Recently named Miami’s top condominium broker by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Cervera Real Estate managing partner Alicia Cervera Lamadrid, along with her sister, CEO Veronica Cervera Goeseke, have been leading the firm on an expansion drive that has doubled both the firm’s number of agents and its locations in Miami. The firm is already marketing some of the new-construction projects in Miami, including at the site of the former Grand Bay Hotel, and the Ocean House condominium in South Beach. The two Cerveras are carrying on in the footsteps of their mother, Alicia Cervera Sr, who founded (and is still the company’s chairman) the company in 1969, getting their first big break representing Harry Helmsley. The Real Deal talked to the two about the company’s large-scale growth, the impact of dwindling inventory on the market and how Miami’s new construction should have started a year ago.
What have you been working on over the last few months?
Alicia: We’ve made a strong commitment to grow the company in the last few months — we doubled our offices, which were strategically added to service our, hopefully, continuing growth. We doubled the number of offices, and the number of agents and we’re actively looking for new talent to add, whether it’s young people getting started or seasoned professionals.
Veronica: We’re continuing to work with developers, who are now starting to review floor plans and start the process of building again in South Florida; that is a part of our business that is active again. [Prospective developers] are asking us to [find them] architects, to see what kind of units they should have, what kind of layout, what kind of pricing.
What stands out to you right now in the residential market?
Veronica: The luxury market. The top-end luxury market in Miami is very active. We see people who traditionally used to go to New York coming to Miami and buying their second-home type of residence. Latin Americans, who traditionally would have bought apartments in New York, because they did banking and medical services, have found out you can do your banking in Miami — and it’s such a shorter plane ride.
What kind of impact has the rapidly falling inventory had on the market?
Alicia: I think for us it’s an ebb and flow. The fact that inventory has dropped, the most important thing is that it marks the beginning of new construction, and for as much construction as happened in the last 10 years in Miami, it’s still an extremely young city, and we still have some magnificent [vacant] lots in key locations. The reality is that nothing new has come out of the ground for about three or four years, and by the time this generation of buildings comes on line, it’ll be another three years. We think the city’s ready for it. But trust me, three years is more than enough time to absorb it, and some people think we’ve even started a year too late.
The Genting casino resort project has been getting a lot of attention — how much do you think that project and Asian investment will affect the market?
Alicia: For me, it’s a wonderful thing that’s taking place. Whenever you have a group coming in to invest $3.5 billion, you have to say at a minimum that it’s an incredible compliment. When you listen to their presentation, it made me think of Disney World — when Disney goes somewhere, their reach is an entire continent. They don’t build a Disney World in every city, they build one on every continent. This project is a resort, and they plan on using it as a magnet to attract Europe, South America and their existing client base in the Far East. They think [those customers] will stay with them, the same way they do with five-star hotels. If you’re a groupie for the St. Regis, you always like to stay at the St. Regis.
How much has the way brokers operate changed since the beginning of the downturn?
Alicia: In the beginning [of the downturn], everybody was crying because financing was so difficult to get. Then I had some agents who wouldn’t even work with somebody that was looking for financing. So it’s an interesting cycle of seeing how people adapt, and how you find your opportunities and go with them. Right now, I’m spending a lot of time talking to banks and managers and anyone who will listen, and saying, our city is really under-leveraged, and you might want to think about what kind of opportunity you’d have, even if you lent 50 percent — can you imagine the amount of cash that would come into the market?