Real Estate News

Locked out of boom, buyers hunt for new housing hot spots

Lionel Lightbourne, a social worker, and his wife, Tanya, a teacher, have been renting in Ives Estates near Miami Gardens while they search for a home.
Lionel Lightbourne, a social worker, and his wife, Tanya, a teacher, have been renting in Ives Estates near Miami Gardens while they search for a home. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Lionel and Tanya Lightbourne have been house hunting for 11 years — longer than they’ve been married.

They still haven’t closed a deal.

Their credit is good. They’ve found financing. But skyrocketing home values have priced them out of South Florida’s housing boom, even in the inexpensive North Dade area of Ives Estates where they want to live. Too often the old and creaky homes they can afford fail inspections required by first-time home buyer mortgage programs.

“We’re looking anywhere from $150,000 to $250,000,” said Lionel Lightbourne, a social worker in Liberty City. “We’re finding stuff in our price range, but we keep getting outbid.”


For South Florida’s middle class, the dream of owning is slipping out of reach.

Home prices in the region are up nearly 45 percent since 2012, but local wages have stayed flat, lagging well behind inflation. Cash-rich investors, home flippers and foreign buyers are snapping up properties before locals can get a foot in the door.

The high prices threaten South Florida’s efforts to entice new employers and attract young, creative workers and entrepreneurs.

For now, as prices rise in traditional middle-class neighborhoods, buyers are looking at once-overlooked areas that offer good value, even if they’re not in the most fashionable parts of town.


Kelly Morello, a real estate agent based in Weston, said she often tells clients to broaden their search.

“There are pocket areas that are within very good school districts and have the right price points and good access to expressways,” Morello said. “So many times buyers will say ‘I didn’t know this place was here.’ 

But those pockets can be hard to find.

A person or family making the median household income in Miami-Dade ($42,926) can afford a single-family home in just 10 of the county’s 80 ZIP codes, according to a Miami Herald analysis of home value data provided by online real estate company Zillow.

Experts generally say that you can afford a home that costs no more than three-and-a-half times your household income.

In Broward, where home prices are rising more slowly and wages are higher, the situation is slightly better: 11 of 53 ZIP codes are affordable for single-family home buyers making the county median income of $51,608. (That means the median value of homes in those areas is below $180,600.)

In many cases, affordable neighborhoods come with high crime, poorly rated schools or long commutes.

Many, but not all. Using Zillow data on home values, school ratings from the Florida Department of Education and crime statistics collected from law enforcement agencies by the software mapping company Esri, the Herald set out to identify well-priced neighborhoods in both counties with average or better schools and levels of crime. Median values had to be below $400,000, roughly what a highly educated young couple several years into the workforce could afford. (According to the U.S.Census, the median salary for a South Floridian older than 25 with a graduate or professional degree is $60,688.)

In Miami-Dade, those areas include parts of West Kendall, Country Club/Palm Springs North, Hialeah, and the Miami neighborhoods of West Flagler, Shenandoah, Coral Way and the Upper East Side. In Broward, sections of Davie, Miramar and Coral Springs stood out, as well as the Fort Lauderdale neighborhoods of Tarpon River and Shady Banks, and the Driftwood section of Hollywood. (Click on links to read profiles of select neighborhoods.)

Other neighborhoods, such as Allapattah, stood out for their increase in value, driven by investors who are betting current high crime rates will eventually drop, increasing the area’s appeal.

An interactive tool created by the Miami Herald lets potential buyers explore neighborhoods by median value — and see how those areas match up on school ratings, safety and annual value growth.

What buyers want

For many home buyers, schools are top of mind.

While critics argue that A to F school grades handed out by the Florida Department of Education say more about poverty than performance, the ratings do have a big impact on real estate values. The better the school grade, the higher the price for homes in that district.

“You have to be buying at the $300,000 range to even think about good schools” from elementary all the way through high school, said Robert Sechriest, who wants to move his family from the Atlanta area to West Miami-Dade or Broward and has been looking for several months.

His 7-year-old son suffers from serious allergies back home but breathes easier in the pollen-light air of South Florida.

“If you can find a $300,000 house in a nice neighborhood with good schools, you better act quick,” said Sechriest, who works for Delta. “Literally you call your real estate agent with a list of 10 places you want to look at, and if it’s more than two days since they’ve been listed, most of them are gone.”

The hot market means the pool of affordable homes is shrinking dramatically.


To see the full graphic with yearly value growth for each neighborhood, click here.

