Experts “bullish” on Miami market

Miami’s housing slump is little more than a bump in the road leading to a glorious future for this international city, a panel of real estate experts concluded Wednesday night.

William Holly, CEO of Holly Real Estate, served as moderator for the program that drew about 200 of the industry’s best minds to a forum and reception at the Four Seasons Hotel on Brickell Avenue.

Asked by Holly for a straight up vote on the local real estate market, five of the six panelists said they were “bullish” about Miami. Only banker Justo Fernandez wavered. The executive vice president of Mercantil Commerce Bank’s real estate division said he was ‘neutral.’

Fernandez and Pete Hernandez, Miami’s city manager, were on the hot seat for much of the evening.

The panel’s consensus, grudgingly acknowledged by Fernandez, was that the government was sending mixed signals to the banking community and needed to do more to get the credit situation resolved so the economy could move forward.

Ronald Shuffield, president of the EWM real estate brokerage, set the tone early, declaring the market has “a credit problem, not a value problem.” He explained that a recent internal study at his brokerage found EWM agents representing $3.5 billion in capital chasing South Florida properties.

“Everybody wants to live here,” he proclaimed. The only issue is finding the right price and financing.

He said that, short term, filling the Brickell District’s unsold condo inventory with eager renters wouldn’t be hard and would bring a quick jolt of energy to the downtown scene that in turn would encourage further retail and office development.

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He acknowledged that renting units at 5 percent of value would be painful for developers but said many of today’s renters would be buyers when the market rebounds.

Some of the most pointed questioning of the evening came from the audience and was directed at Hernandez on the subjects of transportation and affordable housing. Those are the top two issues facing Miami, just as they are the top issues in many U.S. cities, Hernandez said. He suggested public-private partnerships hold the key.

Panelist Misha Mladenovic, vice president of development for Cabi Developers, quickly pounced, suggesting a partnership between the city and Cabi could be the key to an affordable housing project in the Northeast Second Avenue corridor that Hernandez identified as the next target for development. 

Mladenovic and John Fullerton, founding partner of Fullerton Diaz Architects, traded compliments and good natured barbs about whether it was the developer or the architect who deserved credit for the live-work-play style mixed-use projects that were redefining downtown living.

Both agreed that the Brickell area was well positioned for success in a 21st Century world where commute times and rising gasoline prices argue for a return to self-contained, sustainable communities.

“If you’re not building green, you’re building obsolescence,” Fullerton told the group.

While there was broad agreement that an influx of foreign buyers was aiding the recovery, that recovery wouldn’t be quick or pain free.

Shuffield predicted that it would take three to five years to absorb the inventory that is in the pipeline and that recovery would be uneven. The most sustainable buildings in the most self-contained neighborhoods are likely to be in the greatest demand, he said.

The event was webcast by The Destination Group.

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