View Full Version : The Keys are dead

Leon m
06-12-2005, 12:22 PM
Some residents seeking paradise in Central America
After 12 years of Keys living, real estate agent Adrian Bufton had had enough. So he sold his Key Largo home for $710,000 and moved out of the area.

But unlike the legions of Keys residents who are cashing out of their expensive homes and heading north to places like Ocala, Georgia and North Carolina, Bufton cast his gaze in a different direction.

After just a few weeks of looking he purchased a beachside unit in a cozy four-plex on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. The price: $195,000.

Now, just months after leaving the Keys, Bufton has jumped backed into the real estate business. And he says that he has no regrets about leaving the Conch Republic.

"The Keys are going condo," he said recently from his new home in the Costa Rica town of Flamingo Beach. "When it all goes condo who wants to live there? [Flamingo Beach] is wonderful. It has got all you need. It is very Americanized. Everyone speaks English. It's like the Keys was maybe 10 years ago."

Bufton's move to the south, while still not the norm, is no longer unique among Upper Keys residents looking for greener pastures. Locales to the north may offer cheaper real estate and an antidote to the Keys' rapid gentrification, but they cannot replace the tropical climate and island lifestyle that first attracted many to these southernmost outposts of the continental United States.

To get those things, many are heading to Central America, where increasing political stability, improving infrastructure and still affordable waterfront properties all serve to make the area attractive.

Leading the way is Costa Rica. Long the most stable of the Central American countries, Costa Rica has not had a military since the 1940s. Its literacy rate is greater than 95 percent and more than 25 percent of its landmass is protected as national parks or preserves.

Ted Tiedemann, the owner of Key Largo Illustrations, a tattoo parlor near mile marker 103, is one Keys resident that couldn't resist Costa Rica's allure. Eight years ago Tiedemann bought a store in Jaco, Costa Rica, a Key Largo-sized town of about 10,000 people on the nation's Pacific coast. Three years later his family bought a house there for $90,000. Then, two years ago they decided to move to Jaco. Though the Tiedemanns have temporarily returned to the Keys for family reasons, they plan to head back south.

"It's a beautiful place and the only place in the world without an army," Tiedemann said of Costa Rica. "Life isn't very structured there. It's laid back. That is the lifestyle I want for my children.''

Thomas Ghormley, a Jaco real estate agent who moved to Costa Rica from his native California 20 years ago, said that Tiedemann is not alone in moving from the Keys to Costa Rica.

"We have a lot of Keys people," he said. "In fact, my ex-partner Steve Walker was a Keys person. He used to own a parking lot in Key West. I had some people from the Keys in here just this week. They were looking for a bed and breakfast."

In Jaco, Ghormley explained, about 20 percent of the residents are foreigners, primarily from the United States and Canada. Among the areas supplying the largest influx of foreigners, commonly called gringos, is Florida, he said.

In other towns, such as Flamingo Beach to Jaco's north and Escazu in the hills above the capital of San Jose, foreign populations are even larger, Ghormley said. And all that foreign investment is driving up property values.

"In the Flamingo area properties are just skyrocketing," he said.

Doug Prew, the owner of Fish House and Fish House Encore, two popular Key Largo eateries, said he is not presently considering selling his restaurants, but he has been mulling over a move to Costa Rica for a while.

"I know that it is growing and I know that tourism is growing," he said. "My concern for the future of Key Largo is the 'condo-ization' of all the hotel rooms. And I am concerned about what that will mean to tourism in the Keys."

But Costa Rica is not the only Central American destination that has attracted the attention of Upper Keys residents. Prew said he is also looking at Nicaragua, where infrastructure, living standards and property values lag behind its neighbor to the south.

"Nicaragua is Costa Rica 10 years ago," he said.

Another Key Largo businessman, Pat Cresci, owner of Tugboats Garden of Eatin' restaurant, has turned his attention even farther south. Cresci spent last week on a scouting tour in Panama and said that he is strongly considering the area as a retirement venue.

"It was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous," he said. "The atmosphere in Panama is the Keys in the 1950s or 1960s."

Meanwhile, Key Largo residents Eve Peerson and Wayne Rupinski have already made their purchase. Last year they bought a half acre on the beach in the town of Sittee Point, Belize for $90,000, Peerson said. They have since built a "one-bedroom beach shack" on the site.

And while Peerson said she is not sure if she will ultimately sell her Keys home and move to Belize, she is sure of one thing: Sittee Point has that laid-back feel that the Keys have at least partially lost.

"It's a lifestyle that is very simple," she said. "When you go boating you might be able to go the whole day and only see two boats. There is no Publix there and no fast food. A lot of it reminds me of the way the Keys were 20 years ago."

Phillip Allen
06-12-2005, 12:47 PM
Real estate brokers reap the land and it changes forever...(of course they and their "bankers" consider it a positive change)

06-12-2005, 12:54 PM
I quit going to the keys about 25 yrs ago or more.I saw the handwriting on that wall.Alot of Florida's quaint little places have fallen to the same demise.Soon as it started getting yuppified.Maybe I'll go back when everyone moves.Same thing happened to Boca Grande and everyother point of paradise in FL.Ocala is getting like that too now.Guess that is just bound to happen no matter what.I love the way people have to "get away" from it all and erect the same comforts as where they came from. Why not just plant some palms and play Jimmy Buffet music at home. If you squint your eyes it almost looks the same.

