“The time to sell is now”: One Sotheby’s agent letter to Brickell on the River North condo owners stirs anger

Hector De La Canal claimed sales at Related Group's One Brickell project would begin sooner than expected

Dec.December 07, 2018 02:00 PM

Hector de la Canal, the flier and One Brickell

When Miami broker David Landau opened a letter at his Brickell on the River North condo late last month, it had an alarming message to residents. A new construction project would be rising fast, and their view of the water would soon be gone.

With the One Sotheby’s International Realty letterhead written on the top, the note read: “Warning!!! The Related Group is planning to build on the property next to Brickell on the River & your view will be completely taken away! The time to sell is now before it’s too late & your unit loses value.”

Landau, who has lived in the complex at 31 Southeast 5th Street for more than eight years, was angry. He knew Related had development plans there, but had heard they were far in the future. The letter, he believes, was an attempt by the One Sotheby’s agent to win business by trying to get some of the hundreds of residents to enter into a “panic sale,” convincing them to unload their condos quickly in order to get the fast commission.

“I feel like this guy is really breaking into my house,” Landau said, a broker associate with Florida Capital Realty. “I feel like someone is trying to steal from me, to reduce the values of these assets.”

The flier came from a young One Sotheby’s agent named Hector de la Canal. In a brief interview, de la Canal confirmed he wrote the letter. He asked that further questions be emailed then did not respond to a list of questions sent to him.

The letter was sent without the knowledge or approval of One Sotheby’s, said company president, Daniel de la Vega.

In a statement, de la Vega said the firm is “committed to providing unsurpassed quality, value and trust to our clients. We have a network of world’s most passionate and committed professionals and we hold our agents to the highest standards. The flyer sent out to residents is not aligned with our company’s core values and we are addressing the concerns with our agent.”

In the letter, de la Canal said he recently learned that Related Group is planning to announce sales “sooner than people thought” at its One Brickell mixed-use project at 444 Brickell Avenue.  It would rise in front of Brickell on the River condo.

Related Group had bought the site in 2013 for $104 million and past plans included 1,200 condos, a five-star hotel with about 200 rooms and convention space, and at least 200,000 square feet of office and retail space. The project would have three towers designed by Arquitectonica.

But a Related spokesperson said the company has not started sales or broken ground on the site, and has not announced an immediate timeline. Future plans, the spokesperson said, will depend on market conditions.

Condo developers in Miami have struggled to attract buyers as South American currencies have weakened and a recent report showed the greater downtown area has a six-plus year supply of luxury condo inventory. Some developers are holding off plans to build until the next market cycle or are self-financing projects.

That environment can sometimes prompt aggressive tactics, like what appears to be the case with the Brickell flier, said Josh Migdal, a partner with the Miami law firm Mark Migdal & Hayden.

Those moves, he said, “are the symptom of a housing market that has significantly slowed down and shows how Realtors are trying to obtain new listings at reduced prices.”

Sarah Elles Boggs, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman, said people may see more of these aggressive tactics given the condo market slowdown in Miami. “It makes sense that this would start happening because people get desperate when they get hungry,” she said.

Boggs, who represents clients in Brickell, said she has seen it before in Miami. Brokers have sent emails and mailed out fliers to residents warning about views being obstructed by future projects at some Brickell condos, such as Quantum on the Bay and Infinity at Brickell.

Phil Gutman, president of Brown Harris Stevens in Miami, said the flier sounded aggressive, and acknowledged that agents sometimes can go rogue. But he didn’t think it was a pervasive problem.

“There is a lot of misinformation, but this isn’t really a common practice that someone does this,” he said.

Landau filed a complaint with the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, alleging de la Canal engaged in illegal panic selling tactics by targeting residents at the 42- and 46-story towers.

He isn’t sure how many other condo owners received the flier, though knows of at least one other. But Landau said foreign buyers could be particularly vulnerable to this type of tactic, along with resident already worried about Related’s plans. His own belief is the development won’t happen for “a long time from now.”

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