Inventory for homes under $300,000 stands at just two months, said Ron Shuffield, president and CEO of EWM International Realty. A healthy market is generally considered to have between a six- and nine-month supply of inventory.

“We’re telling our agents that if they get a call for a home in that price range, just take the listing,” Shuffield said. “You’re going to sell it.”

Despite headlines about celebrity mansions and ultra-luxury condos, the real sweet spot for South Florida’s real estate activity is $300,000-and-under.

The median resale price for a single-family home in Miami-Dade was $278,000 in July, according to the Miami Association of Realtors. Condos and townhomes went for $195,000 in July.

In Broward, the median single-family home cost $312,000 in July while condos and townhomes sold for $137,000, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors.

But it’s not just run-of-the-mill homes that are selling out.

Laurie Daresta said her 5-bedroom house near Parkland Golf & Country Club in Broward stayed on the market for just two days.

“We sold for $1.14 million, and it makes me think we underpriced,” Daresta said.

Housing market blues

Study after study shows South Florida is one of the least affordable housing markets in the country.

That hasn’t always been the case.

For most of its first 100 years, land remained plentiful in South Florida. Bedroom communities sprang up around Miami-Dade and Broward, marketed first for retirees seeking sun and then to families looking for the American dream of a backyard, pool and two-car garage. The crime-ridden years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Miami was a portal for illegal drug shipments, kept prices unnaturally low for a seaside city. When a bayfront home on Miami Beach’s North Bay Road sold for $3.2 million in 1981, it set a county residential record that went unsurpassed for years.

Prices first started ballooning out of control during the bubble of the early 2000s, fueled by easy credit. At its peak in May 2006, the median sales price for a single-family home in Miami-Dade stood at $379,700.

When the housing bubble burst in late 2007, many economists thought South Florida would take a decade to recover. But foreign investors smelled a good deal and pounced during the recession with prices at 50 percent of their bubble-era peak.

In 2012, the market began to rise from its ashes. Flight capital from foreign countries, the global attention spurred by Art Basel Miami Beach, and the region’s value compared to New York, London, Los Angeles and Hong Kong all helped put Miami on the jet-setter radar.

As money poured into the region, South Florida became a destination for the world’s wealthiest citizens to buy, not just spend the weekend.

Today condos regularly sell for $10 million and more. And there are nearly 3,000 homes listed for $1 million or more, a 50 percent increase since 2012, according to EWM International Realty.

But because wages haven’t grown since the housing market began recovering in 2012, the latest real estate boom has driven home prices completely out of whack with what locals can afford. To make matters worse, many foreign buyers and investors offer all-cash deals, which carry less risk for sellers than offers from buyers seeking mortgages. Cash deals account for more than half of local home sales, although that’s down significantly from highs of 65 percent and more in 2012.

In South Florida, home prices are up 44 percent since 2012, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. During that same time, average hourly earnings for locals have grown by 10 cents to $22.70 — less than 0.4 percent. Inflation has been rising more quickly, growing by 1.5 percent between 2012 and 2013.

“What the market is doing is providing housing units for people who don’t live here yet as opposed to people who do,” said Frank Schnidman, a professor of urban and regional planning at Florida Atlantic University. “The market is geared towards people who want to purchase a second home or find a safe haven for their capital.”

Many developers are now building luxury condos and mansions at the expense of starter homes. They need to meet their margins, they say, and with land and construction costs soaring, that’s hard to do at the lower end of the market. Miami is now one of the nation’s most overvalued and least sustainable real estate markets when prices are compared to local earnings, according to property analytics firm Corelogic.


To see the full graphic with yearly value growth for each neighborhood, click here.

The lack of affordable homes could mean the return of a problem local leaders thought they had whipped: brain drain.

“We have to make sure Miami is affordable to our young professionals,” said Stuart Kennedy, senior programs officer at the Miami Foundation, which has targeted brain drain among other local issues. “This is the young talent that we want to keep and bring into the city.”

Those younger workers gravitate toward the urban core — the likely cause for the increase in home prices in downtown areas and neighborhoods close to city centers in both counties.

“There’s a national trend towards young people coming back into downtowns,” Kennedy said. “The millenial generations want to live in the downtown dense urban neighborhoods, where they don’t have to commute and where they can walk to stores and restaurants.”

If housing and transit costs keep escalating, workers likely will be pushed farther from employment centers, worsening Miami’s already brutal traffic congestion.

“You’ll end up with folks having two-hour commutes one-way,” Kennedy said.

