The condo vultures are swooping on downtown Miami, taking advantage of inexpensive high-rise roadkill.
Stories this week reported that hundreds of buyers inundated Miami condos when owners lopped $100,000 off already depreciated list prices.
The way one TV station described it, the high-rise hawkers can barely cash the deposit checks before another stack forms in the sales center.
Developers even mention — bless their recession-proof souls — selling out units in half the time they'd expected.
"It's just a wave. The investors are swarming from one building to another to another and all of it has to do with price point which is roughly $200 a square foot. That's really the magic number," Peter Zalewski of Condovultures.com told Miami's news Channel 4.
You'll have to forgive my initial reaction: ARE YOU PEOPLE CRAZY? Last I'd heard, Miami was sitting on tens of thousands of vacant condos built by speculators. Its housing price declines are some of the worst in the nation. I figured the sales surge represented another chapter in How-To-Kill-The-Mortgage-Market-In-Twelve-Easy-Steps.
But after studying the feeding frenzy further, I've concluded maybe these vultures are pecking in the right places. All the discount condos are perched on the eastern edge of downtown on and near Brickell Avenue, where the Miami River meets Biscayne Bay.
And these are fire sale prices: Compare $200 per square foot with St. Petersburg's new Signature Place condo tower, which charges about $350 per square foot. That's after a recent 25 percent price cut.
Miamians insist many of the buyers are Latin Americans toting cash pulled from troubled Venezuelan and Argentinian bank accounts. You can thank anticapitalist rabble rousers like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Kick a man in Caracas and he'll land somewhere on Brickell.
Then you've got Germans, Brits and Spaniards flush with money from the lopsided euro-to-dollar exchange rate. These buyers have spotted a bargain. If they won't live in the buildings for much of the year, they can rent the condos at cost until the market improves in five to 10 years.
What can Tampa Bay take away from the Miami lesson? For starters, it's hard to pass up well-placed real estate at bargain prices. Our glut of condos is vast, but nowhere near Miami's. With the right price concessions, we could erase our surplus much faster than our rival to the south.
It's also unwise to shun foreigners bearing gifts. Market the heck out of the overseas crowd. If Juan and Fritz like your building, by all means usher them into the lobby.
You might say that Tampa Bay has been cast as the stodgy, blue-collar shadow of energetic, ritzy Miami. But if we can't match Miami for topless models and South Beach hipsters, neither do we suffer Miami's quasi-Third World dysfunction.
Here's a sales slogan for our times: Our Roadkill's Better Than Your Roadkill.