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Category Archives: Blogs

What’s Happing in the Keys this week?

September 7-

  • Annual Labor Day Service

September 8-

  • Keys History & Discovery Center presents: Writing Historical Fiction with Author Vanessa Lafaye

September 8-October 18-

  • Educator Appreciation Days at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium

September 9-

  • Marathon Chamber Business After Hours
  • Key Largo Chamber of Commerce Annual Members Meeting/Luncheon

September 10-

  • Out of the Darkness Community Walk
  • Islamorada Regular Village Council Meeting

September 10-13-

  • Womenfest Key West

September 11-

  •  September 11th Commemorative Ceremony

September 11-13-

  • Inaugural Key Largo and Islamorada Backcountry Round Up
  • Robert James Sales S.L.A.M. Celebrity Tournament

September 12-

  • 2nd Annual Key Largo to Key West Cycle Challenge
  • Lionfish Derby for Divers
  • FCH Free Health Fair
  • Mammals, Mutts, & Martinis Fundraiser
  • 2nd Annual “Dancing Through the Decades”

For a complete list of local events or more information, see the links below

What’s happing this week?

What’s Happing in the Keys this week?

September 1-

Conflict Resolution Seminar

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer

September 2-

Keys History and Discovery Center Presents Lecture Series

September 2-7-

Sixth Annual Key West Brewfest

September 3-

Bealls Job Fair

Yappy Hour- MarrVelous Pet Rescues

September 4-6-

Heroes Salute Tribute Weekend

September 5-

Spawning Night Dive-Boulder/Rock Coral

For a complete list of local events or more information, see the links below:


Help for a Beautiful Family

Marathon, Florida: Jessica Bowles is raising six children all by herself. She lives in Marathon and works at Publix. Three of the children are hers and the other three are her deceased brother’s kids. Jessica is determined to keep the family together and on her salary, this is not an easy task. The urgent situation of this great financial need was brought to the attention of the agents at American Caribbean Real Estate Middle and Lower Keys and they presented the family with a check.

If you are interested in helping out, there is an account set up at Capital Bank under Jessica’s Maiden name, Jessica Valenzuela.

Pictured here are the kids, Jessica and some of the American Caribbean Real Estate Team.

Bowles Family check presentation

Bowles Family donation letter


American Caribbean Real Estate – Middle & Lower Keys agents honored

Jody Owen, Kyle Samess, Ginger Henderson, Brenda Torrella, Bonnie Sanderson, Kathryn Rummery, Karen Raspe, Lynn Lucas, Leslie Christensen, Kristen Brenner, Sandy Tuttle and John Trezza celebrate at the annual American Caribbean Real Estate - Middle & Lower Keys awards banquet.

(L to R) Jody Owen, Kyle Samess, Ginger Henderson, Brenda Torrella, Bonnie Sanderson, Kathryn Rummery, Karen Raspe, Lynn Lucas, Leslie Christensen, Kristen Brenner, Sandy Tuttle and John Trezza celebrate at the annual American Caribbean Real Estate – Middle & Lower Keys awards banquet.

American Caribbean Real Estate-Middle & Lower Keys celebrated a successful 2013 with its 32nd annual awards banquet March 26 at the Marathon Yacht Club.

Receiving top honors for 2013 were agents Lynn Lucas for sales of $17.3 million and Kristen Brenner for closing $14.4 million. Sandy Tuttle was top producer in the Ramrod Key office with sales of $11.3 million. Leslie Christensen was top producer in the rental division for having rented 979 weekly vacations.

2013 was celebrated as the company’s biggest in its 32-year history, with sales exceeding $127 million.

“I am so proud of each and every one of our associates. It is an honor to be broker of this highly productive and professional team, and it’s only going to get better,” said Ginger Henderson, owner.

In the landscape: Mangroves

Red mangroves are one of three species found in the Florida Keys. They’re known for their distinctive aerial prop roots.

Red mangroves are one of three species found in the Florida Keys. They’re known for their distinctive aerial prop roots.

