Defending the castle: Demand rising for privacy and security in South Florida

Agents say luxury buyers increasingly want gated communities, private police forces and 24/7 vigilance

Demand for Privacy, Security in South Florida Real Estate

Inter Miami CF’s Lionel Messi (Photo illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty)

Real estate has always been about keeping the bad guys out. 

In other eras, castles had moats and cities had walls. Security and privacy look different today, but for the moguls, titans of industry and uber celebrities buying luxury real estate in South Florida, it remains just as important as it was for the rulers and aristocrats of the past.

Take Lionel Messi. News broke in July that the soccer superstar signed a contract with Inter Miami for $60 million a year, inspiring a feverish Messi-mania across the tri-county region. Few celebrity home purchases have been more closely watched than Messi’s this summer. And everyone knew he would be focused on privacy and safety. 

Messi is no stranger to South Florida –– he owns three condos in Sunny Isles Beach, including one at Porsche Design Tower, developed by Gil Dezer’s Dezer Development. He also rented a waterfront house in Key Biscayne during Covid, but that came with challenges for the uber celebrity: Fans came by boat to his dock, and police shut down his street, which was public. 


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This time, Messi was looking for a private, gated community. He looked in Sea Ranch Lakes, a tiny gated community that is walled in with its own police force and just over 200 homes. His teammate Sergio Busquets bought a waterfront home there for $8.7 million. 

After a summer of wild speculation, Messi ultimately bought a waterfront mansion in another area, Bay Colony in Fort Lauderdale, for $10.8 million

Just across the water from Sea Ranch Lakes, Bay Colony offers everything a security minded buyer would want. The gated luxury community has just over 100 lots, all of which are waterfront, and has round-the-clock security. 

“They’re very, very tough about who comes in and out,” Douglas Elliman agent Hedy Tufo told The Real Deal.

While Messi is perhaps South Florida’s most high-profile buyer in pursuit of privacy and security lately, brokers say the attributes are an increasingly common request from clients. 

“Security and privacy [are] at the height of what people want,” said Ruthie Assouline, an agent with Douglas Elliman’s Assouline Team. 

Brokers say rising crime rates in other parts of the country are driving more security minded purchases in South Florida.

“The reality is that when you have people who are so security conscious and moving from certain states, like New York and California, their eyes are very wide open to potential security issues,” said Dana Koch, an agent with the Corcoran Group in Palm Beach.

Koch noted one of his clients recently bought a home in Bear’s Club, the uber private, gated golf community in Jupiter designed by Jack Nicklaus. Residents include celebrity athletes Michael Jordan and Rory McIlroy, and the entire community has only 100 home sites. 

Many estates within Bear’s Club have their own gates. The homeowners association picks up garbage and delivers mail and packages so as to limit outsiders’ access. Guests are escorted to their final destination within the community by security guards. 

This is what luxury buyers want, more and more, agents say.

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“More so than ever we have clients saying, ‘We only want a gated community,’” Assouline said. “That makes people feel very secure in their home, knowing how closely everything is being watched.”

South Florida has an abundance of very secure communities with the cachet to attract high-profile buyers. Indian Creek, a private island in Biscayne Bay, is its own municipality, with its own police department. The village’s streets are private, and access to the island is granted only to residents and their guests. 

With that kind of security, the island has attracted the likes of Jeff Bezos, Tom Brady, and David Guetta

“There’s gated communities like La Gorce and Sunset Island, and there’s private communities where they can actually deny access,” said Nelson Gonzalez, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty. Because Indian Creek owns its streets, access can be denied to visitors, unlike other islands in Miami-Dade County, he said.

“Even Star Island, if you tell them you wanna drive around, they can’t stop you,” Gonzalez said. 

“A neighborhood that has its own police force is definitely preferred,” said Jonathan Bigelman, an agent with One Sotheby’s International Realty, who noted many luxury buyers come with expensive collections of jewelry, wine and cars — assets that need protection as well as their families. 

For those who don’t go the route of gated or heavily patrolled single-family home communities, luxury condos also offer extensive security and privacy protection. 

“It’s a no-brainer that security is an amenity [in condos],” Bigelman said. 

Assouline noted that security and privacy depend on the development. Smaller, less social buildings are better for the uber private buyer, and a private restaurant can make a big difference, she said. 

Fisher Island, a private island off Miami Beach, is among the most secure condo enclaves in South Florida. The island is accessible only by ferry, boat or helicopter.

“There’s one way on, one way off,” Gonzalez said. “Fisher Island is for sure very, very secure.”

Jill Eber, an agent with the Jills Zeder Group at Coldwell Banker Realty, has lived on Fisher Island since 2000 and said the constant land and marine patrols of the island are a huge benefit to living there. 

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“I think security is a major draw here. People feel very comfortable,” she said. Even the hotel on Fisher Island is invitation-only: Guests of the hotel must be sponsored by a resident. 

Luxury buyers keep flocking to secure communities for the sense of safety and refuge, Koch said.

“It’s like being in a bubble,” he said. “They feel comfortable.”

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