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After the Deluge

Now that I’ve been back in Sarasota for a couple weeks, I can report that Sarasota proper received very little damage compared to the utter disasters that befell Naples, Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach. My house had zero damage. The jury is still out on the state of my palms that were coated with a crust of salt, but so far, the only victim is a specialty Oil Palm that looks sort of sad. Everyone here is whistling past the graveyard, recognizing that we did indeed “dodge the big one”. But don’t be deceived by the relatively light damage reports: no one in southwestern Florida escaped unscathed.

The smudged fingerprints of Ian’s destruction have been particularly interesting in the market for “used” cars. No one yet knows how many cars were destroyed, but between Florida and the Carolinas, it looks like somewhere around 350,000. Local media had a picture of the auto auction graveyard in Hendry County (near Clewiston, which is near Lake Okechobee, which is west of Palm Beach—got it?). Cars as far as the eye could see, and then some. These cars will be sold at auction (if someone bids on them). I’ve been checking the auction lots at Copart Auto Auctions and the relative bargains to be found there.

First up, a 2017 screaming yellow Ferrari Spider 488 two-seater (keys not available). Retail price, $364,772. Current bid, $26,000. Of course, it has a non-repairable/flood damaged title so if your current 488 needs some parts that might still work, this could be a good buy for you. If nothing else, you could tow it to your driveway, polish it up and add some class to your motor court. No one actually drives these things anyway.

If you feel the yellow coupe is beyond your capabilities, you could try to pick up the 2018 Ferrari Spider (white). It has a salvage title with flood damage noted, but the keys are available. Estimated retail value $349,000, current bid $144,000. You just know this one will end up on a sidestreet in Rio de Janeiro or as a storyline for the rebooted Law & Order.

There are 22 Ferraris on auction, most with flood/water damage. You’ve got to wonder whether their owners just left the cars near a low-lying area hoping to get a jump on the price of a new one from the insurance company.

If you’re really adventurous, you might opt for one of the 244 Teslas Copart has on auction. There’s a 2021 Model S (non-repairable) with a current bid of $26,750 (keys available). Just make sure you’re grounded when you fire it up.

Weird car markets aside, here’s where we stand in southwest Florida after Ian:

A lot of people no longer have any type of home to go home to, and the prices for rentals are prohibitive. Let’s not even mention that rates on home mortgages are now over 7%. There are a lot of people sleeping on sofas, floors and in cars. Family ties will be seriously tested for the next year or so until all this sorts itself out. This lack of housing will impact our extremely tight labor market so a lot of small businesses are going to get another shellacking.

Sarasota is absorbing a lot of the seasonal demand for Naples and Sanibel since our beaches and facilities are undamaged. However, we were going to be full before Ian and it looks like a nutso season is on the horizon. My local Publix is full of people pushing carts around aimlessly with long lists and no idea where to find the potato chips.

The demand for new cars is over the top and it’s virtually impossible to schedule a maintenance appointment for any make. A trip past the local Kia dealer showed ZERO cars in the lot. If you inadvertently become involved in a fender-bender, you’ll be displaying that badge of honor for months. Body shops aren’t even answering their phones anymore.

Our Sarasota golf courses are open, but further south, it’s a wait and see situation. The salt damaged a lot of courses and you won’t be too surprised to hear that the grass sprigs needed to reseed the fairways are in very short supply with a lead time approaching one year. Brown will be the color of the season at many of the courses that do manage to reopen.

The big impacts, home prices and insurance rates, are probably months from being felt. Florida does not have a well-balanced market for home insurance so a large number of homeowners are insured by the state run (and soon to be in critical financial condition) Citizens Property Insurance. Let’s say rates will likely rise and the few insurers left in the state will be considering their options.

The 2022 hurricane season goes until November 30 (if the hurricanes are using Google Calendar). We’re paying close attention to the tropical forecasts and hoping to get out of it unscathed. Then, only five more months until the 2023 season.

Can’t wait.

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