By Karen Quist

Ever wonder why you can’t just cut down those trees that prevent you from having an unobstructed view of the water?

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is tasked with regulating mangrove trimming under the 1996 Mangrove Trimming & Preservation Act. The purpose of the act is to preserve mangrove habitat while respecting a property owner’s desire to have access to or views of the water.

Mangroves are protected because they play an important role in our coastal ecosystem. These shoreline tree communities filter storm runoff and trap sediments that might otherwise flow offshore and smother seagrasses and coral reefs. They provide food and shelter for wildlife and serve as nurseries for juvenile fish. And, perhaps most importantly for homeowners, mangroves protect waterfront properties by stabilizing the shoreline and absorbing the wind during storms.

There are three types of mangroves in Florida: red, black and white. They’re usually arrayed along the shore in that order – red closest to the water and white farthest away. The red is the easiest to identify, with its distinctive prop roots that extend downward and are often immersed in water. Those spindly roots are why it’s sometimes called the “Walking Tree.” The black mangrove extrudes salt through its leaves, features fragrant white flowers and produces finger-like pneumatophores (“snorkel roots”) around the base of its trunk. The white mangrove’s nondescript root structure makes it harder to identify, but you’ll usually find this tree with thick leathery leaves relatively high and dry at the back of the mangrove fringe.

It’s estimated that there are about 500,000 acres of mangroves along the Central and South Florida coastline, just a fraction of what was growing here in the mid-20th century — that’s why the state so closely monitors what happens to that remaining acreage. Excessive or improper trimming reduces the trees productivity and usefulness as habitat and property protection. With some forethought, it’s possible to preserve these important trees AND your sunset view.

The 1996 Mangrove Trimming & Preservation Act covers who needs a permit to trim mangroves and who doesn’t, how much of the mangroves can be cut and how often and who can do the work, among other things. It covers a lot of ground – enough to fill 10 single-spaced pages – so we can only offer some key highlights here.

The act defines “trim” as cutting branches, twigs, limbs and foliage. “Alter” means anything else, such as removing, defoliating or destroying the tree. Generally speaking, you can’t trim any mangrove so it’s shorter than 6 feet from the ground to the top of the greenery. And you can’t take a 24-foot-tall tree and cut it to 6 feet all in one day – or even in one year. The trimming must be done in stages, usually no more than 25 percent a year.

A lot of what the typical homeowner would want to do is exempt from permitting. Wondering whether you need a permit to trim that part of your landscape? It never hurts to ask, so call the DEP’s office in Marathon at 305-289-7070. You can also consult with a state-designated Professional Mangrove Trimmer; check the list here. If your planned work doesn’t require a permit, you can request a letter confirming that. It’s also a good idea to take pre-trim and post-trim photos in case questions arise later.

There are two key questions you have to answer in determining whether you need a permit: How deep is the mangrove fringe and how tall are the trees in it? If the mangrove fringe is less than 50 feet deep and the trees are between 6 and 24 feet tall, you may not need a permit. (However, trees over 10 feet tall must be trimmed by a PMT.)

Other important factors: If you have less than 150 feet of shoreline, you can trim all of your mangrove trees; more than 150 feet and you can only trim 65 percent. It goes without saying that you can only trim on property that belongs to you, so no trimming your neighbor’s mangroves! The use of herbicides is prohibited.

There are several accepted methods of trimming. The most traditional is to trim the top (canopy) of the trees. But people who want a view from their pool, for instance, may want to request a General Permit to selectively remove lower limbs that create a “window” effect through some or all of their mangroves.

The DEP issues two kinds of General Permits – one that covers height reductions on deep mangrove fringe (50 to 500 feet deep, trimmed to no less than 6 feet tall) — and one that covers navigational trimming. The general permit costs $250 and requires you to hire a Professional Mangrove Trimmer.

If you’re building a house or have received a permit to install a dock, seawall or boat ramp, any mangrove alteration or trimming will be addressed specifically in that permit.

