported being pushed, grabbed at and hear the distinct sounds of choking.

Tihsllub Hall’s most mysterious ghost is the famous “White Lady,” captured in a photo during the set up for a wedding reception.  In the photo the blurred face of a woman is seen almost smiling.  The only record of a woman leaving Tihsllub Hall under mysterious circumstances comes much later (in 2007), while the White Lady was imaged in the early 1990s. 

Also, during the 1980s renovation, a photo taken by a construction worker appears to show an apparition (or several) in the background.  And in a 2001 photo a “Mystery Man” appeared in the back of a group shot taken for a the Flagler College class of 1951 reunion.   Had Tihsllub Hall become a banquet hall for the unseen?

Tihsllub Hall was finally closed to the public in 2007 after the Patty Skjoge disappearance.  

At that point the St. Augustine Floral and Beautification Society was leasing it out for ghost tours in the evenings and on weekends.  On Halloween of 2007 a Jacksonville FM radio personality dared call-in contestants to spend the night in the building.  At some point during the night, Skjoge, a Flagler College student and one of the contestants, disappeared without a trace.  

No one entered or left the building and there was no sign of foul play.  In the uproar that followed, Tihsllub Hall was shuttered and a fence erected around its perimeter.  Presumably, that’s the way the ghosts of Tihsllub Hall like it.

Halloween Fun: St. Augustine’s Most Terrifying Part III

Monday, October 25th, 2010

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


The Castillo de San Marcos holds her share of ghosts

The Castillo de San Marcos holds her share of ghosts

It’s Halloween so its time for our Second Annual St. Augustine’s Most Terrifying.  This year we’re going to do things just a bit different.  First will hit you with some famous local ghost stories, then we’ll go for something a bit more down-to-earth scary.  This is part III.

The Castillo de San Marcos was started in 1672, a full hundred years after settlement, and is our most tangible link to our Spanish past.  It’s story:

“…begins on the edge of the known world.  A bastion of the largest empire ever created, the Castillo was built to protect and defend Spain’s claims in the New World.  Though caught in the whirlwinds of colonial warfare and intrigue, it was never defeated in battle.  Its scarred walls still stand witness to over 330 years of history and culture…” -National Park Service Website.

Today the Castillo’s scarred walls protect a few ghosts. 

According to writer Alicia McWilliams, “The North Tower at the old fort is said to be haunted by real ghosts. This tower was often lit by candle and lamps – especially on dark, rough nights near the sea. Today, there is no light in the North Tower. However, many locals and tourists alike have said that when there is a storm developing, or occurring, and the seas are rough, there is a light that comes on in this part of this haunted fort. The light has been investigated a number of times, but there is never anyone located inside of the tower – or anywhere near it.”

Everyone’s favorite place to find ghosts seems to be the “dungeon,” which is the old powder magazine (a fortified room for storing gunpowder). 

“Many tourists have experienced strange sensations in the dungeon,” said writer Joy Richardson, “including goose bumps, breezes, the feeling of being touched, and many individuals have even experienced physical sickness for no apparent reason.”

Even Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures got into the act (video clip below).  Check it out to see even more haunts.

St. Augustine’s REAL Most Terrifying: Unleashed Dangerous Dogs at the Beach.

First off, I love dogs.  I’ve always had dogs.  But I’ve never had a desire to have a dog that requires more attention than my four year old.

Dangerous dogs require attention.  Rotweilers require attention.  Pit Bulls require attention.  Pit Bulls especially are dogs that were born and bred for fighting. 

Yet, there’s always someone at the beach, usually near the pier, that has to show how tough they are by bringing their pit or rot down to the beach.  And half the time the brain dead individual will let the dog run off leash (dogs are allowed to run off leash at the beach if they stay in the surfline…otherwise they have to stay on leash).  To be clear, dogs that routinely make headlines for maulings should not be off leash (St. Augustine did have a Shih Tzu mauling this year, but I wouldn’t put Shih Tzus into this category).

