Is starchitect era over for SoFla’s preconstruction condo market?

Will future projects command the same high presale prices as the first wave?

Feb.February 17, 2015 01:30 PM

The era of promoting star architects — or starchitects — to sell preconstruction condo units in planned towers could be ending in South Florida, during this current boom that began in 2011.

Early on in South Florida’s current preconstruction condo boom that followed the colossal crash of 2007, several developers commissioned many of the world’s starchitects — such as Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Carlos Ott — to design a series of new luxury projects to be developed in the tricounty region.

At the onset of this cycle, developers reasoned that new condo towers designed by the industry’s elite architects would command premium presale — and resale — prices, garner support for necessary variances from city leaders wooed by promises of world-class designs, and work to overcome buyer objections to putting down nonrefundable 50 percent deposits before any of the units were ever delivered.

Starchitect-designed projects were also seen as an effective way for developers to differentiate their high-rises from the nearly 330 new condo towers with 42,000 units announced for South Florida during this boom as of Monday, according to the preconstruction condo projects website (For disclosure, my firm operates the website.)

The marketing approach appears to have worked, as many of the first projects designed by starchitects are now under construction with completion scheduled for the upcoming months.

As presale buyers of starchitect-designed condo towers prepare to take ownership of their unique units, the award-winning design critic Alastair Gordon authored a first-person opinion piece in Sunday’s Miami Herald in which he contends South Florida is awash with “aloof and arrogant” starchitects whose designs fail to inspire the “general public.”

Gordon declares in his commentary that “most of the new towers are self-contained entities, singular shapes wrapped in miles of reflective glass, predictable and bland enough for Dallas or Dubai.”

This is probably not the feedback that preconstruction condo buyers of starchitect-designed projects have been hoping for, since entering into presale contracts years ago to purchase units with prices ranging from at least $1,000 per square foot to more than $6,000 per square foot.

Added to this, resale-minded investors surely do not want to hear that “the idealized client” for the new starchitect-designed towers is a “digitally rendered avatar, standing on a cantilevered balcony with a perfect tan, dressed in flowing white garments,” as Gordon said.

The inherent risk of purchasing preconstruction condos is that upon completion the projects fail to fulfill the expectations created by the marketing campaigns that were used to presell the units.

To this point, Gordon predicts in his column that “when all of these glittering projects are completed, the city will certainly be a different place with 40- to 60-story slabs looming over the beach, blocking out the sun, increasing the demands on already overburdened pubic services and fragile environment.”

The unanswered question going forward is whether future starchitect-designed condo projects will still command the same high presale prices once the original wave of units is completed during this South Florida condo boom.

Peter Zalewski is a real estate columnist for The Real Deal who founded Condo Vultures LLC, a consultancy and publishing company, as well as Condo Vultures Realty LLC and CVR Realty brokerages and the Condo Ratings Agency, an analytics firm. The Condo Ratings Agency operates, a preconstruction condo projects website, in conjunction with the Miami Association of Realtors.

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