I have never forgotten Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s comments about the appeal of simplicity when it comes to shelter, as well as to other basic needs in our lives. In Gift from the Sea, she writes with such appreciation about her time on a Florida island, where she escaped the very busy routine of being a mother of five, with a career, living in the North. In a beautifully poetic way, she allows the seashells she finds on her daily beach walks to stimulate her more general ideas about life.
“One does not need the airtight shelter one has in winter in the North,” she writes. “Here I live in a bare sea-shell of a cottage. No heat, no telephone, no plumbing to speak of, no hot water, a two-burner oil stove, no gadgets to go wrong. No rugs. There were some, but I rolled them up the first day; it is easier to sweep the sand off a bare floor. But I find I don’t bustle about with unnecessary sweeping and cleaning here. I am no longer aware of the dust. I have shed my Puritan conscience about absolute tidiness and cleanliness. Is it possible that, too, is a material burden?”
It has been a difficult few years for anyone wanting to sell a home on Anna Maria Island. Having been part of Florida’s spectacular growth, prices on island homes had risen tremendously since the 1990’s, and therefore were subject to the same kind of fall that all popular markets experienced starting a little over three years ago. But at least there always is something about a beautiful island that sets its properties apart from the larger inventories on the mainland. There is only a finite number of island homes, and people will always want to live on an island. So there is reason to believe properties on Anna Maria will be in demand again sooner than the general market.
The question is whether the nation is beginning to see a general upturn in housing sales and prices yet. There have been articles in highly regarded publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, indicating this may be the case. In a recent article in the Anna Maria Island Sun, Louise Bolger points out that Maureen Maitland, vice president for index services at Standard & Poor’s, has speculated that we may look back on April, 2009, as the trough in home prices.
Speaking of speculation, that would mean this could be a very good time to buy an investment home in Anna Maria Island … if you can afford the high property taxes. At least there is the possibility of covering some of those taxes and carrying costs through rental. And rumor has it that if the house has a swimming pool, it is much easier to rent. Of course this all is speculation, and speculation is largely responsible for the bubble and its bursting that put the market where it is today.
Here it is, mid summer, and we still are enjoying our daily walks over to the beach. Most of us who live on Anna Maria Island are able to walk to the beach. It is wonderful not to have to drive. The island is so narrow at the south end that the beach is never more than three or four blocks away. Farther north, the island widens and the walk increases by a few more blocks. But the only areas from which a walk to the beach would take more than just a few minutes are Key Royale and the neighborhoods near Galati Marine at the southeast end of the City of Anna Maria.
Our house is exactly a half mile from the beach. We usually make that walk and then continue along the beach, toward the setting sun before we turn and head home. The beach part of the walk is spectacular every evening. Tonight the beach was particularly wide, and the sand looked smooth and white. The temperature was extremely pleasant—amazing for mid August! The water reflected the pink/orange glow from the low sun. There was almost nobody on the beach. This is the kind of “paradise” experience for which people travel long distances. How lucky we are to be able to walk to it.
On Anna Maria Island, when you see an empty lot with new construction about to begin, you know the new building will tower over the traditional Old Florida one-story homes in the neighborhood. Why? It’s the law, to some degree, at least. In 1975 FEMA made it mandatory that all new construction place the first living level at a certain specified number of feet above sea level, which means either having to raise the lot with a huge amount of fill, or building the living space on a second and, possibly, third floor. This coincided with the start of government involvement in flood insurance programs. When the government starts ‘taking care’ of you, it starts telling you how to do things.
The National Association of Realtors has just released its Profile of International Home Buying Activity, relaying information about foreign national buying practices in the 12-month period between May 2007 and May 2008. Although the survey of 4,000 realtors across the nation indicates that buying was widespread and spanned almost every state (the most popular states being Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, New York, Washington and Nevada), the report also shows that foreign buyers purchased less property during the period than they did a year earlier. The decline in reported transactions can be attributed to the general downturn in the U.S. housing market. In fact, it appears, according to the report, that foreign buyers, like U.S. buyers, may be reticent to invest in U.S. property until they are assured that the investment will “pay off.”