Already, middle-class South Floridians spend nearly 70 percent of their income on housing, commuting and utilities, according to a study published this week by Trulia. That makes Miami the third most expensive housing market in the country after San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Miami scores poorly even against expensive areas like New York because wages are lower here and public transit harder to access. That gap can have serious economic effects, experts say.

“When you have workers spending so much on housing and transportation, it erodes their power as consumers,” said Mekael Teshome, an economist at PNC Bank. “That’s money they’re not spending on other things that could help drive the economy.”

If the trend continues, local officials and business leaders fear that Miami-Dade will face a worker shortage similar to the one in the Florida Keys, where police officers, firefighters, nurses and teachers are in short supply. Many Keys resorts bus employees from Homestead. When Wal-Mart announced plans for a 33-acre shopping center on Rockland Key earlier this year, the company said it would need to build 200 affordable housing units for workers.

The construction of new homes is already failing to keep up with job growth in South Florida, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors. Miami had the fifth-largest disparity between job creation and home building in the nation, the report found. Only San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego and New York City fared worse.

With affordable homes so hard to find and the high cost of windstorm insurance and property taxes an added burden, local boosters fear South Floridians may simply pick up and leave.

Daphcar Depaliste says she hasn’t found a home in Miami where she wants to raise her two children — at least not one she can afford.

“We need space, we need good schools, we need a family area,” said Depaliste, who works in customer service for American Airlines and is renting in North Miami.

That’s why she’s planning to pick up and move to Ocala, where she has her eye on a two-story home with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a two-car garage, all for $174,000.

“That wouldn’t get me anything down here,” Depaliste said.


To see the full graphic with yearly value growth for each neighborhood, click here.

Closing the deal

When buyers do find a good deal, they have to move quickly.

Earvin and Yudi West bought a pre-construction single-family house in Tamarac before the development’s model home even opened up.

“It was a leap of faith,” said Earvin West, who works in finance in Boca Raton. “Being a young professional trying to find a home that’s affordable and has all the amenities that we’re looking for, it’s pretty much impossible unless you’re willing to go up to Lake Worth or Boynton Beach.”

While real estate agents say that many young couples fix up the homes they buy, the Wests work and go to school full time and wanted a move-in ready home.

The couple searched for two-and-a-half years. When they spotted a 3-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom house for $273,000 last year, they knew they had to act fast.

“We weren’t finding anything except townhomes for $300,000 or $350,000, which seemed insane,” West said. They moved in earlier this summer.

Condos and townhomes offer a more realistic option for many. The Miami Herald analysis of Zillow data found buyers making the median income in Miami-Dade can afford a condo or townhome in 27 of the county’s 80 ZIP codes. In Broward, middle-income buyers can afford to buy a unit in a multi-family building in 30 of the county’s 53 ZIP codes.

But many buyers have their hearts set on a single-family home. That’s what their parents could afford. Why shouldn’t it be the same for them?

Some developers are going after those buyers. “We think there’s a void in the market under $400,000,” said Michael Nunziata, division president of builder Central Communities. “A lot of developers have run over to the highest price point category and ignored that segment of the market.”

Central Communities, a subsidiary of developer 13th Floor Investments, is building 715 single-family homes at three projects in Tamarac over the next five years. Because land is so expensive, Central Communities is focusing on infill development, Nunziata said. Its homes are located on former golf courses.

“We have to get creative,” he said.


To see the full graphic with yearly value growth for each neighborhood, click here.

Building smarter

Andrew Frey, a developer and urban planning activist, said local governments should encourage developers to invest in mid-rise buildings with fewer parking spaces, more units and better access to mass transit.

“We need density of other kinds besides condo towers or suburban gated communities,” Frey said. “There’s whole kinds of urban neighborhoods that don’t exist in South Florida. . . . We don’t have brownstones, we don’t have row houses, we don’t have six-story walk-ups like in the West Village. We don’t have these different kinds of [housing] that would achieve a dramatic increase of supply in a way that’s on more of a human scale than 40- or 50-story condo towers.”

One promising sign is that home price growth is slowing down.

Home prices in South Florida are growing at about a 9 percent clip in 2015, compared to double-digit growth in the previous three years.

And the market will likely keep cooling down. As currencies in Latin America and Europe plummet against the dollar, foreign buyers are having a harder time affording local real estate. The percentage of homes bought with cash — a good measure of foreign buyers and investors — fell to 54.6 percent in Miami-Dade in May, down about 10 percent over the last year, according to Corelogic.

That’s giving hope to home buyers like the Lightbournes, who are trying to make the best of their search .

