Miami condo market again defies gravity -- and reason

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Miami condo market again defies gravity -- and reason infinity pool
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The Echo Aventura condo project in Miami, expected to be complete in 2015, will have a bayside infinity-edge pool. Click here or on the photo to go to a listing for unit 209.

During the height of the housing boom, some likened the feverish flipping game in Miami's condominium market to a circus. The circus is back, and more high-flying than ever.

At a recent party to launch a new project called Echo Aventura from New York-based developer PMG, acrobats swung over the crowd, and in gravity-defying flourish, poured champagne into the glasses of wide-eyed investors. (Click here or on a photo to go to a listing for one of the project's condos, a 4,000-square-foot pad for $1,746,350.)

"It's exactly what we want. We wanted a little bit of show and a lot of flash," said Kevin Maloney, president of PMG, who re-entered the Miami market in 2010 to purchase some of the remaining beachfront and bayside construction sites.

Condominium development in greater Miami seems to defy not just gravity but reason. Cranes swing above the city from every angle, just as they did during the housing bubble in 2006. (Click here to see luxury Miami condos for sale on Yahoo! Homes.)

The master walk-in closet of unit 209 is 102 square feet. Click on either photo to see the property listing, with many more photo renderings of the Echo Aventura project.

The master walk-in closet of unit 209 is 102 square feet. Click on either photo to see the property listing, with …

During the boom, 49,000 units were built, as investor-flippers used easy mortgage money to swap properties and push prices. When it all came crashing down, the lights went out in Miami, literally. Tall buildings stood dark at night, as banks took back properties and projects. Most thought it was all over for a good long time.

But somehow there are just 2,400 unsold units left, barely a year's worth at the current sales pace. Prices are up nearly 25 percent from a year ago, according to the Miami Area Association of Realtors.

How did it happen? Foreign, all-cash buyers like Venezuelans, Russians, Chinese, Canadians and Brazilians. They were either looking for a safe-haven to park their money or were taking advantage of a weak dollar. Whatever the reason, they came, they saw, they bought.

"It's mind-boggling. I'm perplexed as to how all this can go forward this quickly," said Peter Zalewski of CondoVultures.

He has been qualifying and quantifying the South Florida real estate market for over a decade, and said this time around there is less short term risk because the buyers have a real purpose. "The foreign buyer is deciding to take some chips off the table and park it up here and sort of put it away into a condo in Miami. If they use it or they don't use it, who cares, at least it's stable."

These cash-heavy buyers are allowing developers to require anywhere from 20 to 80 percent down, which appeases bank and private lenders alike.

"It's much smaller inventory, which is holding the price point, and further, the deposit structure is much more beneficial to the developer at this point, so we're back," said PMG's Maloney.

Maloney has sold 100 of the 190 units he plans to build in his Echo Aventura development, and that is without even breaking ground. The rest he hopes to entice with flash and fantasy, which is exactly what Miami is all about.

"I believe in the future," said Argentinean Antonio Aguirre at the Echo party. "The prices are going to come up faster, so today is a great time to buy."

At Marina Palms Yacht Club and Residences in North Miami's Aventura, broken-down boat slips frame two new condo sites, one of which has the concrete beginnings of a first floor that has been standing idle for six years, since the developers went bankrupt.

"There's an enormous demand. We actually didn't think the demand would be as strong as it is today," said Neil Fairman, of the Miami-based Plaza Group, the project's developer.

The Plaza Group, along with the DevStar group, are getting ready to put up two 25-story towers with a combined 468 units, starting in the $600,000s. The project will include a full-service, 112-slip marina. Half the units in the first tower sold in just the past two months. Fairman said he already has financing proposed from both banks and private hedge funds.

"There's a lot more scrutiny, they're going to scrutinize the buyers a great deal, they're going to scrutinize the developer's track record. They want people with experience, they want people with hard deposits," Fairman noted.

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