Zika cases continue to grow in Miami Dade County. Authorities this week reported several new mosquito-born infections including six cases in Miami Beach where a Zika zone stretches from 8th Street to 63rd Street.
Ever since Miami Beach officials announced they had trapped three Zika-positive mosquitos on September 1st, the Zika outbreak has had a significant impact on the city’s tourism industry, with hundreds of room cancellations reported. Just this week the Miami Beach City Commission considered but rejected a proposal to build bat houses in a bid to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito’s that carry the virus.
But while the Zika virus is causing some tourists to stay away, it’s not had a noticeable effect on residential real estate sales, agents say — at least so far.
Realtor Nancy Batchelor, who leads a team at EWM International Realty, and who sold $63 million in sales in 2015, told The Real Deal that when Zika was first reported on Miami Beach in early September there was a pause in buyer interest – especially from younger buyers looking for homes for their young families in Mid-Beach areas.
“I think we have had several buyers postpone trips but it hasn’t stopped them in their tracks,” said Batchelor, who said some potential buyers decided to postpone their trips until cooler weather. Batchelor said a strong push by city authorities aimed at mosquito control has eased fears considerably. “Here in Mid-Beach, authorities are going house-to-house checking people’s yards and doing samplings, so I think that has helped with calming a lot of it.”
Julian Johnston, who leads Calibre International Realty in Miami Beach with more than $105 million in residential sales in 2015 – mostly waterfront estates and high-end condos — told TRD that when Zika first was reported on Miami Beach he heard concerns from a few clients.
“I did see a couple of clients who were in their late 40’s – hedge fund guys, who didn’t visit at the time because they were thinking about having a baby with their wives and they knew it could be sexually transmitted so they did hold off on their trips.”
But Johnston said he has heard few concerns from baby boomers past child rearing age who he said make up a large portion of buyers in Miami Beach. Johnston said the lowest volume in sales is usually in September, October and November and that “once the election passes in November, I think it will be a fairly strong season.”
As of this week, Florida has a reported 1,044 Zika infections with 165 cases of local infection in the Miami area. Across the state there are a reported 745 cases related to travel and 110 pregnant women have been diagnosed with Zika, which can cause microcephaly and other defects in infants.
In the Miami area, officials have declared two Zika zones, one in Miami Beach and another in the city of Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood – a fast gentrifying area north of the city’s Wynwood district where the city’s first Zika cases were reported back in July. Wynwood was declared Zika-free on September 19th but business owners in the popular restaurant and nightlife district said they had suffered heavy economic losses because of Zika.
Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida told TRD “the extent of the threat has yet to be determined,” but for areas declared as “hot zones” by the CDC, “there has already been a very significant impact from the Zika virus.”
Snaith said Zika could have a large economic impact for other parts of Florida as well, but it’s not clear yet what if any effect Zika is having on the state’s real estate industry. “Zika is certainly not an amenity you would want to put in a real estate listing,” he said.
In Miami Beach, Batchelor said sales teams are taking extra precautions with seller listings that are empty. “We make sure there is no standing water, and definitely those houses where nobody is living we are keeping under extra maintenance.”
Batchelor also said that while there are concerns about Zika, there were also concerns about the aerial spraying of the pesticide Naled, to control the mosquitoes.
Batchelor said the strong dollar has had much more of an effect on sales than Zika and “people are preoccupied with the election.” Once the election is over Batchelor predicts “a lot of pent-up demand that we are going to see that will be buying regardless of Zika.”
And she said one business that’s booming as a result of the Zika scare is mosquito control. “When people buy they are very much interested in mosquito spraying and the good thing is that we have a lot of services for mosquito spraying that are non-toxic, and that you can use with your sprinkler system, so people are going with that when they are planning their parties.”