The DEP produces an excellent booklet, “Mangrove Trimming Guidelines for Homeowners.” You can also get more information, including a downloadable copy of the 1996 Mangrove Trimming & Preservation Act, from the section of the DEP’s website dedicated to the topic

Invaders in paradise

By Rachel Bowman

In a perfect world, every individual would accomplish three things: Save the planet, make people happy, and manage to enjoy themselves while doing this. Most of us are lucky if we can achieve these goals in a lifetime. Here, in the middle of the Florida Keys, is an individual who is accomplishing this on a daily basis.

Left to Right: John Mirabella, Chase Grimes, Julie Botteri and Rachel Bowman pose with their bountiful catch of lionfish at the second annual Marathon Lionfish Derby.

John Mirabella arrived in the Florida Keys roughly around the same time that Lionfish, a species native to Pacific waters, began establishing itself as the biggest threat to our reef. Mirabella, a Navy-trained scuba diver, gave up operating nuclear reactors on submarines to move to Marathon with his wife, Arlene, where they purchased Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar, the oldest seafood restaurant in the Middle Keys. Having speared fish in every ocean in the world, it was only natural that John provide his customers with fish he himself shot, including wahoo, cobia, grouper, snapper, African Pompano, and mahi mahi. Three years ago, lionfish, which cannot be netted or caught with a hook, made an appearance on his menu.

Understanding the lionfish problem is a simple matter of numbers. Lionfish, the biggest being around 18 inches, will eat any fish or crustacean that is 2 inches smaller than they are. They will eat 20 fish in 30 minutes. They reproduce starting in the first year of their life, and a female will release eggs every 3 days, a total of 2 million eggs per year, which are carried up the coast by the Gulf Stream current. These voracious eaters, who have a 15-year lifespan, have been found to have cholesterol issues off of the coast of North Carolina. Simply put, they are over-eaters. Lionfish are now found as far north as New York, as far east as Venezuela, and have populated every area of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

The REALLY scary part… Lionfish have zero predators in these waters. Not only do Atlantic and Caribbean fish not eat lionfish, but they don’t even recognize them as predators. The life of a lionfish is an easy one, they just sit on a wreck or reef and open their mouth.

The lionfish has a red and white striped body covered in 18 spines, at the base of which is a venom gland, making it a beautiful but formidable opponent. While they are not aggressive to humans, a slight brush up against one will result in a painful sting and immediate swelling. Like a bee sting, if you aren’t allergic, it’s not fatal, but the amount of venom can make the pain range from minor discomfort to something close to temporary agony. The venom is protein based, meaning the only relief is to apply heat immediately.

The GOOD news… Lionfish are delicious! Their lack of fear of humans make them easy prey, a three-pronged pole spear is all it takes to end a lionfish’s life. John Mirabella and his friends are bringing fresh lionfish to The Castaway daily, and it’s so tasty that National Geographic featured one of John’s lionfish recipes on their website. Once the spines are cut off, lionfish can be enjoyed just like any other white, mild, flaky fish, even sashimi-style.

With humans being the only deterrent to a lionfish takeover, encouraging commercial markets is a crucial step. Order lionfish if you see it on a menu, and encourage divers and snorkelers to spear any fish they see. The invasion has established a foothold, but every lionfish killed gives a second chance to all of the fish it would have eaten.

Matt’s mojito

MojitoWhat you need:

  • Mixing vessel with cover
  • A muddler, I use a wooden spoon
  • White rum, just plain white rum
  • Sugar, I prefer unbleached sugar
  • Limes
  • Mint, plenty of mint!
  • Club soda

In a 20 oz. mixing vessel (I use a Mason jar):

  • Pour 4 ounces of rum
  • Add the juice of a whole lime
  • Toss in half of the lime rind after you juice it
  • Add 6 leaves mint and then 6 tablespoons of sugar

Muddle this mixture. The coarse sugar grinds against the mint leaves and lime rind, releasing oils into the rum. Once the mixture is muddled well, fill the shaker with club soda, cover and give it a shake or two.

Pour over ice in tall ice filled glasses, garnish with a sprig of mint leaves and a lime quarter. A few of the muddled leaves increase the smell and taste.