Last week it was an overweight 20-something letting his 150-pound rot (seriously, this dog was built like a tank), run off leash up and down the beach while he quaffed a cold Miller Lite.  The week before it was a hippie chick with a pit on a 9-foot lead that was winding his way through the kids and their sand toys. 

The best thing you can do at the beach is just be aware.  Watch for these dogs and their lobotomized young owners.  Protect your kids and keep them safe.  Getting attacked by a fighting dog is a zero sum game, but remember, dogs can’t breathe underwater…drowning the dog in the surf might be your best chance for survival.





Halloween Fun: St. Augustine’s Most Terrifying Part II

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

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

It’s Halloween so its time for our Second Annual St. Augustine’s Most Terrifying.  This year we’re going to do things just a bit different.  First will hit you with some famous local ghost stories, then we’ll go for something a bit more down-to-earth scary.  This is part II.

If you live in the Unfashionable South End of St. Augustine Like I Do, you don’t get all the glamorous ghosts like you get downtown or on the Island.  However, the small woodframe church on Wildwood Drive just west of the railroad tracks and its adjacent cemetery are supposedly haunted.  According to Dave Lapham’s book, Ghosts of St. Augustine, folks just don’t want to leave.

Quoting Lapham:

“A few years agothe minister…stood before the congregation during a service and led in the singing of that beautiful old hymn, ‘Zion’s Hill.’  While the congregation was thus engaged in singing, Willie Watkins and her sister happened to look behind the minister and watched as a man wearing a black suit and top hat walked and discreetly sat in the minister’s chair.  Willie thought it a little strange, first that someone would come right in and sit in the minister’s chair, second, that he would wear a top hat in church, and third, that no one else seemed to notice.  When they hymn ended, the man suddenly wasn’t there.

“She was afraid to ask so she didn’t say anything, but after several days her curiosity overcame her fear, and she asked the minister who the man was.  He smiled, ‘That was Mr. Anthony. He died several years ago, as you remember, and ‘Zion’s Hill’ was his favorite song.  He comes around whenever we sing it.’

“There have been other unexpainable occurances at the church…”

Grab a copy of Ghosts of St. Augustine and read the rest of the stories!  It’s available on Amazon (link above) and at just about every local gift shop and bookseller.

St. Augustine’s Real Most Terrifying: The Parking Lot at St. Anastasia Parish after Mass.

Drivers, Start Your Engines!

Drivers, Start Your Engines!

Ghosts aside, there is nothing more terrifying in this town than the parking lot at St. Anastasia after a Sunday Mass.  I am convinced that I will not someday die in a blaze of glory, or peacefully in bed, but as a hood ornament on Buick driven by an eighty-year-old hell bent on getting out of church and to Sunday brunch before the rest of the post-retirement crowd can get there.

To say the octogenarians at St. Anastasia drive badly is like saying NASCAR drivers “speed a bit.”  With wraparound shades blocking out all light, and apparently a view of the parking lot itself, these seniors and their sedans blast through the parking lot like cruise missles intent on taking out Osama bin Laden. 

I started backing into my parking space a few years back because if you tried to back out after church they would just ignore you.  They still act like you aren’t even there…nose the vehicle out of its parking space and you’re inviting a collision.  And if you’re a pedestrian its like Death Race 2000…with a four-year-old holding my hand and a babe in arms these folks are looking at my family like it was worth 150 points.  The wind is like that of a semi tractor trailer as they go by.

The parishioners at St. Anastasia are wonderful people, but man I wish they would back off the accelerator after mass. 

The upside?  If I get hit there will be a priest handy to give me the Extreme Unction (that’s “last rites” to y’all non-Catholics)!

Halloween Fun: St. Augustine’s Most Terrifying Part I

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

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

It’s Halloween so its time for our Second Annual St. Augustine’s Most Terrifying.  This year we’re going to do things just a bit different.  First will hit you with some famous local ghost stories, then we’ll go for something a bit more down-to-earth scary.

