Life is returning back to normal in South Florida, but cleanup after the storm isn’t over yet. Residential brokers now face a cleanup of their own – trying to polish the appeal of homes in hurricane-prone coastal communities.
“Florida is still on [buyers’] radar,” Jay Parker, CEO of Douglas Elliman Florida said. “Had we faced the damage Irma was proposing, it would have been a different story.”
Major industry players agree: South Florida’s luxury real estate market remains intact, but the close call made an impression on prospective buyers. John Warsing of the Verzasca Group, which is developing the Aurora condominium that is under construction in Sunny Isles Beach, as well as condo projects in Bay Harbor Islands, said he was fielding calls from concerned buyers inquiring about the status of the buildings.
“I told buyers just to be patient,” Warsing said, noting a number of deals may be delayed as a result of lenders requiring re-inspection of properties under contract. “Hurricanes are part of the life that we live year-to-year, but this one was unique because it took up the whole state.”
Warsing arranged securing the construction sites before the storm and reports no damage. He said the only negative impact of Hurricane Irma would be having to convince buyers that Florida is still a great place to live.
Waterfront communities in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are some of the most susceptible to damage caused by hurricanes. Come hurricane season, which runs from June through November, residents living in coastal communities have to deal with the possibility of evacuating their homes when a hurricane is approaching.
Last week, when floodwaters surged into Greater Downtown Miami’s Brickell financial district and Coconut Grove, as well as Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Boulevard, Cervera Real Estate’s marketing team kick-started a campaign called “Keep Calm Miami Is Still Strong.” Following the hurricane, Cervera posted pictures of sunny, dry streets and clean, pristine beaches on social media outlets with hashtags #MiamiOpenForBusiness and #CondosWithPower.
“We definitely increased our marketing efforts last week,” said Alicia Cervera Lamadrid, managing partner at Cervera. “Our outreach was very pointed and got the message out quickly, because we were fine quickly.” The message was that Miami’s infrastructure held up strongly. “Condos were the big winner this round,” Lamadrid said, noting construction codes played a large role. “We [brokers] need to embrace the codes and be more grateful and maybe less annoyed by these things.”
FirstService Residential, a condo-management company that represents 350 high-rises in South Florida, reported 240 of its buildings had power — some from generators — just one day after Hurricane Irma blew through South Florida. Just two high-rises experienced major damage, according to the report.
Over the years, barrier islands in South Florida have tried to mitigate potential property damage caused by hurricanes. Miami Beach has a $400 million storm pump system in place, and Palm Beach regulations call for a 7.5-foot building elevation, which is half a foot taller than the federal height requirement. City commissioners in Fort Lauderdale recently considered a proposal to nearly double the city’s storm water fees.
Jeff Miller, an agent with Brown Harris Stevens, doesn’t see any reason to panic because buyers are still interested in coastal communities. “For someone who arrives two or three weeks from now, they’re not going to see any effects,” he said, adding that home showings will continue even with mounds of debris in front of properties. “You wouldn’t even know a hurricane passed by, if you didn’t watch it, like we all did.”
Miami Beach real estate agent Jill Eber, of Coldwell Bankers’ the Jills, said last week that she had an interested buyer from the West Coast. She tells her clients the allure of living near the coast outweighs the risks, citing the proximity to nightlife, access to boating, hospitals and privacy, as well as a lack of state income tax. “We live in a paradise,” Eber said, “and sometimes you have to deal with Mother Nature.”