ST. PETERSBURG — Want a relic of Florida's first real estate boom? Or a bargain reminder of the current bust? You can get 'em both in one 2,350-square-foot, 10-room house.
After languishing in foreclosure proceedings for nearly two years, the Shore Acres home that gangster Al Capone reputedly built in 1925 for his mother is on the market for $262,000 — nearly $500,000 less than what it sold for in 2006.
And the price may go even lower. Though Countrywide Home Loans has been soliciting offers for a few weeks, there have been plenty of lookers but no takers.
"With the work that needs to be done, it very definitely is going to have to come down to around $200,000,'' says Robert Smith, who lives nearby and keeps up with prices in the neighborhood, a mix of bayfront McMansions and more modest ranch-style homes.
Dozens of neighbors and curiosity seekers tramped through the Capone place last weekend, as ReMax liquidation specialist Dan Nease held an open house to show off the quirky charms of Shore Acres' most unusual dwelling.
The house still has its original hardwood floors, glass-front kitchen cabinets and fireplace with two fish, purportedly reflecting the gangland phrase "sleeps with the fishes.'' It is said that fish appear in every house Capone built.
But recent tenants added tackier touches — neon-blue laminate kitchen counters, gaudy bathroom fixtures and garish paint colors, sloppily applied. Then there's the Mediterranean-style fountain outside, once flanked by two life-size statues of lions that have since been hauled into the living room for safekeeping.
Local legend has it that Capone — a known visitor to the Tampa Bay area — built the house at a time he was wanted for murder in Chicago. Its 50 windows provided good cross ventilation plus a suburb view of any approaching federal agents.
In 1931 Capone pleaded guilty to income tax evasion and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. The Shore Acres house was sold the same year.
Much more recently, the Venetian Boulevard house has been a prime example of a real estate frenzy that was fueled by loose lending standards and ended in a spectacular bust.
Planning a move to Ireland, then-owners Michael and Rosemary Barnes contracted to sell the house and two adjacent lots for $520,000 at the height of the boom in 2005. But when the prospective buyer, Colleen Dunphy, was unable to obtain more than $500,000 in financing, the couple instead sold to investor Scott Lubik, who had offered $550,000 and quickly obtained loans for the full amount.
Dunphy, alleging breach of contract, got a lien on the property and sued the sellers. Lubik, contending the lien made the house "unmarketable,'' also sued. The case was finally resolved with Lubik paying Dunphy $165,000 to dismiss the lien and clear the title.
Lubik, a prolific house flipper who had bought and sold dozens of homes in the bay area, immediately filled in a lap pool that extended across all three lots. That enabled him to sell the two extra lots to former Tampa Bay Rays baseball player Luis Rolando Arrojo for $180,000 apiece.
Lubik and his wife briefly lived in the house, then sold it in 2006 to Carlos Javier Diaz for $740,000 — a 35 percent increase over what Lubik had paid for the house and all three lots. Diaz got 100 percent financing and immediately defaulted on the payments. Countrywide obtained a final judgment of foreclosure last fall.
Records show that Diaz and his wife, who could not be located for comment, bought 14 other houses from Lubik in the same time period. All have since gone into foreclosure, as have nearly 36 that Lubik himself bought in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Marion counties.
"I just fell on bad times, like anybody else could,'' says Lubik, 36, who is now selling timeshare units in Atlantic City, N.J. He faces several misdemeanor arrest warrants in Pinellas County for repeated code violations on some of his properties.
The two vacant parcels are also back on the market, though at $239,000 apiece they are almost as much as the current list price of the house itself. Neighbors hope the rundown house and overgrown lots will soon find buyers with enough money to spruce up the property, if not restore it to its gangland-era glory.
Says Smith, the neighbor: "It's been somewhat of an eyesore.''
Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.