Courtesy Matthew Blalock of American Caribbean Real Estate-Lower Keys’ office.

Castaway’s Wreck Diver-style Lionfish

  • 42 ounces lionfish fillets (patted dry)
  • Flour (for coating)
  • 5 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2½ cups chopped tomatoes
  • 5 tsp. capers
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 T. chopped fresh basil
  • Parsley or kale for garnish
  • Lemon wedge for garnish

Preparation: Dredge fillets in flour to lightly dust. Place in sauté pan with small amount of hot butter over medium heat. Cook first side, careful not to burn. Turn over fish when golden, and reduce heat while adding garlic, tomatoes, capers, white wine and lemon juice. Cover to hold steam in and cook until fish is fork-tender. Add basil and serve immediately. Garnish with sprig of parsley or kale and lemon wedge.

Recipe courtesy of Castaway restaurant, 1406 Oceanview Ave., Marathon.

American Caribbean Real Estate adds another all-star!

Kim Rabito-ShowKim Rabito-Show has joined American Caribbean Real Estate-Middle & Lower Keys as a sales associate.

Rabito-Show is a native resident of Marathon and the proud mother of twin boys.

Before getting her real estate license and beginning her real estate career, Kim worked in banking for more than 11 years.

“I do more than just sell you a home, I work with you to find the best area in the Keys that will suit your lifestyle,” Rabito-Show said. “I always make myself available to answer questions, real estate related or not. My goal is to get you into your dream home, familiarize you with the area and be a reference for you throughout our entire relationship.”

Rabito-Show can be reached at 305-304-8591 or

“With her banking background and experience in local real estate and in the Middle Keys, Kim is a valuable addition to our American Caribbean team,” said Ginger Henderson, broker and owner of the firm, which has offices in Marathon and on Ramrod Key.

Against all odds, a landmark building is sold!

The former Overseas Lounge will be reborn, thanks to new ownership.

The former Overseas Lounge will be reborn, thanks to new ownership.

American Caribbean Real Estate-Middle Keys is  proud to have brokered the sale of a Marathon landmark, the former Overseas Lounge at mile marker 49. Buyer Timothy O’Connell says he plans to restore the 1940s-era building to its former glory.

This is great news for the city of Marathon! A bit of our city’s history will be preserved, and it will boost our economy by providing jobs and contributing to the city’s tax base.

The sale was negotiated by American Caribbean Real Estate agents Brenda Torrella and Bill Paulson.

Special thanks to the attorneys who worked on this deal: Richard Warner, Franklin Greenman, Rich Malafy, David Kirwan, Bob Miller, Tom Wright, Margaret Broz and John Parentes.

“I am very excited about Mr. O’Connell’s vision of restoration for the building,” says our broker, Ginger Henderson. “The much-anticipated reopening will be a welcomed addition to our island village as a tourist attraction and locals’ ‘watering-hole.'”

You can read Keynoter reporter Ryan McCarthy’s story here.

Best of Marathon

Ginger Henderson accepts the Phil Sadowski award Mike Puto. (Photo courtesy of The Weekly Newspapers)

Ginger Henderson accepts the Phil Sadowski award Mike Puto. (Photo courtesy of The Weekly Newspapers)

Thanks to everyone who voted for our broker, Ginger Henderson, as Best Realtor in the Best of Marathon contest put on by the Marathon Rotary Club and The Weekly Newspapers.

Ginger was also surprised with the Phil Sadowski Community Development Award for the redevelopment of our main office across from the Marathon airport.

Both were an incredible honors.

The winners were unveiled Saturday at Key Colony Beach City Hall, with an after-party at Key Colony Inn.

All proceeds from the event were earmarked by the Rotary to improve the playground and facilities at Kreative Kids Co-Op Day Care.

Meet our agents: Lynn Hayes

Lynn HayesLynn Hayes has joined American Caribbean Real Estate-Middle & Lower Keys as a sales associate.

Hayes has an extensive background in many facets of real estate beginning at the age of 19 when she started selling real estate for her father. Since then, Hayes obtained her general contractor’s license and has worked as a project manager for a local contractor, with the Monroe County property appraiser’s office, as a FEMA coordinator, a contractor inspector, a code inspector and a building inspector.

