A chat with Alicia Cervera Lamadrid

Powerhouse broker talks family ties, the housing bust and how it made real estate stronger

Oct.October 09, 2013 10:00 AM

Alicia Cervera Lamadrid is a clinical psychologist by training but a real estate broker by profession — by birth, really.

Lamadrid, 55, was born into a family of land lovers: Her maternal grandmother developed Peru’s first high-rise— three stories! — and her mom, Alicia Cervera Sr., went to sales side, starting Cervera Real Estate nearly 45 years ago.

Today, the residential brokerage is led by Cervera, Lamadrid and her sister, Veronica Cervera Goeseke, whose title is CEO. Together, they market some of South Florida’s most ambitious residential projects, including the Bjarke Ingels-designed Grove at Grand Bay and 321 Ocean, a South Beach boutique condo designed by architect Enrique Norten.

Q: Cervera had $1 billion in sales in 2012, in part because of collaborations with developers that started even before their buildings went up. How does the brokerage get in on the ground floor, so to speak?

It all starts with identifying the site: What is the unique selling proposition? At the end of the day, all land is dirt. Some dirt is just more privileged because of its location.

Q: The market is finally back, but how do you see the housing crisis and why it came to pass?

I always say: The developers delivered, the buyers did not step up and the banks absolutely failed. Buyers were acting upon the expectation that they would be able to obtain financing because that was how business was done. It was really difficult. We got through by managing the process for the developers, the banks and the buyers. We were at the tip of the arrow — not necessarily by choice.

Q: What did you learn from the bust?

The biggest lesson learned was to do an increased deposit structure so that everybody has more skin in the game. The first people to do this are actually clients, the Melo family of Argentina. They came in the middle of the debacle, they actually built a building, and then other people tiptoed into the market. At Brickell House, we asked for 70 percent deposits at the time of contract and it’s pretty much sold out. There’s a real expectation when people are signing contracts now that they need to be prepared to come to the closing with cash.

Q: Where is all the money coming from?

Ultimately, you never know. We all feel the responsibility to do the right thing, but my responsibility is to make sure that the money comes through the proper channels. We rely on the banks and the federal government to make sure the money that we’re receiving is clean. If they can’t figure it out, how am I going to figure it out?

Q: Have banks found a role in the cash-heavy, tranche-deposit financing structure?

The banks are being more prudent. They’re starting to make construction loans again, and I would hope that by the time these condo projects finish, they’ll feel comfortable making end loans.

Q: Cervera opened its first international office not long ago, in Panama. Why there?

Our project, Trump Panama. [And the Panama Canal expansion is] such a cash cow because of the amount of labor that’s required at every level. There isn’t any availability of office space in Panama City; the economy’s booming. It’s dollar-based, which makes it a wonderful alternative for people trying to leave their countries. … It’s strategically the New York of Central America, if you will.

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