posted on Thu, May. 27, 2004

MIAMI HERALD
REAL ESTATE

Plaza on Brickell condos stir up frenzy

Sales officials predicted almost all of the future condos at the Plaza on Brickell would be spoken for by the end of the day, which started before dawn.

BY DOUGLAS HANKS III

The line started well before 6 a.m. at the future Plaza on Brickell condominium towers, and by early afternoon, some 200 would-be buyers still hadn't been summoned for their shot at reserving one of the 1,000 units planned for the complex.

Sales officials predicted almost all of the condos would be spoken for by the end of the day -- capping the kind of buying frenzy that inspires either confidence or dread over South Florida's booming housing market.

Some buyers waiting in the jumbo tent set up for the Plaza's opening day Wednesday said they hoped either to rent or resell their units at a profit. Analysts worry that too many investors may be overheating the market and risk flooding it once they all try to unload their units in the next several years.

But other Plaza buyers said they were excited to live in a new condo complex in the heart of Brickell Avenue -- reflecting the kind of urban appeal that developers say has sparked and continues to feed downtown Miami's development boom.

''My son is graduating. I work here on Brickell and 14th,'' said real estate broker Martha Pomares, explaining why she wants to trade her four-bedroom Kendall house for a two-bedroom unit in one of the Plaza's twin towers at 901 Brickell Ave.

She was one of hundreds of potential buyers who had sent in checks to developer Related Group of Florida reserving a chance to attend the sales opening and sign up for a unit. Related said it received about 800 reservation checks over the past month for 10 percent of the purchase price; the units start at $170,000 and run close to $500,000.

Similar crowds have formed at high-rise sales centers throughout South Florida's housing market, which has seen prices and sales soar over the last five years.

The scenes of buyers lined up for blocks have been dismissed by some as hype. On Wednesday, one buyer questioned why Related didn't just schedule office appointments in the order that the reservation checks arrived. Rapid sell-outs like the one predicted for the Plaza have been touted as both a sign of more good times to come and as evidence of a bubble poised to burst.

''It's scary,'' condominium analyst Jack Winston said of the crowd at the Plaza. ``There just isn't that much demand for the people who can afford that kind of unit. . . . These are all investors that have jumped on this real estate bandwagon.''

About 17,000 residential units are either under construction or announced for the downtown Miami area, including the Brickell Avenue neighborhood -- three times what has been built there since 1995, according to the Miami Downtown Development Authority.

''I think the risk will occur in years 2005 and 2006 and all of these buildings start to close,'' said Winston, senior consultant with Goodkin Consulting. 'And interest rates, instead of being at 6 [percent], are at 7 or at 7.5. A lot of these people are going to say, `I can't close.' ''

Angel Medina, president of Union Planters Bank for Miami-Dade County, said he was constantly worried -- and constantly reassured -- by the region's hunger for condominium projects.

''Every time I think demand has dried up, the market surprises me, shocks me,'' he said. ``We've become more and more shocked at how international the Miami-Dade market has become.''

Alicia Cervera, the broker in charge of marketing many Related projects, acknowledged that the Plaza scramble wasn't entirely fueled by future residents. She said, however, that it reflected how the strong draw of South Florida -- particularly in Latin America -- had reshaped the real estate market.

''I never think 800 people decide to move into the same building in one month,'' Cervera said.

But the market's fast pace is ''no more scary than when you go to your favorite restaurant and find if you don't have a reservation, you're not going to get in,'' she said.

``That's the new Miami.''


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