Article from April 14, 2002

Sky’s the limit in region’s luxury home market


Pat Candito made the real estate deal of a lifetime: a $30 million sale. And the buyers plan to tear the house down.

The first thought the Naples Realtor had was she had just paid for her daughter’s college education.

Candito, 50, has been a Realtor for 20 years. She knew enough not to get too excited until all the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed.

BIG SALE: This Collier County home, at 4370 Gordon Drive, sold for $30 million in 2001. Just five years earlier, the same property sold for just $5.5 million. GARTH FRANCIS/The News-Press

“I’m a professional,’’ she said. “Until it closes, you don’t get overexcited.”

When it did, she realized it was a “dream sale. ’’

Her dream sale, sold April 5, 2001, was the largest on record in Southwest Florida.

A year later, the deal is still the talk of the town, capping the list of the top 10 most expensive homes sold in Lee and Collier counties for 2001. The bottom of Collier’s list — a vacant piece of Port

Royal property that sold for $9.35 million — is pricier than Lee’s most expensive property, at $7.6 million.

The buyers of the $30 million home, who’ve lived in Naples a few years, purchased the 1.45 acres on the Gulf with a one-story, 6,000-square-foot home and a ›-acre bayfront lot on the other side of Gordon Drive.

The same property sold for $5.5 million just five years earlier.

Their yearly tax bill: a whopping $127,831.85, about the average price of a home.

The only details about the new homeowner is that it was the Paul H. O’Neill Trust and the family — Realtors swear they’re not famous — plans to tear the house down.

The rich and famous

They are the occasional celebrities, captains of industry seeking relief from the frantic-paced lives they lead in big cities, who are buying up homes in Southwest Florida.

“We are definitely getting more and more celebrities,’’ said Phil Wood, president of John R. Wood Realtors.

Old money names such as the Harrimans, Rockefellers and the DuPonts have long trekked to Boca Grande.

Sports celebrities such as Larry Bird and Mike Ditka are taking up residence in Naples.

Steve Case, AOL Time Warner’s chairman, sold one home on Captiva for $3.27 million and bought another one for nearly $1.48 million in 1999. Neither would have been enough to make the 2001 list.

Viacom multimedia company president and COO Mel Karmazin and Colonial Banc Group chairman and CEO Robert Lowder did make the list.

Karmazin paid $14.94 million for a three-story Gulf Shore Boulevard home on the beach in Old Naples, the second-highest sale on the top 10 list.

Lowder shelled out $12.4 million in the ultra-exclusive Strand in Pelican Bay, for a four-story home that has a wildlife preserve that blocks the view of neighboring houses.

There’s more than 9,000 square feet under air conditioning, five bedrooms each with its own private balcony, 6 1/2 baths, a wine room and garage space for six cars.

“He liked Naples so much that he thought when he found Naples it was the ultimate place to own a vacation home,’’ his Realtor, Kathy Vlahovic, of Premier Properties, said.

Lowder, of Montgomery, Ala., already owns a home on Bonaire Lane on Barefoot Beach that’s on the market for $8.4 million.

“Naples has become like Aspen and Palm Springs. Your million-dollar-plus buyer almost always has at least one other home somewhere,’’ Wood said.

“The demand is incredible. ... They are sitting on the sidelines ready to pounce,” he said.

Ready to be pounced on is an 11,000-square-foot home in Bay Colony in Naples. The price: $20 million.

There’s no doubt in Wood’s mind that the $30 million sale record will be broken.

“It’s a question of how soon,’’ he said.

Realtors would relish it. Candito wouldn’t give an exact amount, but experts say the commission could have been as high as $1.5 million.

Nationally, the highest price ever paid for a residential property is said to be $50 million.

That’s what developer Del Webb paid for mutual fund magnate Jack Dreyfus’ Thunderbird Lodge in Lake Tahoe, Nev., in 1998.

According to’s list of the Most Expensive Homes in America currently for sale, the average price is $47.4 million. Palm Beach boasts the priciest listing at $75 million.

Finding their place in the sun

No one needs an $11 million home, said J.D. Williamson, an amateur race car driver on the Ferrari Challenge Series.

J.D. and Judy Williamson sit by the pool of their $11 million Port Royal home in Naples. GARTH FRANCIS/The News-Press

Click on image to enlarge.

But that’s what he and his wife, Judy, paid for their place in the sun, coming in at number five in Collier’s top 10 list. They are one of the few who consider Naples their primary home.

