December 18, 2014

Top of the Market

Real estate continues to be one of the top Southwest Florida stories of the last few years, as buyers from all over the country-and in some cases, the world-have eagerly paid ever escalating prices for ever more sought-after pieces of prime waterfront land. Even the economic uncertainties of 2001 couldn't dim the luster of the region's stunning water views, tropical foliage and protected charm. In Collier County alone, last year buyers plunked down a collective $130.5 million for 10 waterfront properties along the Gulf of Mexico and in Port Royal. In fact, say real estate agents who specialize in multi-million-dollar residential sales, property in Southwest Florida now costs more, foot for foot, than it does even in that glamorous dowager of wealthy Florida counties, Palm Beach.

With the help of the Lee and Collier county property appraisers offices and local real estate agents, we've compiled a list of both counties' 10 top-selling real estate deals in 2001. They ranged from $9.3 million to $30 million in Collier and from $3.1 million to $14.9 million in Lee.

Impressive as those numbers are, the sales histories of the 20 properties only add to the drama. In many cases, the value of the properties increased five- to 10-fold in just five years. One agent tells the tale of a would-be Port Royal buyer who waited four years to buy real estate there. "He was waiting for the prices to level," says the agent. Instead of the $6 million he hesitated to spend during his first visit, he ended up spending almost double that.

It should come as no surprise that all but two of the top 10 deals in Collier County are in Port Royal, and all were single-family homes or lots. In fact, a condominium sale doesn't even appear on the list until No. 14. Lee County's top deals weren't scattered too much, either. Four were recorded on Boca Grande, three on Captiva Island, two in Bonita Bay in Bonita Springs and one in Quail West.

In order to protect the residents' privacy, we have not published names or addresses. The only names used in the story are those of realtors and investors.

Collier County

1. $30,000,000

The talk of the town since the transaction was completed in April 2001, this deal in the Cutlass Cove section of Port Royal would make headlines just about anywhere in the world. For their money, the buyers got three properties: 1.45 acres of Gulf-front land with a one-story, nine-room home of nearly 6,000 square feet of living space; a 3/4-acre bayfront lot on the other side of Gordon Drive; and a vacant lot.

The Gulf-front property, last sold in 1996 for $5.5 million, was valued at $10.2 million. The house, built in the 1960s and updated several times since, has been leased back to the seller for a year. It will be torn down and replaced with a home that reflects the value of the land but isn't a "megahome," says Pat Candito, the agent who sealed the deal. "The owners don't want something that looks like a hotel. They want something their grandkids can live in without having to run after them, telling them, 'Don't touch that.'"

Candito says the buyers have lived in Naples four or five years and were looking for a "nice, large lot on the beach. What they got was a tremendous site."

2. $14,942,600

The only Old Naples property to make the cut-and one of just two top 10 transactions after Sept. 11-this deal included two pieces of prime real estate right on Gulf Shore Boulevard. At less than half of No. 1's top sales price, the New York City buyers got a three-story single-family home right on the beach on a lot about three-quarters of an acre. This property-without a house-last sold for $4.9 million in 1998.

3. $12,400,000

Just one of a dozen homes in the ultra-exclusive Strand in Pelican Bay and one of just two top sellers not in Port Royal, this four-story home has all the extras. Most importantly, it has a prized Gulf-front setting and wildlife preserves that block the view of neighboring houses, guaranteeing a perpetual fringe of green.

Purchased by a Midwestern couple, the house has more than 9,000 square feet under air, five bedrooms, each with their own private balconies, six and one-half baths, a media room, wine room, garage space for six cars-the list goes on. Agents Ursula and Gerard J.L. Swart said it was love at first sight for the couple, who liked the home's "smaller" size compared to some of its 20,000-square-foot neighbors. They also surely adored the 3,091 square feet of balconies.

"The top balcony has a fantastic view; it's just like being in the Mediterranean," says Gerard. "It was a quick decision once we found it for them."

4. $12,000,000

A vacant 1.28-acre lot with a lot of potential is what the buyers got for their $12 million. This Port Royal property will soon showcase a winter residence for the buyers. "They just wanted a spectacular view and found it in this property," said the selling agent. "There are not that many lots with that kind of view, except if the house is a teardown."

The property nearly doubled in price in just a year, having last sold in April 2000 for $6.5 million-still quite a jump from its first recorded sale of $495,000 in 1982.

5. $11,000,000

A younger couple bought this already furnished 10,000-square-foot mega-mansion on Manowar Cove, an inland canal. "There's a million dollars in precast stone and an incredible home theater," says agent Mike McCumber, of Premiere Properties.

