Inside the Ocean Reef Club, a self-contained real estate market

Ocean Reef Club
Ocean Reef Club

Nestled between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean at the north tip of Key Largo, the private Ocean Reef Club is a self-contained real estate market, with its own Multiple Listing Service and a handful of brokerages that cater to the uber-wealthy enclave.

Spanning 2,500 acres, the members-only club has a total of 1,700 properties, about half condos and half single-family homes. There, prices are generally much higher than in the rest of the Upper Keys. One- to five-bedroom condos range from about $550,000 to $5 million, and single-family homes are priced from $1.5 million up to $19 million, said Bob Ecuyer of Swenson & Ecuyer Realty. As broker and owner of the firm, Ecuyer has been at Ocean Reef since 1969, starting as a tennis coach. He bought the brokerage 15 years ago.

“We’re definitely a vacation home,” said Ecuyer, whose firm of 15 agents commands the second-highest market share at the club. “I’m what they call the Avis — I try harder, I’m No. 2.

Ocean Reef’s 1,600 members hail from 40 states and at least 20 countries, according to Russell Post, who sold his brokerage, Ocean Reef Club Sotheby’s International Realty, to Ocean Reef Club two years ago but remains president. With 18 agents, the brokerage has at least an 80 percent market share at Ocean Reef, he said. Other brokerages that operate at the club include Watson Luxury Properties at Ocean Reef and Ocean Reef Homes.

At the beginning of March, about 180 condos, homes, docks and vacant lots were listed on the market. November through April is the peak selling season, so sellers have been reducing their prices to capture buyers before the season ends, Ecuyer said.

To buy at Ocean Reef, you must become a member. An equity position for a new buyer costs $235,000, with annual dues of $11,500 — on top of the price of a property.

Post and Ecuyer tout Ocean Reef’s family-oriented, community atmosphere, where members can play golf, tennis, dock their boats and enjoy water sports. The club has its own private airport, a marina, spa, inn, two 18-hole golf courses, tennis and croquet, as well as medical facilities, about a dozen food and beverage venues, shops and a grocery store. It also has a cultural center with performances, card-playing clubs, an orchid club and more.

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“It’s always attracted entrepreneurs who want secure, safe family time in a fairly unpretentious way,” said Post, who lives at Ocean Reef. “Things are expensive, but people don’t flash their money.”

Michael Fay, a principal at Avison Young who is also managing director of the firm’s Miami operations, is among those who have second homes at Ocean Reef.

“I am fully immersed in Ocean Reef,” said Fay, whose family owns a five-bedroom, six-bathroom house on a golf course just an hour’s commute from his office in downtown Coral Gables. Once he arrives at Ocean Reef, he can drive everywhere in a golf cart, fish, play golf, enjoy other activities and even order room service at his house.

“There is no other club like it in the world,” Fay said.

Ocean Reef’s roots date back to 1945, when Minnesota real estate developer Morris Baker created a fishing camp and small lodge on the site. By 1969, the acreage had expanded, and ownership was transferred to Harper Sibley Jr. and his partner Morris Burke, who founded the Ocean Reef Club. In 1993, Ocean Reef became member-owned.

The most recent addition to Ocean Reef is 121 Marina, a development with 27 luxury condos priced from $4 million to $6 million. The project, developed by Eric Soulavy, founder of Blue Jay Capital, was completed about a year ago. Ocean Reef Club Sotheby’s handled development sales, and three units remain for sale, Post said.

Ocean Reef Club Sotheby’s also represents the Residence Club at Ocean Reef, a three-building complex with 48 units that is expected to be completed in January 2021. It is replacing the former Golf Village, which had 10 buildings with 48 one-bedroom units.

The new project, for ages 55 and older, is being developed by the Ron Terwilliger and the Grunow Company and will have one-, two- and three-bedroom units priced from $1.6 million to more than $5 million, with space devoted to restaurants, cafes, card rooms, a fitness center, hair and nails and a virtual golf room.