“We’re fortunate to be able to buy it,’’ he said.

In search of a wider view of the Gulf and a larger home for their grandchildren to run around, the couple found it in a 7,000-square-foot gem with a 100-foot floating dock.

Williamson, 56, who owns three Ferraris, said his favorite part is the five-car garage.

“We went for it,’’ he said. “It may have been expensive from the start but it’s a good long-term investment.’’

The northeast Ohio native moved to Naples about four years ago. His family had owned and operated radio and television stations and a cable company in Ohio before selling them a few years ago, sending him into retirement.

“The greatest thing is living in Port Royal,’’ he said of the exclusive Naples neighborhood that lines the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Naples Bay on the other.

The worst part about it? The tax bill.

“It’s huge,’’ said Williamson, who still has a $5.5 million home for sale on Spyglass Lane, just around the corner from his new Gin Lane house. “It’s obscene.’’

It’s $82,845.64.

High price to pay for high-end homes

In Lee County, a trust for Martha H. and Arthur Kaemmer of Minnesota paid the most for a home in 2001.

Taxes alone on the 10,058-square-foot Gulf-front home are $68,385, nearly twice the median income of Lee County residents. The owners, who did not return a call from The News-Press, got a main house, a two-bedroom guesthouse and a garage.

Dennis and Sandy Kuester made the top 10 in Lee, at number nine, one of only three not on the beach.

The couple owned a condominium in Bonita Bay for three years before they bought the $3.1 million Bonita Bay home, with four bedroom suites in a sprawling 14,000-square-foot estate, about 10 times the size of an average home.

“It’s wonderful,’’ Sandy Kuester said. “This is like a dream ... it truly is.’’

The couple weren’t trust fund babies who inherited their lavish lifestyle. Dennis Kuester is CEO of a Milwaukee-based bank.

“My husband worked very hard, and we want to enjoy this on a full-time basis,’’ she said. “I can’t wait until we can be down here permanently.’’

The couple, married almost 33 years, have two children and a grandson who loves to frolic in the pool.

“We absolutely love it here.’’

Gulf good attraction

Lee’s deals are scattered about — from Boca Grande to Bonita Springs — but none is set too far back from Gulf waters.

Margie Davison, a Realtor with Priscilla Murphy Realty, wasn’t surprised the islands of Sanibel and Captiva made up four of the top 10 sales.

Lee County's third top sale, worth $5 million. GARTH FRANCIS/The News-Press

“For the last two to three years, it’s really been pretty good,’’ she said. “The economy actually does not seem to affect our market.’’

Davison, who is president of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Association of Realtor, has lived on Sanibel since 1985, and she’s been in real estate for 11 years.

Five years ago, the most expensive thing sold would have been about $3 million, she said. Now, those same Gulf-front homes and condos are getting double that.

Jon Rubinton, a Naples developer, has been scooping up high-end waterfront property on Captiva Island for a few years.

He recently made his way to the top 10 list with his investment purchase of a house for $3.795 million. It’s back on the market for $5.5 million. He’s made no improvements to the “little beach cottage.”

“It’s a tough game to play,’’ he said. “The value’s in the property.’’

Lee County’s million-dollar home market is really just catching on, experts said.

Sanibel, Captiva and Boca Grande have long been home to posh island estates. And recently, the gated enclaves in Bonita Springs have made their debut on the top 10 list surrounded by golf courses instead of Gulf waters.

But the rest of the county has been mysteriously missing from the list. Until now.

Just last week, Cape Coral scored a big one, a $3 million sale to a group of investors for a 6,300-square-foot home in Cape Harbour.

Sanibel has a couple of $3 million homes and Boca Grande has at least one $6 million home for sale.

And developer O.J. Buigas, who built up Mastercraft Homes into the county’s largest builder of single-family houses and sold it in 1997 for $22 million, is trying to sell his Fort Myers home for $7.9 million on Shaddelee Lane along the Caloosahatchee River.

Lee’s highest sale price so far this year was $3.7 million, for a Gulf-front home on Captiva, sold to Hussamy Investments of Vero Beach.

In Collier, the most expensive so far this year was a $10 million sale in February on a Port Royal property that a year ago sold for $4.5 million.

“I don’t see an end in sight,’’ Davison said. But, she added, “Common sense tells you prices can’t continue to go up at the rate they’ve gone up the past two years.’’

For now, common sense doesn’t seem to matter.

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