Another Sign of a Housing Boom? The Miami Condo Market

MIami condo building boom
MIami condo building boom

By Diana Olick

During the height of the housing boom, some likened the feverish flipping game in Miami's condominium market to a circus. The circus is back, and more high-flying than ever. At a recent party to launch a new project from New York-based developer PMG, acrobats swung over the crowd, and in gravity-defying flourish, poured champagne into the glasses of wide-eyed investors. "It's exactly what we want. We wanted a little bit of show and a lot of flash," said Kevin Maloney, president of PMG, who re-entered the Miami market in 2010 to purchase some of the remaining beachfront and bayside construction sites.

Condominium development in greater Miami seems to defy not just gravity but reason. Cranes swing above the city from every angle, just as they did during the housing bubble in 2006. During the boom, 49,000 units were built as investor-flippers used easy mortgage money to swap properties and push prices. When it all came crashing down, the lights went out in Miami, literally. Tall buildings stood dark at night as banks took back properties and projects. Most thought it was all over for a good long time.

But somehow there are just 2,400 unsold units left, barely a year's worth at the current sales pace. Prices are up nearly 25 percent from a year ago, according to the Miami Area Association of Realtors. How did it happen? Foreign, all-cash buyers like Venezuelans, Russians, Chinese, Canadians and Brazilians. They were either looking for a safe-haven to park their money or were taking advantage of a weak dollar. Whatever the reason, they came, they saw, they bought.

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"It's mind boggling. I'm perplexed as to how all this can go forward this quickly," said Peter Zalewski of CondoVultures. He has been qualifying and quantifying the South Florida real estate market for over a decade and said this time around there is less short-term risk because the buyers have a real purpose. "The foreign buyer is deciding to take some chips off the table and park it up here and sort of put it away into a condo in Miami. If they use it or they don't use it, who cares, at least it's stable."

These cash-heavy buyers are allowing developers to require anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent down, which appeases banks and private lenders alike. "It's much smaller inventory, which is holding the price point, and further, the deposit structure is much more beneficial to the developer at this point, so we're back," said PMG's Maloney.

Maloney has sold 100 of the 190 units that he plans to build in his "Echo" development, and that is without even breaking ground. The rest he hopes to entice with flash and fantasy, which is exactly what Miami is all about. "I believe in the future," said Argentinean Antonio Aguirre at the Echo party. "The prices are going to come up faster, so today is a great time to buy."

Read the rest of this story on CNBC.

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