Heading Toward A Sellers' Market
Upper Key homes prices were up during the first quarter, putting to rest any lingering doubt that the market took a long-term hit from Hurricane Irma. In fact, the higher prices, combined with declining inventory, give all appearances that we're headed towards a sellers' market. During the months of January through March, the median closing price for homes sold from Duck Key north through Key Largo (Ocean Reef excluded) was $510,000, a jump of 13% year-over-year. Meanwhile, the average number of days it took for homes to sell dropped from 143 last winter to 121 this winter. The quickening sales pace was likely caused, at least in part, by the fact that fewer homes are available for sale.
As of March 31, 620 homes were on the market in the Upper Keys compared with 667 listings a year earlier. The total number of sales was relatively flat year-over year, with 149 closing this January through March compared with 160 closings in the first quarter of 2017. Closing prices should stay high moving forward. The median Upper Keys home listed at $622,500 at the end of March, up from $599,000 a year earlier. Meanwhile, there were a mere five foreclosure properties up for sale, making them largely a non-factor in the market. Looks like all systems are go.
Local Hotels Coming Back Online
With Irma now more than seven months in the rear-view mirror, hotel re-openings are continuing in the Upper Keys. March 30th marked the opening of the 214-room Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada following $25 million in renovations and repairs. Cheeca now sports a renovated lobby and spa, renovated guestrooms, and a new restaurant. March 30th also marked the reopening of the 240-unit Tavernier Point complex after a multi-million dollar renovation. As such, the Key Largo Hilton remains the only substantial Key Largo lodging property still down after Irma, That delay, however, has little to do with the storm. Rather, it's because the property is undergoing a major makeover as it is turned into a 200-room luxury Curio Collection by Hilton hotel called Baker's Cay. Key Largo will also get a boost with the opening of a 135-unit, all-inclusive Bungalows Key Largo resort, which is slated for July. Back down in Islamorada, Cheeca isn't the only lodge making strides in its recovery effort. Chesapeake Beach Resort, La Siesta Resort & Marina and Pelican Cove have partially reopened, while the Postcard Inn expects to reopen as soon as May and to have all of its facilities running by June.
On Duck Key, which was hard hit by Irma, Hawks Cay Resort opened 100 villas on March 16th along with one pool, the spa and the Angle & Ale restaurant. The property is pointing toward summer for the reopening of its 177-room main lodge, as well as the remainder of its amenities. Hotel re-openings through the spring and summer should leave the 114-room Islander Resort in Islamorada as the largest Upper Keys property still fully closed due primarily to storm damage. However, the separate 25-unit Islander Bayside Resort is open. As Upper Keys lodges continue their recovery, the area's spate of shops, restaurants and attractions are more-or-less fully open. The only exception to the above is the local oceanside marinas. Caloosa Cove and the Postcard Inn marinas remained offline as of late March, according to Islamorada Chamber of Commerce executive director Judy Hull. But several other marinas, including Whale Harbor, Bud n' Mary's, Robbie's and Founders Park were open for business.
State Says Everglades Reservoir Project Will Help Florida Bay
The state-run South Florida Water Management District has signed off on a $1.4 billion Everglades restoration project that supporters way will improve water quality in Florida Bay. The bay has been plagued in recent years by algae blooms that scientists mostly attribute to inadequate freshwater input from the Everglades. Causing that dearth are water diversion projects such as canals and levies that have been constructed through the decades to provide flood protection to South Florida cities and farmland. The canals divert rainwater flow that historically has moved slowly south from Lake Okeechobee through the central Everglades and into the Florida Bay. They instead send the water to the east and west coasts of Florida through the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. The plan approved by the water management district calls for the construction of a 10,500-acre reservoir and a nearby 6,500-acre stormwater treatment area. The reservoir would provide water managers with more holding capacity during times of heavy rainfalls so that they wouldn't have to divert as much water out to sea.
The treatment area could be designed to clean the water of pollutants, most notably nitrogen, which comes from the sugar plantation south of Lake Okeechobee, as well as other agricultural land. The state says that the project would allow for a 76% increase in the amount of freshwater allowed to move through the central everglades. While most of that extra water would eventually flow out to the Gulf of Mexico, a portion of it would also travel into Florida Bay, helping to reduce the degradation of the water quality that has been caused by over-saltiness. After earlier hesitation, much of the South Florida environmental community has endorsed the plan, even through the South Florida Water Management District eschewed a proposal for a larger reservoir. But the local group Florida Bay Forever hasn't signed on. The group's director, Elizabeth Jolin, says the body of science surrounding the project suggests that it won't work.
"There needs to be more cleaning marshes and there is doubt that has been cast around the deepness of the reservoir," she said. "The design hasn't been proven with that much water depth." she encouraged community members to stay engaged and to work as watchdogs over the project. The state has formally asked Congress to help fund the reservoir and treatment area. Once funded, the project could take a decade or longer to complete.
Did You Know?
The crocodiles that can sometimes be seen lounging along waterways in the Upper Keys are quite docile. Just how docile? Well, to date there has only been one documented attack on a person by an American crocodile in Florida. Even that attack was defensive in nature. The startled crock inflicted moderate bite wounds on a young man and young woman after they leapt blindly into a Coral Gables canal at night.
The American crocodile is a conservation success story. The Florida population had dropped to just a few hundred in 1975 when they were listed as an endangered species. Today, Florida is home to between 1,500 and 2,000 crocodiles according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), with the population centered upon the Everglades, the Upper Keys and the cooling canals of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Homestead. The improving numbers allowed wildlife officials to downgrade the crocodile's conservation status to Threatened in 2007. Inevitably, the higher population has resulted in more crocodiles making their way into developed neighborhoods than was the case a few decades ago. These encounters are certainly a curiosity, and to many they are a fascinating reminder of how unique the Keys truly are.
They are also quite safe, as long as people remember to take a few common sense precautions. Here are some tips, per the FWC:
Keep your distance as you photograph or view crocodiles.
Swim only during the day, especially since crocodiles are most active at night.
Keep pets away from water that might contain crocodiles as they sometimes resemble crocodiles' prey.
Don't feed crocodiles. It's illegal and it teaches the prehistoric reptiles to become reliant on people.
For More information, visit the FWC website,