Market snapshot: Holmes Beach in Manatee County


 PHOTO GALLERY: Holmes Beach real estate

If it takes courage to change, then Holmes Beach must be the most courageous city on the Gulf Coast.

There it stands, an underpublicized gem nestled between beach and bay, undergoing monumental change. The old houses, built at ground level decades before hurricanes and floods were factored into the building code, are being torn down one after another and replaced by elevated houses, many with traditional architecture in pastel colors.

These new houses, with their shutters and corbels and Hardiplank siding, are adding both to the charm of this Anna Maria Island city (bordered by Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach) and to its tax base.

holmes1Everyone is welcome to this city of about 5,100 permanent residents, as many of these new houses have six or more bedrooms, which is big enough for two Northern families to share.

Everyone, that is, except Dr. Stephen Leatherman, the famous “Dr. Beach.”

“We don’t want him here,” said veteran Holmes Beach Realtor Cindy Quinn of AMI Beaches Realty. She is afraid he will add Anna Maria Island’s freshly renourished beach to his list of the best beaches in the country, just as he did Siesta Beach. That might make the island too popular.

“The beaches,” Quinn replied when asked what she thought was the most appealing thing about Holmes Beach. “There is a huge difference between Siesta Key and Holmes Beach. I grew up here, and we used to go to Siesta when I was in high school. Siesta Key is like a little Miami. Very commercial, fast-paced, with a lot of bars and drinking and teenagers.”

“Holmes Beach is very quiet; it shuts down at 8,” Quinn said. “We don’t have the crazy atmosphere.”

That relative calm and quiet, despite glowing articles in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and the online source, is attracting people who never heard of the island,” she said.

“We do have a lot more traffic now because we have more rentals. The island has become very popular. But the city is keeping that small-town feel.”

Indeed, Holmes Beach is dominated by rental real estate. With no hotels, the rental houses are in great demand, and an army of real estate investors has come ashore to meet it. Companies like Beach to Bay Construction often partner with the investors, who float the cash to build the next elevated house.

More than 100 of those houses have been built here in the past two years, Quinn said. A 37-foot height limit keeps the houses to three stories over parking.

Holmes Beach is attractive to investors, she said, because there is lots of income to be squeezed from a house that sells for $1.7 million or so and can sleep 10 or more — perhaps $90,000 a year in rents.

“We don’t see people come into our office who want full-time residences,” said Quinn, who is known for her Lilly Pulitzer dresses with matching pink Lilly reading glasses. “The market is 70 percent rental.”

Whether the town’s makeover is a good thing is cause for debate.

“There are two schools of thought on that,” said May Aston, a Holmes Beach resident since 1983; she started her real estate career there four years later. “The conservatives don’t like that the larger properties overshadow the smaller ones, but it does bring a lot of new business in the area.”

Holmes Beach also has a distinct downtown — franchise business are not allowed — that is more comprehensive than one might expect for a town its size.

“This area is more of a walk-around neighborhood,” said Wilbur Schenerlein, Quinn’s colleague at AMI Beaches and a newcomer from West Virginia. “You can walk to shops, restaurants, the beach. You can walk or ride a bike almost everywhere. You don’t have to get in your car.”

He acknowledged that some of the full-time residents do not like the strong rental trend.

“People who have been here a long time don’t want to live next to a rental with new neighbors each week,” Schenerlein said.

Some visitors, local or otherwise, have been guilty of illegal parking, littering and the unauthorized use of private outdoor showers, upsetting fulltime residents and their political leaders.

But it appears from action in the state legislature this week that short-term rentals will survive.

Aston, of RE/MAX Alliance Group, cautioned that prospective buyers should call City Hall to determine the rental status of individual properties — whether weekly or monthly rentals are allowed.

Aston said she believes some houses are being rented on a weekly basis in violation of city rules. “Whether people know about them is another thing.”

Holmes Beach has 275 residential properties listed by, priced from $3.5 million for a Gulf-front estate to $120,000 for a one-bedroom mobile home. Sales prices averaged $630,000 from May 2013 to date, up about 15 percent from the year before.

“The market is unbelievably great,” Quinn said. “It is back to where it was during the boom, plus 20 percent.”


In 1896, Anna Maria Island was settled by Sam and Annie Cobb, who homesteaded 160 acres in what is now Holmes Beach. They set up the post office in 1902.

The city is named for Jack Holmes, a post-World War II developer; it was incorporated in 1950.


Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: May 3, 2014
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