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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 3 weeks ago

Waterfront teardowns come with a price

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Demand for homes on the water is driving buyers to demolish older houses in Sarasota neighborhoods.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

As a custom homebuilder in a community that attracts affluent buyers, Ricky Perrone is used to tearing down expensive waterfront houses to make way for new construction.

Still, a recent project in the Harbor Acres neighborhood surprised even him. A client purchased the property at 1233 Hillview Drive for $9.85 million and demolished the 1990 home valued at more than $1 million in 2018, according to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser.

The home hadn’t even been on the market. The buyer reached out to the homeowner and made an offer that couldn’t be refused. Such is the demand for waterfront residential property in Sarasota at the moment, Perrone said.

Perrone Construction has specialized in building waterfront homes for nearly 40 years, so the company is familiar with the ebbs and flows of the market. For the past few years, however, Perrone has found his clients have wound up almost exclusively tearing down old homes to move forward with their plans.

“It’s a supply and demand thing,” Perrone said. “There’s such scarcity of vacant waterfront land available, and even fewer of those properties are actually for sale at any given time.”

Why are the existing homes on these properties not up to the standards of interested buyers? Perrone and others attributed the phenomenon to changing trends in home design and the demands of those who can afford to buy waterfront property in Sarasota.

Perrone said many of his clients are looking for a second home and want something built to their preferences. He said houses built as recently as the 1990s can seem dated if they weren’t designed thoughtfully. As a result, buyers prefer to start from scratch.

Charles Totonis, a Realtor with Keller Williams, said the demand for new waterfront construction could be driven in part by activity happening elsewhere in the area, particularly downtown.

“Now that people are seeing the growth, seeing high-rises, seeing things selling at a fast pace, they say, ‘Here’s a great time; let’s buy waterfront,’” Totonis said.

He said some buyers want to tear down an older home because new design trends have emerged, such as the popularity of concepts including open floor plans.

Tina Biter, president of the Harbor Acres Community Association, said construction has been pretty much constant in the area since she moved in seven years ago. Other than gripes associated with construction, though, Biter thinks Harbor Acres residents are happy with the new homes.

“The ones they’re taking down, I think everybody’s thrilled about it,” Biter said.

The demolition of older homes has been a point of concern in other neighborhoods throughout the city, with some residents fearing the new construction alters the character of the place where they live. Erin DiFazio, a Realtor and a member of the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation, said she attempts to educate her clients about the potential benefits of preserving a house.

For historic homes, DiFazio said there are buyers interested in maintaining what’s already there. For other older properties, DiFazio tries to explain that remodeling might not be as costly as people fear — and that there are other expenses associated with demolition.

“There’s a lot of tie-ins between preservation and environmental sustainability,” DiFazio said. “It’s an incredibly wasteful practice to tear down perfectly good buildings and build new fine buildings.”

As long as there continues to be demand for new product on the waterfront, however, Perrone thinks the lack of vacant space means the teardowns will continue.

“This is pretty much the new norm,” Perrone said.

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