Longboat Key, Florida. A couple walks into the store at the Longboat Key Marina. Both have deep, permanent dark tans--- the kind you can imagine going down to their bones. I’m here getting my free early morning coffee and muffin, feeling a little guilty about the amount of Half and Half I am using.
The couple greets another man. He asks about their boat.
“Has it sold yet?”
“No,” they grimace.
What then unfolds can only be classified as a high-order First World problem: We’re having trouble selling our yacht.
Having lived on their boat for several years, the couple is done with boating. It’s too hard to find people willing to show up and work on boats, they say. It’s also too expensive. So they bought a house and put the boat on the market. That was more than a year ago. They waited for offers.
They’re still waiting. Eleven people have looked at the boat, but no offers. Not even a low-ball.
Some context here is important. Longboat Key Marina isn’t just any Marina, and Longboat Key isn’t just any place. There are a lot of scruffy marinas in the world, but this isn’t one of them. It’s posh, filled with boats that are 60, 70 and 90 feet long--- the kind that have a salaried captain. Some might have a second crew member, someone good with hors d’oeuvres.
I was here in March, on a chartered 37-foot Jeanneau sloop, and worried that some would question right to be there. Even today, on my friend Walt’s 42-foot Nordic Tug, we joke that we only got in because it’s the off-season.
Longboat Key is no tiki-bar beach community, either. It’s a very quiet place, discreetly occupied by the Seldom Seen. It’s a place filled with “old money,” even if little of it is inherited.
The couple has an older boat, priced around $150,000. I gathered it was a classic trawler with two staterooms, two heads with showers, a salon, a galley and a fly bridge with a commanding view of everything around it. Buy it’s equivalent new, today, and you’ll be writing a check for $700,000, maybe $900,000.
“You know,” the talkative half of the couple says, “we may just sell it as a cheap condo. We own the slip. It would make a good package.”
She’s right. Boats are the last cheap waterfront in America. That’s the message I get from this visit to what might be called The-New and Fully Recovered Florida. Whatever the devastation of the real estate crash nearly a decade ago, it’s over.
Today the Sarasota skyline is a wall of new condo buildings. And good luck finding inexpensive waterfront/water view. A small two-bedroom, two-bath condo with water view will set you back about $500,000. And up, as they say. It will price out at $500 a square foot, often more.
But what about all the foreclosures?
Gone. Here and there you can find a short sale, something purchased by someone who had the misfortune of buying at the absolute market top. But most people have been made whole by rising prices and enough new residents that you can experience major traffic jams in the off season. It’s good to remember that the boomers start turning 70 this year and, for some, Required Minimum Distributions just mean cash burning to be spent.
Think about it. That $150,000 is on the high side for older yachts in the 40 to 50 foot range. Visit the Yachtworld website and you can find boats of that description for as little as $50,000. Yes, they will need work. But if you don’t require an engine that runs, a generator that works, or instruments that function, the work could be pretty cosmetic. Get a bottom that floats, add a few Tommy Bahama pillows, and you’re done.
So you could be $350,000 to $450,000 ahead of the person who buys an actual condo. Better still, the condo buyers have to worry about global warming. You don’t. When the time comes, the condo sinks into the sea but you just float on--- to a new marina along the new coastline, further inland.