Selling the Beach

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Realtor Michael Holderness Hunts Down Beachfront Properties for HGTV

Whether he’s selling multimillion dollar Gulf Coast waterfront homes, or building his own portfolio, for well-known third-generation local realtor Michael Holderness, finding a bargain on the beach for HGTV’s “Beachfront Bargain Hunt” was more akin to “Mission Impossible.” Like the movie franchise’s agent Ethan Hunt, Holderness chose to accept the seemingly impossible – find a two-bedroom, two-bath Siesta Key property on the beach for under $350,000.

“Finding a beachfront property in that price range on Siesta Key is a tall order,” says Holderness, a Sarasota native who has been a realtor with his family brokerage, SaraBay Real Estate, for 20 years and who also owns Siesta Key Beachside Villas (941-725-0338 | mikeholderness.com). Although he routinely helps buyers looking for multi-million dollar properties, Holderness didn’t back down from the challenge. “They wanted something on the beach, but didn’t want to break the bank,” he says. “What they were looking for was more in the $1 million range so they did not get everything on their wish list, but they did get the perfect condo, and we kept it under $350,000. Regardless of price, I truly enjoy helping customers and am excited to find their dream.”

The buyers, a younger professional couple, have family here and vacationed on Siesta Key as children. “Now they can bring their kids here for vacation, and who knows? Maybe when they realize their dream of retiring here, they will buy that million dollar property,” he says. Even though it took four days out of his busy schedule to film the couple viewing four properties before making their decision, Holderness says it was fun and worth it. The episode is in season 13 and scheduled to run in the fall, he says. And while Holderness calls it “the most entertaining episode ever,” he’s giving away no spoilers.

Reality television aside, Holderness says the reality in the market is that, while this season saw somewhat fewer buyers, today’s buyers are serious. “The looky-loos are gone, and we’re seeing more quality buyers,” he says. “Sellers need to take any offers seriously.” While there has been a lack of inventory for the mid-line buyer, that is not the case for high-end homes. “However, there is a lack of what buyers are looking for, which are move-in-ready, high-end waterfront homes,” he says. “They also are looking for a certain style. Fifteen years ago, what many considered ‘homey’ were knick-knacks, dark cabinets and furniture, and overstuffed couches. With the sensory overload coming at us from our devices and everywhere else, for today’s buyers, it’s all about clean lines and lighter, softer colors. They want a more modern look with a contemporary twist.”

Holderness says the local market still is experiencing two distinct busy seasons. From February through April, it’s snowbirds looking for second homes and vacation rentals. The second season is May through August when year-round residents are seriously house hunting in order to be settled before the snowbirds start to come back and they get busier again. “When I work with buyers, I listen to what they want,” he says. “Because I know the inventory very well, I don’t necessarily have to go on a big search to find the right home for that buyer. I try to bring the right buyer to the home.”

Also this year, Holderness says he is seeing a large increase in demand for vacation rental properties. Even with prices rising, return rates are still good. Holderness says occupancy rates during the summer are up 100 percent over the past five years. With more people wanting to vacation here at all times of year, increased demand has doubled rates over the past seven years. “Yesterday’s vacation rental owners were just looking to break even, but now owners want to see a positive return on their investment,” he says. “That still is very possible in this market.”

As owner of Siesta Key Beachside Villas and Beachside Management, Holderness is well versed on the subject of vacation rentals. He sees the same trends that are driving the desire for clean, contemporary lines in residential properties shaping what people are looking for on vacation. Rather than opting for the stimulation of a hyperactive cruise environment, relaxing on a beautiful tropical beach is very appealing. “People are leaving their iPads at home. They just want to come here, relax and reconnect with their kids,” he says. “People are reverting back to simpler times.”

That doesn’t mean they don’t want activities when they’re done building sandcastles, and that’s where Holderness sees an opportunity for Siesta Key and has been vocal in calling on Sarasota County officials to act. “The county and state pull $50 million in hotel taxes out of this area, not considering sales and property taxes, but they are putting little back in to help tourism on Siesta,” he says. “People want to enjoy amenities, but there are no rentals on the beach for paddle boards, bicycles or Hobie Cats. It’s not that we’re changing Siesta Key to be touristy. This is going back to what we have had here and what has attracted so many people to move to this area. Visit Sarasota County should have two times the budget for the amazing job they do, and there’s enough funds coming into Siesta to more than double their resources while cutting the hotel tax by 20 percent.”

While the past year has been very productive business-wise for Holderness, there also has been sadness with the loss in October of his mother, Judy, who founded SaraBay Real Estate with his father, Michael Sr. “She was such an important part of our lives. She led us on the personal as well as the family business and was always there cheering us on. I miss that,” he says. “She did an amazing job of preparing us to be even more successful. We’re resilient.”

Watching how his parents, and his grandparents before them, built their real estate careers on the cornerstones of great customer service, local knowledge and highly professional agents, has instilled a strong drive to succeed and a vision for the future. Plans are now in motion to expand SaraBay Real Estate to Sarasota, West Bradenton and the Gulf beaches to better serve customers and agents with two new locations.  “We need to be where our customers and agents need us to be.  Response time is key. People call and need an answer or want to see a house right now,” Holderness says. “If I can earn their respect that way, they are my customer for life and refer people to me. There’s no greater feeling than that.”

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