Realtors, and their marketing departments, have a fairly new tactic in the battle for buyers: Storytelling.
Every older house has a story. The vintage property where prominent early residents once lived. The family home in the suburbs, where kids once played but no longer fits “just the two of us.” The grand waterfront mansion that is going on the market because its owners couldn’t freeze the calendar and now have to downsize.
“People want to project a lifestyle,” said Tracy Eisnaugle, regional marketing director for Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. “They fall in love with the feeling.”
By telling a story, she added, “We are trying to touch something that evokes the buyer.”
A half-block from Little Sarasota Bay, a 1924 Spanish-style house in pristine condition on Vamo Drive gives the appearance that its sellers must have quite a story to tell.
They do, but it’s mostly about their business. Patty Kuehn and David Fitzpatrick are a husband-and-wife property-flipping team. But they do not grab rundown distressed properties, throw down some paint and new carpet, and try to make a quick profit.
“We try to resurrect and preserve. We are passionate about that,” said Kuehn, sitting at the dining-room table of her 1924 home at 1711 Vamo Drive in central Sarasota County.
They look for the right house with good bones, then buy it, move in and repair, restore, renovate, relandscape and redecorate, and then sell for a profit.
“We do what we love to do, and make money doing it,” Kuehn said of their renovation projects.
A casual look around the Vamo Drive house reveals that Kuehn and Fitzpatrick love it a lot.
“I see so much real estate,” said listing agent Tamara Currey of Premier Sotheby’s, “and I really wanted to buy this house. This property took our breath away. It was the only one that I wanted to buy over what I already live in and love.
“Patty has transformed it into Shangri-la. It takes you back to a simpler time when you get here, but then with the modern conveniences of today, it is just a perfect match.”
Right down to the furnishings. But these are not family heirlooms. She bought them “here, there and everywhere,” and they are included in the $849,000 list price.
“I am a big antiques scouter, so I love finding antique furniture. I love things from India and China,” Kuehn said.
The house, on a half-acre, has been on the market for two months, and the price has been reduced once. Currey said some buyers are deterred by the presence of only two bedrooms, when most of them want three. But she said that with the porches and outdoor living spaces, the house feels bigger than its 1,418 square feet of air-conditioned area.
“It’s like a new house.”
Kuehn and Fitzpatrick moved to Sarasota in 2010 on a seasonal basis, and found the Vamo Drive house after an exhaustive search, driving up and down street after street until they found the right property.
“It had to be the right house and have the right everything,” Kuehn said. “Something I can work with, a palette. We happened to turn the corner (on Vamo Drive), and as soon as I saw the oaks, creating a little tunnel to the water, I was just like, ‘Oh.’ When I saw the For Sale sign, I was like, ‘Yeah.’
“There is a good vibe about the house. Structurally, the house was fantastic. It had been maintained over the years. There have not been a lot of owners, so it has not been mashed up and lost its charm. They did not replace the windows, which I was thrilled with. I just love the old windows (this house has wooden casements with cranks), and all in really good shape, too.”
The couple shopped the architectural salvage stores for items they could use in the house, such as the antique doors that fit perfectly in the opening to the laundry room, and the post that frames the kitchen/dining room connection. Fitzpatrick cut the post so he could use a half on one side of the opening and a half on the other side.
“We really like architectural detail and get artsy with it here and there,” Kuehn said.
The couple also enclosed the rear porch, adding windows where there used to be screens.
They bought the property in August 2013 and started the project soon thereafter, finishing in the summer of 2015.
“We have been enjoying it for a little bit and put it in the market,” Kuehn said.
As for the storytelling research, Tracy Eisnaugle said, “Sotheby’s has a home history book; we let the customers write answers to poignant questions: How long have you lived here? What is your favorite room? What memories do you have? It gives us access to things that they may not have thought about when filling out a technical MLS sheet.
“Sometimes there is a personal story there and sometimes there isn’t,” Eisnaugle said. “Generally there is a lifestyle — on the golf course or a neighborhood with walk-ability. So if it doesn’t have a personal type of relevance, there is always a neighborhood or lifestyle feeling we can try to weave into the story of the home.”
In this case, the lifestyle revolves around the charm of a restored vintage home, the beauty of the landscape, and the serenity of the location, on a quiet street and just steps from the park on the bay.
But the Kuehn-Fitzpatrick story on Vamo Drive is not totally devoid of poignancy. When asked what is the most difficult part of a project like this one, she answered, “Leaving it. We get really involved in it. I could own this forever. Every house still has a little part of me in it, that I still yearn for.”
She has good memories of her projects, “but there is always a little drama,” Kuehn added. For this house, the memory that comes immediately to mind is her husband’s venture into the crawl space — “emphasis on the crawl” — beneath the house to put in a new septic line.
When he came out, “He was all dirty with big white teeth.”
When the house sells, the couple may embark on a new venture.
“We probably are not going to move on to the next project,” Kuehn said. “We have been doing this for awhile, so now we are looking at a farm. Either Hawaii or Maine. It is something we have been talking about.”
She said she loves Sarasota, but believes it is getting overcrowded.