Gay Pride and Pizazz Drive Local Real Estate Prices Up
     ďGuppies GaloreĒ
     By Al Gould

As the population of many Fort Lauderdale neighborhoods become filled with gay residents and businesses, real estate prices have increased dramatically. How much have they risen? What neighborhoods are still hot and what will be hot in the future? The Express talked recently with a random panel of gay and gay friendly real estate agents to get the answers to these and other questions important to our community.

It was not too long ago when The Shoppess of Wilton Manors, now a gay mecca, housed empty buildings and a struggling Piggly Wiggly. It was not too long ago when Victoria Park housed older homes that were cheap and readily available at low prices.

In the last five years, the neighborhoods around Wilton Drive have experienced an urban renaissance, becoming a great place to live and work, dine and shop, and socialize gracefully. Wilton Manors is poised to become one in a series of many real estate success stories. In the past decade, Victoria Park has become a home for thousands of gay residents whose homes and properties have been restored and upgraded.

"Itís a guppie success story," declared Hot Spots! Publisher Jason Bell, referring to the Gay Urban Professionals, who live in these areas. Many gay and gay friendly realtors advertise in the Express and form a substantial financial base for Scoop and Bellís Hot Spots!

The Basics

Nationwide, gay people have been buying homes in transitional neighborhoods and turning them into showpieces. Across the country, countless neighborhoods have seen dramatic turnarounds happen house by house, block by block. In most cases, gay people donít have to deal with the issue of good schools and are less concerned about security issues (like leaving a wife home alone). Transitional neighborhoods are less threatening then they moight be to our straight counterparts. 

For these reasons, "gay residents are viewed as trendsetters", stated Andy Weiser of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate. "We are the demographic that can make or break a neighborhood in transition. Although this trend is happening nationwide, some things set South Florida and the Fort Lauderdale area apart from the rest," Weiser noted.

Jay Hatoff, owner of Majestic Realty in Wilton Manors commented on the basics of Fort Lauderdale real estate. "With the Everglades on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, the Fort Lauderdale area is landlocked and canít get larger in size. This means the law of supply and demand that drives the market here is quick to recognize good areas." 

With more people relocating to South Florida every year, the demand for property in nice neighborhoods can quickly overshadow the supply. Hatoff stated that just about anything in Fort Lauderdale east of I-95 is hot right now. 

"It seems that when gay residents take pride in their homes and neighborhoods, the communities they live in become better places for everyone to live," stated Frank Rubino, of Infante and Associates. "It is simple," he explained. "Gays have more time and disposable income to invest in fixing up and maintaining their properties than most couples. For one, they donít have children."

Tony Naples, of Eastside properties agreed. "Just take a look around Home Depot on a Saturday and youíll see all sorts of gay shoppers. They are fixing up their homes," he added. Interestingly, when the Express inaugurated the cartoon strip Kyleís Bed ní Breakfast last week, it featured all four main characters lumbering their way through a ĎHouse Depotí on a Saturday morning. 

Greg Culicetto, of RE/Max Partners, added "fixing up homes appeals to our creative side, the vision" we all possess. Getting into the home improvement spirit appears to be catchy. Mainstream homebuyers have noticed whatís happened after gay residents start moving into an area. The city of Wilton Manors, for example, had an influx of gay business follow residents into town. "

After businesses started to succeed and property values rose, tax dollars started to beautify the cityís public areas. Wilton Manors Elementary School is now respected as a great place for children to attend grammar school. All of the realtors that talked with The Express agreed that straight singles, couples and families looking for a home used words like "wonderful" when told the area(s) they were interested in contained high rates of gay residents. 

Whatís Hot

The average home in Wilton Manors valued at $100,000 five years ago is now worth about $150,000. Victoria Park has seen 30% increases in the last five years. Besides places like Victoria Park and Wilton Manors, other area gay neighborhoods have also seen dramatic increases in property values. In the last year alone, Fort Lauderdale areas east of I-95 have seen a 14% average increase in value. Even Lake Ridge, just off Sunrise Blvd., has developed a powerful neighborhood association with a strong gay presence. It was instrumental in cleaning up prostitution along the boulevard.

The southwest corner of the city has been a stable market in the past. In the last five years though, the area once affectionately referred to as "Homo Heights", has also experienced rising real estate prices. City Commissioner Jack Latona, who represents the southwest, said that the gay community's presence has enhanced both the quality of life and the neighborhoods in this section of the city. 