Hayes is certainly not afraid of hard work and enjoys a challenge.

“With her diverse experience in many different facets of real estate, Lynn is a valuable addition to our American Caribbean team,” said Broker Ginger Henderson.

Lynn can be reached at or at 305-395-2128.

Fighting for Fair Insurance Rates

Since 2006, Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (FIRM), a Keys-based grassroots watchdog organization, has been fighting to ensure that property insurance remains within the reach of ALL Florida Keys homeowners.

While the group has had some great successes to date on the state level, new challenges are always on the horizon with windstorm insurance in Tallahassee and flood insurance in Washington, D.C.

FIRM needs to bolster both its membership rolls and its coffers to continue this battle.

Membership costs you nothing, but it will show the folks in the capital that FIRM has the backing of the entire Keys community. And this is an issue for renters, as well, because they bear the cost of increased insurance rates through both their own policies and higher rents.

FIRM needs donations to defray the costs of this ongoing fight. You can donate online using a credit card here or mail checks to 422 Fleming St., Room 5, Key West, FL 33040. Call (305) 294-FIRM for more information.

The Marathon and Lower Keys Board of Realtors organized an informative fund-raising kickoff event for FIRM on July 18 in Marathon. The board is challenging local businesses to help back FIRM’s efforts. Contact the board for more information about the challenge.


FIRM brochure

Great cause, even better vacation

American Caribbean Real Estate-Middle & Lower Keys donated a one-week stay at Rancho Pura Vida in Costa Rica during October’s fundraiser to benefit Safe Harbor Animal Rescue of the Keys.

Signs by Renee’s owner, Renee Anderson, had the winning bid. Pictured here at a dinner hosted by ACRE broker Ginger Henderson’s mother, Marilyn, from left to right: Marilyn Henderson, Bruce Schmitt, Renee Anderson, Ronda Norman, Debbie Naiser, David Daniels and Rita Irwin.

American Caribbean Real Estate-Middle & Lower Keys donated a one-week stay at Rancho Pura Vida in Costa Rica during October's fundraiser to benefit Safe Harbor Animal Rescue of the Keys. Signs by Renee's owner, Renee Anderson, had the winning bid. Pictured here at a dinner hosted by ACRE broker Ginger Henderson's mother, Marilyn, from left to right: Marilyn Henderson, Bruce Schmitt, Renee Anderson, Ronda Norman, Debbie Naiser, David Daniels and Rita Irwin.

ACRE celebrates record-breaking year

American Caribbean Real Estate Middle & Lower Keys had a record-breaking year in 2012, handling more than $95 million in sales.

Broker Ginger Henderson honored her team for its hard work during a Feb. 21 awards luncheon at Key Colony Inn.

Three American Caribbean agents — Brenda Torrella, Ginger Henderson and Lynn Lucas — were the top three agents overall in the Middle Keys market last year.

Henderson honored Mrs. Torrella for being the No. 1 ranked agent in the Middle Keys market and selling nearly $19 million in properties in 2012.

Other award winners:

$14 million producer: Lynn Lucas, Middle Keys office

$10 million producer: Kristen Brenner, Middle Keys office

$7.5 million producer: Karen Raspe, Middle Keys office

$6 million producer: Kathryn Rummery, Middle Keys office

Multimillion-dollar producer: Kate Mudge, Middle Keys office

$4.5 million producer: Bill Paulson, Middle Keys office

$4 million producer: Sandy Tuttle, Lower Keys office

$3 million producers: Stacie Kidwell and John Trezza, Middle Keys office

$2 million producer: Karen “Coop” Cooper, Middle Keys office

Million-dollar producers: Christine Jung, Lower Keys office; Paul and Cathy Labossiere and Bonnie Sanderson, Middle Keys office

Middle Keys property managers Leslie Christensen and Bonnie Sanderson were honored for their efforts in continuing to grow the company’s vacation rental business by 25 percent or more each year.