“We have house hunting dates,” said Tanya Lightbourne, who teaches third grade at an elementary school in Miami Gardens. “We get food and look at furniture and have a day out.”

Together, she and Lionel make about $85,000 per year. They know they should be able to afford a home.

“We want something to call our own,” she said. “Renting is not a good investment. I want something I can pass down to our children.”

Until then, they’ll keep looking.

Miami Herald staff writer Doug Hanks contributed to this report.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas

This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with the Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at

Event: South Florida’s next hot neighborhoods

Get ahead of the crowd with the latest insight from Miami’s top real estate trend-watchers at a Miami Herald event designed for home buyers, real estate professionals and investors.

▪ When: Sept. 29, 8:30-10:30 a.m.

▪ Where: Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus, 101 NE Fourth St., downtown Miami; Room 2106

▪ Speakers: Developers Avra Jain of Miami’s Upper East Side; Carlos Rosso, president of the Related Cos. condo division; Henry Torres of the Astor Companies and Matthew Vander Werff of Little River; Realtors Liza Mendez, Ron Shuffield and Tina Falla Trelles; Sonja Bogensperger, deputy director of Miami’s Downtown Development Authority; Peter Zalewski of Condovultures and Cranespotters websites; Anthony Williams and Fernand Amandi of Bendixen & Amandi; and Nicholas Nehamas and Jane Wooldridge of the Miami Herald Media Company.

▪ Cost: $20

▪ Information, registration: //

How we did it

To identify well-priced neighborhoods in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the Miami Herald partnered with real estate data provider Zillow for the month of June. Zillow provided sales data by ZIP code for single-family houses and condos/townhomes in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The Miami Herald selected ZIP codes with median value of $400,000 and below, the upper limit that a college-educated, middle-class couple could likely afford. The Herald then supplemented that information with school ratings provided by the Florida Department of Education and personal and property crime statistics collected from law enforcement sources by the software mapping company Esri.

The seven neighborhoods profiled here have schools rated B or better and average or low crime, with the exception of Allapattah, which was picked solely for its skyrocketing values.

Zillow’s home value data excludes foreclosures and smooths out monthly variations in the types of homes being sold. It is less accurate for the pricing of individual homes but provides a better picture for larger geographic areas such as ZIP codes and cities. It also includes data on all closed sales, not just those from multiple listing services used by Realtors.

Bang for the buck

Values in these areas have risen less than the county average over the past year and meet all the following qualifications: Schools rated B or better, average or low crime, and median value under $400,000.


  • West Kendall
  • Tamiami
  • The Hammocks
  • Kendale Lakes
  • The Crossings
  • Fountainebleau
  • Westchester
  • Northwest Hialeah
  • South Miami Lakes
  • Glenvar Heights (condo/townhome)
  • Aventura (condo/townhome)
  • Waterfront North Miami (condo/townhome)


  • Hallandale Beach
  • Sunrise
  • Coral Springs
  • Coconut Creek
  • West Pembroke Pines
  • West Davie
  • Southwest Plantation (condo/townhome)
  • West Deerfield Beach (condo/townhome)

Source: Zillow, Florida Department of Education, Esri

Hot neighborhoods

Values in these areas have gone up more than the county average over the past year and meet all the following qualifications: Schools rated B or better, average or low crime, and median value under $400,000.


  • Country Club/Palm Springs North
  • South Miami Heights
  • South Cutler Bay
  • Hialeah Gardens
  • East Hialeah
  • Shenandoah
  • Coral Way
  • Upper Eastside (condo/townhome)
  • El Portal (condo/townhome)
  • Miami Shores (condo/townhome)
  • Pinecrest (condo/townhome)


Source: Zillow, Florida Department of Education, Esri

What neighborhoods can you afford?

Our online tool allows you to search for ZIP codes in Miami-Dade and Broward counties where median home values match your price range, and correlate that information with crime rates and public school ratings. Check

Resources for first-time home buyers

The Federal Housing Administration offers subsidized loans and other benefits to qualified first-time home buyers, as do Miami-Dade County, Broward County, the city of Miami, the city of Miami Beach, the city of Fort Lauderdale, the city of Hollywood and other local governments.

Assistance is also available from nonprofits such as the Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida and the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. Many local and national banks also have first-time home buyer programs.

Good deals

These affordable areas had the year-over-year highest value gains, regardless of school grades or crime.



  • Lauderhill
  • Oakland Park
  • North Lauderdale
  • Margate
  • Tamarac
  • Pompano Beach

Source: Zillow, Florida Department of Education, Esri