Elsewhere, the gay presence has also worked favorably for real estate values. Tony Naples specializes in properties in and around the beach. "Ten years ago, you could get a nice two bedroom condo on the beach in the low $100ís. Now you canít touch anything in the area for less than the $160ís" Tony stated. Moreso, the number of gay guesthouses on the beach has grown from two to twenty-five in just a few years. Bed and breakfasts not only effectively restore dilapidated properties to communal rentals, but put gay dollars to work in a way that enhance the entire neighborhood.

As a community spread out over most of Fort Lauderdale, gay residents have done a lot to make sure their homes and neighborhoods look and feel top notch. Stated Joan Cerrito of Eve Realty: "Gays are dependable and reliable individuals. As they move into communities, and fix up homes, they improve and enhance property values enormously."

"Even if you own investment property, treat it as if were your own home. That little piece of Martha Stewart in all of us goes a long way to increase property values and community pride in all residents," added Jay Hatoff.

The Downside 

Although thereís a lot more good news than bad, there are things to consider when taking a close look at a booming real estate market. What are the adverse effects of runaway property values? What about renters? Is there any chance that you can purchase a home in a gay neighborhood one or two years from now without winning the lottery? "Yes" was the unanimous opinion of the real estate agents the Express spoke with. "Look for pockets of transitional homes inside neighborhoods that have already seen big increases in property values", said Frank Rubino."These are the good ones to move on."

Up and Coming

There are several neighborhoods that in the past havenít generated mass interest, but are now gaining popularity with the gay community. Based on past trends, experiences and professional expertise, the Express panel of agents felt that several area neighborhoods were worthy of the "up and coming" label. Mentioned areas included Poinsettia Heights, which has already begun itís transformation, Middle River Terrace (just below Wilton Manors) and North Andrews Garden (located near Commercial Boulevard and Andrews Avenue).

Properties on the water are especially likely to increase in value, partly because there is only so much waterfront property to go around. Greg Culicetto offered this advice: "Start by figuring out the area you would like to live in. Real estate really is about location, location, location." There were also areas in Oakland Park, even west of I-95, that were described as up and coming by the agents we spoke with. 

A good sign that an area is primed to attract gay residents is the opening of gay businesses. Although the businesses will usually follow gay residents into a neighborhood, the reverse can also produce dramatic results for a neighborhood. "Iíve had clients tell me they want to be able to walk to the local bar or ride their bikes to the gym they belong to" voiced Andy Weiser.

Interested in being an urban pioneer? "If you are looking for good value in a home and are willing to renovate, take a leap of faith in an area that is up and coming. Hope that others will follow your example," suggested Kim Garvy, the broker for Sunny Skies Real Estate in the Gateway Shopping Center. All the realtors that spoke with The Express felt that this trend would continue. These areas have yet to show signs of leveling off. 

If you are looking to buy in an area that is already escalating in interest and price, Andy Weiser summed it up best when he concluded "Even though youíre paying more today than you were yesterday, itís still not as much as youíll pay tomorrow." 

Make it Happen

So what if you already own a home and want to make sure your neighborhood gets a piece of the action? The realtors interviewed suggested that there are several things you can do to help put your property and neighborhood on the A-list. 

- Renovations and landscaping will always go a long way to make your home look great. 

-But besides making the outside of your home beautiful, keep a watchful eye on the neighborhood as well. 

-Join or start a neighborhood watch program. 

- Put up motion lights and other outdoor lighting. 

-When you are out of town, used timed lights and ask a neighbor to take in your mail. 

- Install a security system and put a sign in your front yard that announces it. 

- When you notice a problem with the cityís drainage, stoplights, streets, etc., report the problem so it gets taken care of quickly. 

-Talk with your company about adopting a road, highway or shore in your neighborhood that needs help. -

Got an idea to brighten up your neighborhood? Share it with your city councilperson or other local official. Get involved

Up and Coming Properties

Other hot neighborhoods mentioned by the Express panel included 

-Poinsettia Heights (from US 1 to NE 15th Avenue and from NE 13th Street to the River), 

-Coral Heights (north of Oakland Park Boulevard and West of US1) 

-Coral Ridge (just north of Victoria Park)

-Hillsbrook (the area between Powerline and Andrews) 

-The Landing neighborhood (Bayview north of Commercial Boulevard). .

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