For centuries, wealth has been generally defined by land, possessions, and the accumulation of both. You earn more money, you buy more land, and then you buy more possessions to put on that land. The unspoken rule (often credited to Malcolm Forbes) has been “he who dies with the most toys wins.”
But maybe not! In recent years, wealthy people appear to be giving more thought about what actually makes them happy, and “stuff” doesn’t seem to be the answer. “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” said Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for more than two decades. In a 2015 issue of Fast Company magazine, Gilovich added, “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.” This is essentially the crux of something called the Easterlin paradox, which suggests that money and possessions can make you happy — but only up to a certain point.
Affluent buyers of Miami-area real estate are embracing this new philosophy. They are trading spacious mansion and estates — and the responsibilities for managing them — for smaller living spaces and resort-style living options at the area’s newest ultra-luxury condominiums. In short, they are choosing experiences (amenities, comfort, peace of mind) over “stuff.”
Recent market data bears this out: According to reports from Douglas Elliman and appraisal firm Miller Samuel, the average house sold in Miami Beach and its barrier islands was 20 percent smaller in the second quarter of 2019 than last year. Miami Beach condominiums also got smaller, with the average sold units being 89 percent as big as those sold a year ago. On Miami’s mainland in the second quarter, the average luxury house also traded at about 400 fewer square feet than those from one year ago.
IT’S NOT JUST DOWNSIZING
It would be easy to confuse this trend with the natural real estate phenomenon of “downsizing”, or trading one’s much larger home for a smaller one during a specific stage of life, such as when children move away or residents no longer need as much space. However, what I am hearing is much more complex and powerful — a sustained chorus of clients in various stages of life who are eager to immerse themselves in the “experience lifestyle.” In other words, they are not simply “moving from,” they are eagerly “going to.”
My friend Mary Dreiling is a perfect example of someone who is “lifesizing.” She is selling her seven-bedroom waterfront home in Miami Beach with an eye toward moving to a new resort-style condominium development. The new residence offers Mary a high-end spa, dog grooming services, water views, a vegetable garden, and ample living space for her housing staff, without leaving Miami Beach.
Credit should be given to Miami’s visionary real estate developers for anticipating the lifesizing phenomenon and creating newer condominiums with a heady mix of branding, services and “next-level” amenities. “Condo developers have drawn upon world-renowned architects, interior designers and lifestyle/wellness brands, as well as extraordinary amenities, to raise the caliber of their product in order to attract the demand of buyers looking for unique oceanfront and city-centric living,” said Jay Phillip Parker, chief executive officer of Douglas Elliman Florida. (Full disclosure: I am an agent with Douglas Elliman.)
Lifesizing is not isolated to Miami Beach. Just as Mary has a range of new luxury condominium choices in her home neighborhood, buyers from single-family home neighborhoods like Cocoplum and Tahiti Beach are finding amazing new projects close by in Coral Gables, Coconut Grove and Brickell.
AMENITIES ARE KEY
While living in a home associated with a well-known international brand or designed by a “starchitect” appeals to many buyers, my clients tell me that the variety and quality of amenities and services at these new upscale condominiums are what truly gets them in the door. In fact, many of these new Miami area projects are now defined by the uniqueness of their amenities.
Conveniences such as tennis courts, concierge services, world-class spas and gyms, private cinemas, resident restaurants, and infinity pools have become de rigueur, and developers now must compete to outdo each other with even more distinctive living experiences for their clients. These creative features include concierge veterinarian services (including grooming, daycare, training, and exquisite dog parks for the furry members of the family); teen tech lounges with massive interactive whiteboards; landing areas for future manned drones; “sky garages” that allows residents to park their vehicle inside their unit; and 24/7 white-glove butler service.
The innovative and prescient nature of these amenities continue to astound my clients and further underscores my original point about luxury buyers choosing unique experiences over possessions. We can only wonder how the relationship between wealth and happiness will further evolve, and how that will translate into the next waves of real estate development.
Master Broker Carol Cassis is executive director of luxury sales for the Cassis Burke Collection at Douglas Elliman. She can be reached at 305-205-6639 and/or email@example.com.
▪ This opinion piece was written for the Broker’s View space in Business Monday. It does not necessarily reflect the view of the Miami Herald.