The Real Deal New York

Off-market deals drive Palm Beach’s high-end

Brown Harris Stevens’s honcho Ava Van de Water weighs in on what’s ahead for 2013
By Alexander Britell | November 01, 2012 07:00AM

Ava Van de Water

Ava Van de Water is executive vice president and broker at Brown Harris Stevens of Palm Beach, overseeing the firm’s 50 agents there. BHS is one of a select few New York brokerages — including Corcoran and Elliman — that have offices in Palm Beach. She recently spoke with The Real Deal about local buying patterns, the rise of prime off-market sales and just how significant the Hamptons-Manhattan-Palm Beach triangle really is.

How would you describe the Palm Beach real estate market right now?

It’s very healthy — we’re coming out of the summer market and one of the busiest summers we’ve had in recent years. It’s been very steady.


What’s been driving that activity for buyers?

People are more confident in the market — they’re ready to buy. The one thing we’re dealing with is low inventory, and people are kind of snapping up properties as they see them because they know there’s not much out there.


What kind of impact is that having on prices?

The prices hit bottom last year, and they’re rebounding. We’re seeing the prices go up, [but] not a tremendous amount. What is more interesting is that there is so little on the market for prime properties — a lot of people are resorting to people who don’t have their houses listed and are doing a lot of deals in private sales outside the MLS.


Does that impact the market?

It doesn’t really impact the market per se — it is just that those sales always happen when people are looking for certain kinds of properties. But it’s interesting that in 2011, our most expensive sale was $22.5 million, and this year there were five sales more expensive than that. And this year, our top sales are $41.5 million, $23.5 million and $23 million. All of those were done in private sales. Two of them had previously been on the market.


Where is the demand in Palm Beach coming from?

It hasn’t changed — buyers are local, or they’re moving up [in size], or they’re coming from the Northeast, from New York. So the Northeast is a big feeder into our market, but also some Europeans. We’re not seeing Asian buyers as much as in New York and the big international hubs, but our market has always had a lot of European elements to it. But a lot of them are just people that have been here for years.


A lot of brokers talk about the Manhattan-Hamptons-Palm Beach triangle. Is that still as significant as it used to be?

We talk to [the New York office] all the time, and send clients back and forth on a regular basis — that hasn’t changed at all. A lot of buyers come between Manhattan, the Hamptons and Palm Beach. There is also the Aspen market. But the Northeast is the strongest [demographic] in Palm Beach.


Is Palm Beach seeing the kind of South American interest that has dominated Miami?

We’ve got some Brazilians in our market. I would tell you, though, that you’ll see a much greater impact in Miami. That’s a huge hub. But we definitely have some Latin American buyers here.


Where do you see Palm Beach headed in 2013?

I think it’s going to be a steadily rising market — not any kind of significant peaks, but a real nice, steady, strong market. We’re seeing evidence of that now with how strong the summer went.