Phillip Allen
06-12-2005, 01:19 PM
It is the same...only they squint their brains.

06-12-2005, 01:22 PM
Hard to believe those land prices that far south of the border!

Leon m
06-12-2005, 08:12 PM
I know a little place thats still untouched...but I ain't tellin ;)

Steve Paskey
06-12-2005, 10:56 PM
Have patience, and the Keys will be "restored," most likely with a very regrettable loss of life. Folks have forgotten just how ferocious a hurricane can be -- witness the "Labor Day hurricane" of 1935. It will happen again -- it's just a question of when.

1935 storm swept away all but memories

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Bernard Russell felt his sister's grip on his hand pull away in the darkness as the 200 mph wind whipped his body and waves crashed over him for what seemed like an eternity.

"You went wherever the waves pushed you and wherever the winds pushed you," he said. "It was so dark, you couldn't see what was going on and maybe that was good."

A 15-foot-high wall of water washed over Matecumbe Key. Russell's mother and three sisters perished, but that was just the beginning.

"There were 61 in the Russell family and 50 of them died that night," Russell, 78, recalled in a recent telephone interview.

The day was even more terrifying. What became known as the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 cleared every tree and every building off Matecumbe Key, and destroyed the railroad that connected the Florida Keys to the mainland.

The official death toll was 423 - 164 civilians and 259 World War I veterans living in three federal rehabilitation camps.

"There were so many dead people and no place to take them," said Russell, who was 17 when the hurricane hit. "They stacked them up and burned them."

After the storm, Ernest Hemingway visited the Keys and wrote about the destruction in a scathing article titled "Who Killed the Vets" for New Masses magazine and in a letter to his editor, Max Perkins.

"We located 69 bodies where no one had been able to get in. Indian Key was absolutely swept clean, not a blade of grass," he wrote to Perkins. "We made five trips with provisions for survivors to different places but nothing but dead men to eat the grub."

Many of the victims drowned, some swept into the Gulf of Mexico, others sucked back into the Atlantic after the 15-foot wave passed. Some people were literally sandblasted to death.

Russell ended up on top of a trash pile of trees and other debris. He still doesn't understand how or why he survived.

"Only the good Lord knows that," he said.

[ 06-13-2005, 12:01 AM: Message edited by: Steve Paskey ]

John Gearing
06-13-2005, 12:17 AM
Spent some time in Costa Rica a few years back, and found there's plenty of downside to the place, though compared with the rest of Latin America it is paradise on earth. There may be no army but there is plenty of crime. Every house in the capital, San Jose, had a high wrought iron fence encircling it and the family car(s) were locked inside it each night. Parking overnight in downtown SJ was strongly discouraged -- too great a likelihood that your car would be stolen overnight. The condo we were in was out toward the airport, but even out there every house had the obligatory fence. At the end of our block was a small guard shack occupied all night by the neighborhood's private guard and his baseball bat sized billyclub. Another couple of blocks farther down took you to the PanAm highway along which there were a couple of hotels restaurants a decent grocery store, and a number of small shops. One of the hotels had a casino in its basement. There were a couple of guards with short-barrel twelve guages patrolling the parking lot ouside. I have to assume they were there for a reason.

The road system is fairly primitive by US standards. Although most roads are paved, there just aren't that many of them and the only "freeway" type of road is the Pan-American highway which runs north to south, border to border. Around SJ it is one and a half lanes wide and lacks a divider. In the mountains north and south of SJ it becomes a two lane road with lots of winding switchbacks (and not much in the way of guardrails). Off the PanAm, the roads are mostly two lane blacktop, but if you get caught behind a slow truck, you are there forever because safe passing is nigh unto impossible. what should be a two-hour trip can easily turn into a 4-6 hour trip.

Americans moving to Costa Rica is nothing new. Paul Theroux described it in "The Great Patagonia Express" back in the late 70's. 90 large for a place sounds like they saw the guy coming. My guide told us that a typical Costa Rican house costs about $30K. Unfortunately, he said, the per capita income is about $6000/year. The reason, he said, that we didn't see any Ticos (their own word for Costa Rican citizens) enjoying any of the places the tourists go is that the admission is too expensive for most Ticos.

Yeah, the people were very friendly and the prices were low, but even CR has it's blemishes.

martin schulz
06-13-2005, 02:13 AM
Originally posted by Leon m:
[Flamingo Beach] is wonderful. It has got all you need. It is very Americanized. Everyone speaks English.So this makes a place wonderful? When everyone speaks english and when it is americanized?

When I decide to leave my country I rather stay/live
at a place that has its own culture, language and self-conception.

But perhaps that's the major difference between the US and Europe. We actually like the "culture clash" and we like it when places are not americanized.