Part of the attraction had to be the 100-foot floating dock covered in keystone. The couple's prized Ferraris can find shelter in a three-car garage and second garage with an elevator. "There's a bridge over a koi pond from the kitchen to the dock," says McCumber. "It's probably the nicest dock in Port Royal."

Recently featured in Fortune as epitomizing the new, youthful faces of Naples' wealthy, the couple could have bought the home as a Valentine's Day present-the sale was finalized Feb. 15.

The property alone is valued at $4.7 million. It brought $16,300 when it first sold in 1969.

6. $10,630,700

The buyers purchased a two-story home with 6,671 total square feet in Port Royal. The sale was the first ever for this Green Dolphin Lane property.

7. $10,500,000

Overlooking Old Harbour Cove, this home wasn't on the market long, says Premiere Properties' Tom Campbell. "It sold at that price because it's one of the most magical and well-built homes I've ever been in. This home has its own spirit."

Featuring long water frontage, private courtyards, a unique guest house, and 7,287 total square feet, the two-story structure blends state-of-the-art technology with the "subtlety and classical sense of an older French home," says Campbell.

The sales history of this home reflects a steady increase. It last sold for $1.1 million in 1996. The property first sold in 1978 for $90,000.

8. $10,350,000

The second-largest home on our list, this one-story Port Royal mansion boasts 8,389 total square feet and 7,315 square feet under air. Its $10.3 million sale price reflects a five-fold increase since the property last sold for $2.1 million in 1997. The price tag on this property increased by just $275,000-from $1.6 million to $1.875 million-between 1987 and 1992.

9. $9,500,000

Two full lots in Port Royal will eventually boast a great home with large gardens. This property, which overlooks Treasure Cove, enjoys one of the longest interior water views in Port Royal. Premiere Properties' Campbell says the place exudes peacefulness.

The property last sold for $7.25 million in 2000. Other recorded sales were $4.9 million in 1999 and $2.5 million two years earlier.

10. $9,350,000

Husband-and-wife residents of New York City spent $9.3 million for this Port Royal home on Galleon Drive, but the wife says extensive remodeling will easily push the cost of the home to $10 million. One of just two of the top 10 deals that took place after Sept. 11, the house was purchased before it was finished, allowing the couple to put their own personal stamp on it.

Although it's new, the wife says the home's classical architecture makes it timeless. Its unique appearance-it looks like a Greek temple-has caused it to be pointed out by passing tour boat guides. "There are many beautiful homes around, but I choose this because it's very different, very unique," she says.

Overlooking a wide portion of Naples Bay, the house offers a picture-perfect view of sailboats on the bay. "It's just like something from a movie, all of these colorful boats," she notes.

The two-story, 8,000-square-foot home has five bedrooms, a morning room, den/library, media room with theater-style seating for eight and features natural stone throughout. "It has this Old World castle feel to it," says the wife. "It's new but it looks like it could be 80 years old."

The couple first discovered Naples 15 years ago, and the wife says she always hoped her attorney husband would slow down and retire here. The couple will keep their home in New York City but plan to live in Naples seven to eight months a year.

Lee County

1. $7.9 million

A squishy 2001 real estate market? The might be true in lots of places, but in Boca Grande, only the sand seems soft. Four of Lee County's top 10 sales were in this quaint island village last year. No. 1 was a $7.9-million sale that included two lots. Bought for a private residence, the property is a large and very private piece of prime Gulf-front. The 20-year-old house is probably a teardown. 

2. $7,579,000

Captiva Island includes three of Lee County's top 10 sales, and this $7-plus million sale captures the No. 2 spot. Owned by folks from St. Paul, Minn., this architecturally arresting home on the Gulf is surrounded by flowering tropical gardens and was bought for its seclusion, say realtors. Built in 1974, the home sold for $500,000 in 1981. Since then it's been updated, and now the home is really a set of three pods. It includes a main house, a two-bedroom guest house and a garage. A screened-in pool connects the main house with the guest quarters. Total square footage is listed at just over 10,000 square feet, but realtors say only 4,000 of that is under air.

3. $5,750,000

Massachusetts residents bought this 11,752-square-foot home on Boca Grande. Built in 1993, the home contains four bedrooms and four baths. The owners fell in love with the "natural beauty of the island after vacationing with friends" a year earlier. "We'd been all over the east coast and the Caribbean and the western part of the country," says the husband, "and we liked the fact that this was secluded. We could enjoy the beach, boating and golf in an uncrowded, hospitable setting." 