The best place to find ghosts in St. Augustine seems to be the St. Augustine Lighthouse.   SyFy channel’s  Ghost Hunters put the place on the paranormal map a view years back when they featured the signature landmark on their show.  Some of the ghosts even showed up on tape (see video below).  Now ghost tours at the light are a regular cottage industry.

St. Augustine’s Real Most Terrifying: U.S. 1

If Tampa has the Dale Mabry Highway (the “Death Maybe” Highway), then St. Augustine has U.S. 1 (aka, “U.S. 1, Pedestrians 0″).  The north stretch of this road between the city gates and the courthouse has claimed three pedestrian lives since September, and three cyclists were mowed down there this summer in the middle of the afternoon.  For whatever reason, this road is the bee’s knees for drunk drivers: alcohol was a factor in at least two of the accidents.  It’s also an extrordinarily dark road at night, with no lighting, and no sidewalks to keep folks from walking on the pavement.  

Homes for Sale in St. Augustine: In A Short Sale Does the Seller Have to Submit All Offers?

Monday, October 18th, 2010

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

In a short sale does the seller have to submit all offers?

In a short answer: no. 

First off, I am not aware of any state or federal law that would compel a seller to submit multiple offers to a bank.  However, the bank, as part of their short sale paperwork may direct a seller to submit all offers.  Alternately, a bank may direct a seller to submit only one offer at a time.

Typically only one offer is submitted at a time.  The reason for this is simple: for the seller the clock is ticking towards foreclosure

Because the short sale process can take several months, every day that the sale takes is one day closer to foreclosure.  If multiple offers are submitted a bank may take both offers out of the system and start them both back at the beginning…even if the first offer has been in place for several months.   And since a bank’s left hand often doesn’t know what its right hand is doing, it could foreclose on a home that already had a viable short sale offer in place, had a second offer not been submitted. 

Only one offer is presented at a time to avoid foreclosure.

Only one offer is presented at a time to avoid foreclosure.

In some cases you can’t submit a second offer even if you wanted to.  As Marin County, California, Realtor Sylvia Barry pointed out in an online forum,  “a lot of lenders actually will only accept one offer at a time – for example, using (Bank of America’s) Equator system, you can only submit one offer for one house. There is just no place for the 2nd offer.”

Most short sales real estate contracts that we see stipulate that multiple offers will not be submitted anyway.  These agreements are between the buyer and the seller…the bank is not a party to the contract, except that the bank’s consent is needed to accept the price.  If the bank were an actual party to the contract, like the buyer and seller, it might be different.

So what to do if you’re a buyer with a back up offer on a short sale?  Hang in there!  Believe it or not you’ve got a really good shot…a strong percentage of first offers back out due to the time constraints.  And with the recent foreclosure halts at some of the major banks, it adds more time to the seller’s clock, increasing the chances of success.

Homes for Sale in St. Augustine: How Will the Foreclosure Halt Affect Me?

Friday, October 15th, 2010

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

How will the recent foreclosure halts affect me?

Foreclosed property halt may be good for the market.

Foreclosed property halt may be good for the market.

The foreclosure halts caught us all a bit by surprise.  But from the standpoint of a buyer or seller I think the affect will be minimal.  Prices will actually rise a bit for buyers, and sellers may get the extra time they need to close a short sale.

If you’re looking to buy a foreclosure, the process in the near future may more resemble a short-sale.  Short sales are notoriously long and drawn out, and as the banks sort through their paperwork mess you’ll just have to wait it out.  If you don’t already have a contract on a foreclosure, and since many of the existing foreclosures have been pulled from the market, a short sale might make more sense.  To sell a short sale you have to have the consent of the seller, so this absolves the lender from being sued over a fraudulent foreclosure.  Plus everything that I’ve heard is that a foreclosure is much more expensive (on its face) than a short sale, so it should make sense for lenders to go this route (this is nonwithstanding the “shadow profit” banks get from insurance, government bailout/subsidies, and deficiency judgments on the back end when they foreclose). 

For sellers who are facing foreclosure this is a boon.  In many cases these sellers are trying to short sell their home while the clock is ticking towards foreclosure.  Since a bank’s left hand often doesn’t know what its right hand is doing, this may give the seller the extra time they need to get the short sale done.

