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The skyline of Miami these days is dominated by cranes - not the birds, of course, but high-rise building construction. There are nearly three dozen cranes towering over downtown Miami, and nearly all are building high-rise condominiums. Within the next two years, more than 25,000 condo units will be coming on the market in Miami.
And as NPR's Greg Allen reports, many people are beginning to wonder who will live in them.
GREG ALLEN: Ground zero for Miami's condo boom is here along Brickell Avenue. Take a short walk north along Brickell to Biscayne Boulevard and you'll pass 20 high-rise condo projects either under construction or recently finished. You'll see the cranes, the scaffolding, the workmen and the signs. Names like Marquee, Paramount, Epic, The Icon, also two projects Miriam Marino is selling for fortune development - the Ivy and the Mint.
MIRIAM MARINO: It's four high rises - all of them have been designed by the top architect in town, Luis Revuelta. The four buildings are going to be typical of his designs - all glass, very sleek, modern buildings, intelligent, completely unique.
ALLEN: There are nearly 2,000 condo units in the project, priced from $380,000 to over a million dollars. For luxury condos in Miami, that's not bad. Just up the street, the Icon is a project with 1,800 units, three restaurants, a hotel and nightclub. Top price there for a condo is $2.5 million. Despite the steep prices and the glut of high-end residential units coming on the market, analysts say developers of these condos should do all right. The Icon, which won't be finished for two years, is already 90 percent sold. At the Mint and the Ivy, there are just 34 units still up for sale.
Like most of the country, Miami is a in a real estate slump. But Rosendo Caveiro, senior director in Miami for real estate company Cushman & Wakefield, says so far prices and sales have remained steady.
ROSENDO CAVEIRO: Yes. The volume is down. And that's understandably, because for four years, you know, this whole area was like on steroids. It was - everybody's buying and flipping, buying and flipping. And, you know, prices of real estate were appreciating somewhere between 25 to 30 percent annually, which is unheard of.
ALLEN: A big part of that run up in condo values in Miami were the flippers - speculators who would put down nominal deposits on new projects and resell them for a profit before the condos were ready for occupancy. Jack McCabe, a real estate consultant who tracks the South Florida condo market says fortunes were made. And with the downturn, mini investors will now be loosing money. He's anticipating a significant drop in condo prices by the end of the year. McCabe says that shouldn't affect people who bought units a few years ago, before prices hit their peak.
JACK MCCABE: The problem lies in the ones that have been bought into 2005 and 2006, at the height of the market. Now that we're seeing declining prices, we are expecting to see many, many cancellations. And for the folks who do close, we expect that the foreclosures are going to multiply exponentially.
ALLEN: The developers who will run into trouble, McCabe says, are those with less experience, fewer financial reserves or who have projects in less desirable areas. Currently, there are more than 50 planned condo projects, many of them already fully approved, listed for sale in South Florida. Those are projects with land and blueprints but little else. McCabe says it's now unlikely those residential projects will ever be built.
MCCABE: We are seeing projects cancelled. We're seeing others that have been delayed. We're seeing others that are now being re-announced as either office or apartment developments.
ALLEN: Because so many apartment complexes were converted to condominiums over the last few years, there's an acute shortage of rental units in Miami. Ironically, real estate analysts say, that's a need unlikely to be met by many of the new condo developments nearing completion, even those that may have trouble finding buyers. The high prices paid for land, the lavish appointments and the cost of financing mean the developers who convert their projects to rentals are likely to make back less than half of what they need to break even.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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