The Real Deal Miami

Athlete home sales strained amid luxe market woes

By Jennifer LeClaire | July 16, 2009 01:12PM

Professional athletes don’t give up on the playing field, and some won’t quit in South Florida’s brutal real estate arena despite plunging property values. Regardless of how well these sports legends fare on court, the market is taking many to the penalty box.

The latest entrant in the star athlete real estate scrum is Alex Rodriguez, who just cut the price of his Coral Gables ranch to $9.9 million, down from a $14.9 million asking price last October.

Basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, recently traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, sold his Star Island house for $16 million in June, after it languished for four years. The price dropped like a bad free-throw percentage — he originally sought $35 million for the manse.

Brokers say even the highest of the high end of the market is getting a dose of pricing reality.

Russian billionaire Vladislav Doronin, boyfriend of supermodel Naomi Campbell, purchased the home. The original listing price was $35 million. O’Neal paid about $19 million for the mansion in 2005. That’s a $3 million loss.

“Celebrity homes in this price point just aren’t moving,” said Kevin Tomlinson, a broker at Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell in Miami Beach. “It’s not the homes. It’s the price point. Celebrities still expect to get a premium for their homes because they are celebrities, but the economy is the great equalizer. The celebrity factor doesn’t mean a lot right now.”

Another recent athlete home sale that proves Tomlinson’s point is retired Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning’s five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bathroom home in Coconut Grove. He sold the home in April for $6 million. It was originally listed for $10 million in 2006. Mourning fared well, though, because he only paid $3.2 million for the property in 1996.

With athletes — and many others — posting losses on their homes, some may question the wisdom of selling now. But Tomlinson said the economy is bringing with it a realization that the luxury home market may not fully recover.

“Shaq didn’t necessarily need to sell, he just didn’t need or want the house anymore,” Tomlinson said. “He understood the reality of the new market. If he didn’t sell it now, he might lose even more next year, and why keep paying taxes and upkeep on a home you aren’t living in?”

Some athletes are selling their South Florida homes because they got traded. Others are selling because their lifestyles have changed. New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez is a good example. He has listed his six-bedroom, five-bathroom home in Coral Gables for $9,999,999 with the Jills, a Coldwell Banker affiliate in Miami Beach that also sold the homes of Mourning and O’Neal. The 8,310-square-foot, Mediterranean style home has ocean views and more than an acre of park-like grounds. 

“Alex is looking for a new property in Miami Beach,” says Jill Hertzberg, a partner at the Jills. “Alex is going through a divorce, so he’s got a clear reason for selling. He’s not as worried about taking a loss on the home. It doesn’t fit into his total life plan anymore, so he’s moving on.”

Former baseball hero Mike Piazza is in a similar situation. He’s trying to sell his condo unit at Murano at Portofino for $4.3 million because he got married, had babies, and needs a bigger home, says Hertzberg, who listed the condo. His condo is in the heart of South Beach’s most prestigious neighborhood, South of Fifth, with views of Fisher Island, Biscayne Bay, Downtown Miami and the ocean.

“In the grand scheme of what athletes are involved in, they can take a loss on a piece of real estate and make it up somewhere else,” Hertzberg says. “Everyone likes to make a profit. Nobody wants to take a loss. But when you have to sell you have to sell.”

Sometimes it’s not a matter of selling. Sometimes it’s a matter of avoiding foreclosure. Athletes who’ve made fortunes in sports face the same problems as other folks when it comes to cash flow and money management, and foreclosures on pro players’ homes are not uncommon. 

Retired basketball stars Vin Baker and Latrell Sprewell have faced foreclosure. Dallas Cowboys defensive back “Pacman” Jones went into default. And, most recently, former Miami Dolphins quarterback Bernie Kosar lost several foreclosure judgments and filed for personal bankruptcy in June.

As Janice Leis sees it, the economy is teaching a painful lesson to some athletes: Less is more. Leis, a broker at Prudential Florida Realty in Boca Raton, has represented many professional athletes in pursuit of a home.

“When real property is approached as not just a place to make a statement, but an asset that must become a liquid asset, my point becomes clear,” Leis says. “No matter what the inventory, nor financial climate, all these young men have been traded. A trade is swift and painful sometimes, but more painful is a huge financial loss.”