As Vicky Chrisner, a broker from Leesburg, Virginia, wrote on Trulia recently: “A year ago, it was a miracle to get a short sale to sell. Now, it’s common place. More and more banks are working to limit their losses by negotiating alternatives with owners…in general, these are better alternatives for all. Market forces, intelligent business practices and government pressure (and perhaps incentives) to prevent foreclosure are making their mark.”

The upshot for the market is that the foreclosure halt may actually help raise prices.  Since foreclosures are typically the lowest priced in any market, removing them will stop some of the downward pressure and help set higher market prices.  When these foreclosures come back on the market eventually, the BPOs that will help establish their market price will be based on prices that have risen somewhat (or at least not declined any).  So this will be good for sellers all around.

Moving to St. Augustine: How do I Know what School My Kids will Attend?

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

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

So you’re looking at houses and you want to find out what school your children will attend. 

St. Johns County has the #1 ranked schools in the state for the second straight year.  If you’re looking in St. Johns County just go to and punch in the address, and the elementary, middle and high school.

And for Duval?  Well Duval ain’t #1 for the second straight year.  This is not a crack on Duval teachers…who are excellent by the way…but it is a crack on its bloated administration.  They want you to call…how quaint…and good luck if you want to check multiple addresses, or have anyone accountable if they give you bad information, or talk to someone if you call after hours, or call on Columbus Day.  Duval County Public Schools Pupil Placement Department can be reached at 904-390-2144, when they want to be reached.

R.B. Hunt Elementary in St. Augustine

R.B. Hunt Elementary in St. Augustine

Homes for Sale in St. Augustine: I’m Interviewing Agents & They’re $50,000 Apart!

Monday, October 11th, 2010

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

You are going to list your house, and the agents you are interviewing are $50,000 apart.  What do you do?

I don’t think there are any pat answers here, but its a situation we see a lot in this market.

Part of the reason is that there are so few home or condo sales in certain neighborhoods, so an agent may have to go outside your neighborhood to find sales.  This could lead to a discrepancy. 

This home's price was lower than expected due to neighbors.

This home's sale price was lower than expected due to neighbors.

The second is that some Realtors just don’t know numbers.  They are good people, they are pleasant and easy to work with, but they may be pulling a number out of the air just as much as you are. 

Complicating things is the fact that as the home seller you are tied emotionally to the property.  No matter how hard you try at some level you will be influenced by those emotions.

So here’s some things to look at when two agents have a difference in price or there’s a big range:

  • Look to see where the buyers are buying at.  If you want to sell at the high end but the buyers are only spending those $$$ for homes that are newer or have more square footage, or have larger lots, or back to preserve/conservation areas, or front lakes or have pools, then you will have to go lower.
  • If your competition has new carpet/flooring and paint and you don’t, you will have to shade towards the lower end.  A newer roof helps too.  It doesn’t matter that you have nice older carpet, or nice older paint.  Crisp and clean will command more every time.
  • If you have tile or hardwood of different types in different rooms, this will make the home sit on the market longer.  Thus you will have to run a lower price to get showings faster and sell faster.
  • In my retiree-heavy market stairs hurt.  No one wants to face their golden years climbing stairs, so our properties here that have stairs will lose a significant portion of the buying pool, and will typically sell for less than something of similar age/location/square footage in the same neighborhood. 
  • Lastly, you have to factor the neighbors and neighborhood into the market.  That great deal you got five years ago because your home backs to the railroad tracks?  Guess what, you’ll have to offer a similar deal to sell it.  Or homes of like age and design may sell for more in a neighborhood with underground utilities, or in a neighborhood that has public sewer versus septic systems. In the case of the home pictured above, several potential buyers objected to the neighborhood yard/home condition as reasons for not making an offer, thus the sales price was lower than expected.

As for your agent, go with the agent that has the guts to tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.  An experienced agent will do this.

