Saturday, July 25, 2009

Two By Two: Retirement on Sanibel Island

At least 12 years ago and long before the dream of retirement was even close, I read a book by a husband and wife team about the best places in Florida to retire. Husband and wife, Betty and Richard Fox, wrote Where to Retire in Florida when the Sanibel causeway toll was still $3.00 and residences in the luxurious Sanctuary neighborhood were selling for $475,000. Now you know that was quite a while ago.

So if you were to read their guide, you would note that the details are much out of date, but their descriptions of the Island are still on target.

The book described dozens of towns and cities in Florida with a "he said" , "she said" format and rated the places where they visited with stars, 5 stars being the highest rating.

They did not always agree with each other, and Sanibel and Captiva, clumped together in their review, was one example of their discord. She said "A great place for nature and a nice place to visit, but not to stay", rating the Islands only 3 stars. But it was his words that stayed with me and helped prompt the curiosity to explore Sanibel when we were looking to purchase in Southwest Florida. "There is no spot more beautiful in Florida than the Sanibel/Captiva Islands.'' And he did give the islands a 5 star.

The page on Sanibel, as it did for all the towns they profiled, gave basic facts about the geography, weather, cost of living, crime statistics and health care available on the Island. Of course all of that demonstrated that Sanibel was a safe, comfortable place to retire to.

But their visit to and evaluation of Sanibel was what most visitors would find in a short stay: the abundance of nature, the pretty surroundings, the diversity of restaurants and shops.

Were I writing a similar book today, of course I would have to adjust all the economic factors upwards (those homes in the Sanctuary are now a million dollars and more!), but I would also provide more insiders "insights" as to why the Island is so appealing to (fill in the blank) retirees, young families, investors, vacationers. And it's much more than a pretty face, good golfing, great boating and roseate spoonbills.

The Island is a small town offering not just lots of things to do, but the ability to meet people easily. For retirees who want to be active and make new friends, it is an easy place to do both. Our friends on the Island, already retired, can't make their days stretch far enough. They have bike riding and shell collecting, they volunteer for the worthy organizations on Island and they partake of the many concerts, lectures and get togethers that are in abundance in high season.

They play tennis and take cruises, they see plays and explore the back waters in canoes and kayaks. They invite their friends and relatives to "come on down" and explore the island with them.

And for those who are one-somes and not two-somes, the opportunities for friendship and exploration are just as plentiful.

Indeed, if one were to assemble all the components of an "ideal" retirement location, Sanibel would have most, if not all the most desirable traits!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

One Picture on Sanibel is Worth a Thousand Words

Vacationers on Sanibel Island are always scurrying around seeking the perfect gift to take home with them. They want something that will remind them of the Island, not too big, not too heavy, not too expensive and something that has both a distinct Sanibel "flavor" as well as unique character.

Some vacationers choose to take home a special sea shell that they scooped from the beach and others buy a lovely token from one of the gift shops.

But most don't consider one of the nicest and most enduring "souvenirs" that will mark their holiday with a special joy every time they look at it.

A family portrait on one of Sanibel's beaches offers all the basic requirements for a very unique "take home".

The island has several photographers who specialize in portraits, and while it will cost more than a free seashell from the beach or a modestly priced souvenir from a shop; the portrait is something you will treasure forever.

Your digital pictures are nice mementos to be sure, but a professionally taken photo of the family will have two advantages. It will have a technical proficiency and it will place you in the picture.

Catch the sun setting in the golden tones of late afternoon. Wait a little longer and snap a sky streaked with multi colors. Or have the photographer use a time exposure and capture a darkening sky and emerging moon.

One picture is truly worth a thousand words, and when it is a picture taken on Sanibel, the worth of a great portrait is priceless!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

If Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery, Live on Sanibel

Charles Caleb Colton, an 18th century cleric and writer is considered to be the coiner of the phrase that "imitation is the sincerest (form) of flattery". But Colton, who was very critical of landowners would not have approved or even understood how the phrase is appreciated by me, a landowner.

As a landowner on Sanibel twice over, I take not only pride in our vacation rental properties but great joy in offering them to vacation rental guests.

And, perhaps the nicest thing I can get back from a vacation rental guest is the remark that they had such a good time in our condo or house that they want to return to buy one of their own.

Many have made such comments in the 12 years we have owned on Sanibel, and having made them myself when I have had great vacations in a new location, I realize how infatuated anyone on a great vacation can become with their environment.

But the proof is in the pudding.

And just this week while going through my email addresses from past rental guests, I was delighted to see just how many people followed through on their infatuation.

No less than 6 couples who rented from us in the past dozen years now own a piece of paradise themselves. That's of the people I know because we stay in touch. There well may be another six who I don't know about.

And, if you add to that mix another two couples who came to our properties for the sole purpose of doing some Island real estate shopping and succeeded in finding what they wanted, that brings the total to 8.

I wonder how many vacation destinations have that kind of conversion, renter to owner?

But it's easy to understand how a good island experience inspires someone to plant some tropical roots of their own. The Island is not an inexpensive place to buy a house or condo, but the value to price is so high, that it does make you want to explore the possibilities. Just imagine, for $500K for a large condo or medium sized home, you can purchase tropical splendor, awesome wildlife, a beach that is never crowded, an enormous variety of restaurants and things to do and the ability to enjoy all of it 12 months of the year.

It's a safe environment for children, an easy environment for seniors and a stimulating environment for active adults of all ages, birdwatchers, shell collectors, boaters, biking enthusiasts and just your basic beach bums.

Taxes are not on the lowest level of possibilities, but if you live in the metro NYC or many other metro areas in the States, you will be surprised at their affordability.

Sure, your utility bills will be high in the 4 hottest months, but for the remaining 8, you will most often neither need heat nor air conditioning.

In fact, I am hard pressed to think of a reason not to convert your vacation into a home viewing expedition. Can you really name any place you would rather live?