Debbie Woolfe, the Middle Keys office coordinator, received the excellence in service award.

Lower Keys agent Matt Blalock received the team player award.

Henderson also honored her mother, Marilyn Henderson, with whom she founded the Marathon real estate company in 1982. The 90-year-old received a dedication award in recognition of the opening of the company’s expanded offices in Marathon.

Grand opening celebration

We celebrated the grand opening of our newly completed office expansion at 9141 Overseas Highway on Feb. 21, 2013.

We’re back home!

Come visit our recently expanded offices at 9141 Overseas Highway, right across from the Marathon airport.

Come visit our recently expanded offices at 9141 Overseas Highway, right across from the Marathon airport.

American Caribbean Real Estate-Middle Keys moved back to its 9141 Overseas Highway location in late January. Over the course of the past year, the company’s Marathon office was doubled in size to accommodate its growing team of professionals. 

ACRE owes a debt of gratitude to the great team who helped design, build and finish the company’s modern complex.

We are in our new home thanks to the following:

William Horn, architect

Jeff Ryder Construction

Ryder Employees:  Ron Diehl,  Dave Shaw,  Chris Sevonty & James Rozine

Meacham Electric Inc.: Steve Meacham

Ernest E. Rhodes Plumbing Inc.:  Dianne Rhodes & Todd Childress

JRC Pro Builders of the Keys:  Jose & Ruperto Davalos

Arctic Temp: Gene & Cathy Cavanaugh

G.B. Tractor Service: George Blaze

AC/DC Crane: Jerry Doss

Barnes Alarm: Greg Barnes

David Lee Roofing:  David Lee

A&C Plastering: James Natta & Gayle Hewlett

All Keys Glass: Derek Schut

Deco Truss: Mario Espineira

Keys Acoustics: Mike Scanlon

Fabricators Inc.: Lynwood Silar

Excell Coatings:  Charlie Mullecker

Painting by Luis:  Luis Figueroa

Lopez Tile:  Ariel Lopez

Affordable Asphalt:  Mike Woods

Mid Keys Sand & Rock:  Butch Hewlett

Dot Palm:  John & Gigi Harrison

BobCat Metal Products:  Ray Poole

Pinder Drilling Service:  Henry Pinder

Millie’s Cleaning Service:  Millie Sardina

J.P. Grimes Mapper and Surveyor:  John Grimes

Ocean Floors of the Keys:  Chuck Kean & Jeff Russen

Signs by Renee:  Renee Anderson

Interiors by Liz:  Liz Samess

Island Telephone:   Monte

Wink Mearns:  Louie, Petey & Anthony

Swiss Line Industries of Toronto, Canada:   Tim Anstis, Randy Readhead & Tyler

Key Computer Solutions:   Zach, Eddie, Jason & Jessy

Best Lawn Service:  Francisco Arce

The extensive facelift is in keeping with the city’s overall beautification efforts, and we couldn’t be happier with the results. Stop by and see what you think!

ACRE helps make the holidays brighter for a local family

American Caribbean Real Estate-Middle & Lower Keys Broker Ginger Henderson poses with agents Matt Blalock and Sandy Tuttle and office manager Jody Owen with the basketball goal purchased for the family adopted by the Marathon & Lower Keys Association of Realtors through the Wesley House Holiday Helpers program. Agent Karen Raspe also chipped in to purchase the basketball goal and balls.


In addition, Paul and Cathy Labossiere donated three bicycles to the family.

Labossieres & bikes (1)

Royal Furniture donated $1,000 to the Holiday Helpers program in agent Brenda Torrella’s name in appreciation for a business referral.

Members of the association delivered the gifts to Wesley House’s Key West office on Thursday.

Preparing your shelter from the storm

One of the agents in our Lower Keys office also happens to be a preparedness expert. Here, Matt Blalock shares one in a series of columns he’s written this season for the News-Barometer, a newspaper based on Big Pine Key, just a few miles from our office on Ramrod.

One part of my annual hurricane preparedness ritual is to take a cursory look my house. Depending on the storm’s track, there’s a good chance I’ll be “sheltering in place,” especially in the event of a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane.