“Your decision should not be based soley on price,” said Bellevue, Washington, broker Judie O’Brien in a recent online post, “however it should be determined by the experience of the agent. You may not like the true value of your home but a very experienced agent…will work with your best interest in mind and get you the most for your home.”

I couldn’t say in any better.

One final thing: when you do price your home and your buyer traffic isn’t what you’ve hoped, do listen to your agen about lowering the price.  Sellers often complain that their agent’s “only strategy is lowering the price.”  But if you put the property on the market and it sits, the price is out of line with the market.  Buyers don’t sit on good deals, and buyers don’t sit on market price.  So if the price you start with doesn’t attract attention, lower it and go find the buyer.

I am Currently Renting a House that is Closing Soon, and I Don’t Have a Lease. Do I Have a Right to Stay?

Friday, October 8th, 2010

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

I am currently renting a home that has closing on it at the end of the month. I am not officially in a lease. Do I have any rights to stay longer?

This question is best for an attorney because there is no written lease.

But here’s what I know from basic real estate: if you have an oral lease normally they can evict you with notice equal to the term you pay your rent. In other words, if you are on a week-to-week lease the landlord needs to give you seven days notice, even if that means you would overstay the closing. Normally written lease terms survive a sale, but not sure about an oral lease, you really need to talk to an attorney there.

If the new buyers are really adamant about the home being empty before they move in, your current landlord may offer you some cash to move out ahead of schedule. 

What if it’s a foreclosure property?

In May of 2009 President Obama signed a law protecting tenants in foreclosed properties ( ) which requires that “bona fide” tenants get 90-days notice prior to eviction, and allow tenants to occupy the property until the end of their lease term, except the lease can be terminated in 90 days if the bank sells the home to some one who will live in it.

In other words, if the property that you are renting is foreclosed on, they have to give you 90-day notice to evict.  If your lease ends before the 90 days you would have to check with an attorney to see if this would allow you to stay on after the lease end. 

Now if you’re on an oral or verbal lease and the home you’re in is being foreclosed, best thing to do is contact a good local real estate attorney and see if you are a “bona fide” tenant.  This 90-day eviction notice only protects “bona fide” tenants.

A few final things: just because the landlord isn’t paying the bills or going through foreclosure doesn’t mean you can’t.  If you have a lease you have to pay the rent or you can be evicted. 

And for buyers: if you don’t want tenants in your property after you buy it, you either have to see the lease to verify the lease will be up by closing, or if its a verbal/oral lease, you have to make a stipulation in purchase and sale contract that the home will be tenant-free by closing.  We had one this summer where the tenants were still living in a home a day or two prior to close, so the sellers had to get them out (which they had promised in the sale agreement) before the buyer would buy.

Bank Owned Home? If I Get the Loan from the Same Bank, Will it Give Me an Advantage?

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

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

If I’m trying to buy a bank-owned home and I get my loan through the same bank, will it give me an advantage?

That’s a very good question, and one I just don’t know the answer to.  It probably depends on the bank. 

For example, if the home is owned by Wells Fargo (or another huge bank like Bank of America) my guess is that they already have a policy in place covering the situation.  They will either not allow it straight away, or they will allow it, but the bank is so huge that the loan department doesn’t know what the foreclosure department is doing, and thus there will be no advantage.  Or, even in the absence of a written policy, if the person underwriting the loan for the bank gets it in the last days before closing, they could throw up red flags just to make sure the bank doesn’t have a conflict of interest, which could delay or cancel the closing.

Alternatively, if you went to a smaller community bank, they might be able to look at it on a case-by-case basis.  However, many of the small banks got into trouble writing residential loans, so they may want to stay shut of all residentials for the immediate future, especially on a property they’ve already been burned on.

I many cases you won’t even be able to find the lender.  Good luck finding a local branch of Deutshe Bank or Ocwen.    

The best advice I can give I found online from broker Scott Godzyk in Manchester, New Hampshire: “What helps your offer is offering the best price and more imnportant the best terms. Be ready to close in 30 days, limit or eliminate contingincies and include a preapproval letter with your offer.”

I couldn’t say it any better.