4. $5,195,000

You'd have to search through a tropical jungle to find Lee County's No. 4-ranked home. It's an 8,392-square-foot home on Captiva, built in 1992 and surrounded by a dense thicket of palms and sea grapes. Situated on more than one acre on the Gulf, the property is gated and secluded, and includes a guest house, three-car garage and 16-foot by 40-foot Gulfside pool. The main house has a living room with 20-foot ceilings that opens to a deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The sales history shows the area's increase in value: In 1999, this property sold for $4.4 million; two years earlier, it went for $2.7 million. 

5. $5,000,000

The CEO of a Dallas-based advertising and marketing firm bought this elegant, older one-story, ground-level home just outside of Boca Grande's historic district. And in contrast to many of Florida's new wealthy residents, he wants to keep the property as understated as he found it. He and his wife fell in love with Boca Grande's "old Florida" ambience, and he says they have no desire to change that.

"There are no tall buildings," he says. "It's a clapboard town with one grocery store, one hardware store and an old bar." He and his wife bought a home in town a decade ago and had planned to make Boca Grande home, but after assessing Florida's school system, they decided their young son should receive his education in another state. They later bought a waterfront property and planned to build on it. But when the owner saw this piece of property with 200 feet on the Gulf, huge trees and a 1971-built home with gracious but simple proportions, he promptly switched tracks. His goal is to eventually "be half and half," he says, "live half the year in the mountains and half the year by the sea." His new home has pecky cypress walls, terrazzo floors and lots of big, shady trees. It's the perfect retreat, he says, where he can "golf, fish, boat, eat seafood and drink rum." This property sold in 1987 for $662,500.

6. $3,795,000

This Captiva property was bought for investment purposes by Naples developer Jon Rubinton of R & D Companies, who already has it on the market for $5.5 million, says Captiva realtor Jane Reader Weaver. The property had last sold in 1987 for $425,000. Rubinton, who's been buying and selling on Captiva for seven years, specializes in "high-end, unique properties." He certainly has a choice piece of real estate. Located on 130 feet of Gulf-front on Captiva's elite "Gold Coast"-where many are building new homes-the property features a beach home with hardwood floors and a beautiful pool area with waterfall and gazebo. Rubinton says he will sell as is or will build his luxury Silver King II model with all the amenities, turning the existing beach house, built in 1954, into "ideal" guest quarters. The main house will be elevated to capture the views, says Rubinton; and since the property is zoned for an estate, the new owner will have the ability to add staff quarters and a tennis court if he or she chooses.

7. $3,750,000

A Michigan family owns this Boca Grande property. Custom-built by an architect for his own use in 1983, the house is a perfect beachfront home with wood frame, hardwood floors, lofted ceilings with exposed beams and wide, shady porches. According to Lee County Property Appraiser's records, the house offers about 3,500 square feet and contains three bedrooms and three baths. The Gulf-front lot is wide and deep-about 100 feet by 555 feet-and provides privacy and more privacy with no views of neighbors. This property sold for $950,000 in 1994.

8. $3,750,000

Finally! Evidence that homes off the Gulf of Mexico are commanding top prices. This Quail West property sold to a baby boomer New Hampshire couple before it ever went on the market, and for good reason. Built in 2000, it's stunning, and the new owners bought everything inside but the personal photographs. "We'd looked at a lot of other homes that were more expensive, but this had the earth tones and pastels that we liked and the ceiling heights," says the husband, who owns automobile dealerships in three states. "It was us."

The home is a grand, Mediterranean-style mansion with a unique living room and family room separated by a massive fireplace that goes to sky-high ceilings. The guest wing-entered through double doors and a foyer-includes three large and separate suites. The master suite is colossal-"When I first walked through the house I told my wife, 'You'll never believe this master suite,' and then they told me I wasn't even looking at the master bedroom." The master bathroom alone measures 30 feet by 30 feet. The lanai contains a waterfall and fireplace and overlooks a lake.

The couple had owned a home on Sanibel but grew weary of the traffic and how long it took to get on and off the island. They also wanted "more of a sense of community, where you know your neighbor." And because they have a private jet, they fly into Page Field Airport in Fort Myers, get in their convertible (which they bought just for Florida) and are in Quail West in minutes. They aren't golfers, but they're on the course everyday biking eight to 10 miles, and they play tennis regularly. They are so happy with the community they've enticed other friends to buy in Quail West. "It's perfect for us," he says.

9. $3,300,000

Bonita Bay is known for its five private golf courses and big, beautiful homes. Our No. 9 home is no exception. It's a two-story, 7,530-square-foot home right on the golf course bought by a couple from Wisconsin. Containing three private guest suites and a large billiards room, it was built in 1999 and is plenty large for grand-scale entertaining.

10. $3,250,000

Another Bonita Bay mansion, this one bought by New Jersey residents. The Lee County Property Appraiser's office says the house, built in 2000, is a massive 15,431 square feet with three bedrooms and four bathrooms.