I’ve been a licensed real estate practitioner in South Florida since 1994 and over the years, I’ve had to suggest to many a homeowner certain improvements that would help sell their home.

The mention of anything cosmetic — landscaping, painting or even upgrading a kitchen — is usually met with excitement and consideration, yet many homeowners bristle at the idea of replacing a rotted door or fixing a broken window lock.

The importance of securing our property to the best of our ability is our responsibility; just ask the underwriter of your homeowner’s insurance policy.

There are a few easy steps we can take to help ensure that our insurance policy performs as promised.

By doing an annual inspection of your property you’ll catch those needed minor repairs that left undone could become major repairs with the help of a lot of wind and rain.

A word of caution: If you’re not comfortable in conducting any of these tasks, contact a local handyman or contractor for assistance, the early investment will pay off later.

Start with the roof and work down your home’s structure. Try to spot compromises in your roof, be it metal, shingle or tile. Pay close attention to anywhere the roofing material meets against skylights or the flashing.

Check the exterior doors, framework and thresholds. If you can, replace worn or missing weather stripping.

Lubricate and operate the plumbing check valves where they enter your home, and be sure you can turn the water supply line on and off outside your home.

Have an electrician verify the integrity of your main line switch panel and the electrical service breaker panel to your home every couple of years at minimum.

That last “tidbit” comes from personal experience prior to my real estate career; I worked for Florida Power & Light. One major issue we found with residential electrical services that failed was homeowners neglecting to have the connections in the breaker panels, mainline switch panels and at the electric meter box maintained.

Aluminum wire and connections have a tendency to heat up, expand and contract. Over time those connections become loose and create hotspots that eventually fail, or worse, burn up.

One of the most prevalent questions I get from prospective buyers in the Keys is, “What kind of storm shutters do I need?”

I remember two types of storm protection from growing up in South Florida during the 1960s — the metal clamshell-type shutters and plywood. Today, we have many more options.

While there is plenty of plywood sold in the days before a hurricane strike, our building codes are far more complicated and require we follow certain guidelines when we install permanent storm shutters.

First and foremost, any type of storm shutter you have installed on your home must meet current Miami-Dade County code. It is important to save the Miami-Dade County approval stickers as well as any documentation that comes with your storm shutter system.

Many Keys residents are choosing to replace their old windows with impact resistant or “hurricane glass,” and they may be the best choice for those folks who are not here all year or travel during the summer months.

Let’s face it, they are the easiest “no worries” upgrade a homeowner can do.

Hurricane-rated windows are always “deployed” so they eliminate the worry, especially for part-time residents. Otherwise, you should think about deploying your storm shutters when you leave your home during hurricane season or have someone who will close them for you when a storm approaches.

The final step in securing your home is to clean up the property outside. If you have a propane tank serving your home or a generator, be sure to secure it.

Also be sure not to overlook what’s stored in the garage, downstairs storage or in out buildings on your property. Paint, weed killers, fuel, oil, all ends up in the ground water after a flood and eventually those same chemicals make it to the reef.

Now really is the time to sort through all those old containers and arrange to get rid of what you’re not using by taking it over to the county’s household hazardous waste and e-waste dropoff sites.

Lastly, prior to tropical storm or hurricane, I digitally photograph every room in my home as well as the exterior of my property with the storm shutters drawn, and I include the date and time stamp on each photo.

I save them to a memory stick as well as e-mail them to a relative out of state, so in the event I need them, they’re stored in a couple of places. Those photographs, along with the receipts I’ve kept for the items in the pictures, are to substantiate any claim I need to make to my insurance company.

— Matthew Blalock, P.A., is a full-time real estate agent with American Caribbean Real Estate-Lower Keys on Ramrod Key, and publishes his books under the pen name Matt Lawrence. Since publishing “What To Do til The Cavalry Comes: A Family Guide to Preparedness in 21st Century America” he has been an invited speaker before members of Congress, and provided preparedness segments for The Weather Channel, NBC, MSNBC and Fox News.

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