Peter Zalewski: Developers binge on condo proposals in new economy

 

Special to the Miami Herald

South Florida condo developers have been on a binge, proposing an average of nearly 1,000 new units monthly for the tri-county coastal region since October 2012.

After needing 20 months to reach the 10,000-proposed-condos threshold east of Interstate 95 in South Florida, developers have taken about half of that time to eclipse the 20,000-new-units level for the tri-county region of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach.

Since the fourth quarter of 2012, developers have announced nearly 90 new buildings with a combined 9,500 units in coastal South Florida.

The total number is expected to rise in the upcoming weeks as at least three additional condo high rises with an estimated 1,200 units in the planning stages, according to public records.

Taken together, South Florida could soon have at least 145 towers and nearly 20,700 units proposed for Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.

Contrast this total with the last South Florida condo boom that began in 2003 and ultimately resulted in 245 towers with nearly 49,000 units in the tri-county region’s seven largest coastal markets.

The rush to build new projects comes as less than 2,150 new condos — about five percent of the total developer inventory from the last South Florida real estate boom — were unsold as of March 31.

At the current transaction pace, nearly all of the oversupply of the developer units from the 2003 boom — and subsequent bust of 2007 — could be sold by the second half of 2014.

The reduction in unsold developer units combined with a competitive cash-dominated condo resale market — where less than 18,400 units are for resale in all of South Florida — and strong rental rates are prompting many buyers to seriously consider purchasing condos during the preconstruction process that can take up to three years.

As with South Florida’s last condo boom, Miami-Dade County has the greatest concentration of proposed projects with more than 90 towers and nearly 15,285 units planned as of July 17.

Broward County ranks a distant second with 26 towers and less than 2,125 units proposed. Palm Beach County is a third with 23 towers and nearly 2,100 units proposed.

On a market-by-market basis, developers in Greater Downtown Miami — the epicenter of South Florida’s last boom-and-bust cycle — are proposing at least 35 new towers with nearly 9,850 units and counting.

Developer created 84 towers with more than 22,200 units during the last boom-and-bust cycle that began in 2003 but only 600 new units remain as of March 31.

In anticipation of an eventual sellout in Greater Downtown Miami, South Florida developers have recently filed applications with the Federal Aviation Administration — the governmental entity that governs airspace — to obtain approval to assemble construction cranes within the next 15 months to build a 713-foot-tall tower with at least 60 stories at 600 Biscayne Blvd., a 710-foot-tall tower with at least 60 stories at 700 Biscayne Blvd, and a 610-foot-tall tower with 55 stories at 24 SW 4th St. on the north bank of the Miami River.

The total number of condo units to be featured in these three condo projects is unclear as the respective developers all said they were in the planning stages.

The Hollywood and Hallandale Beach market in Southeast Broward County ranks second based on 11 towers with nearly 1,450 condo units proposed. Sunny Isles Beach on the barrier island in Northeast Miami-Dade County ranks third with 10 towers and nearly 1,200 units slated to be developed.

Rounding out the top five markets for proposed condos are West Palm Beach with seven towers and nearly 1,170 units announced and the city of Miami Beach with 17 towers and nearly 1,100 units planned.

It is worth noting the Bal Harbour, Surfside, and Bay Harbor Islands market in Northeast Miami-Dade County has 14 condo towers proposed with nearly 1,000 units.

Despite the quantity of proposed projects and memories of the recent crash, talk of another South Florida condo boom-and-bust cycle on the horizon appears to be premature at this time given the current market trends of cash buyers and limited financing options.

Conditions in the South Florida condo market, however, have a history of changing rapidly.

The biggest difference in this new South Florida real estate cycle is the lack of construction financing available to date. Condo construction financing for new towers has been provided in only a few instances in South Florida, and even then the loan amounts for most of the projects have been only a fraction of the overall development costs.

Given the resistance by lenders to finance the building of new condos in South Florida, developers are approaching their next generation of projects with the expectation that only those towers that can collect sizeable buyer deposits of 50 percent of the purchase price are ultimately going to be constructed.

Contrast the current deposit structure with the 20 percent down payments that were commonly required during the last condo boom in South Florida.

Developers are optimistic that larger deposit requirements this time around will result in a stronger pool of buyers who ultimately have the financial wherewithal to purchase their respective preconstruction condo units regardless of market conditions.

Despite the level of deposits required, developers have already completed one tower and are currently constructing an additional 24 towers with nearly 3,800 units in coastal South Florida.

Going forward, the unanswered question is whether the financial requirements of developing new condo projects in South Florida will remain at the current stringent levels or eventually be weakened to appeal to a broader market that includes less qualified buyers.

Peter Zalewski is a principal with the Miami real estate consultancy Condo Vultures. Zalewski, a licensed Florida real estate professional since 1995 and founder of CVR Realty and Condo Vultures Realty LLC, advises developers, lenders and institutional investors

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