From the room-sized terrace that wraps around their flat in Bal Harbour, just north of Miami Beach, Mark Faulkner, a London- based businessman in his mid-forties, and Harriet Logan, his girlfriend, look down on a view of two swimming pools, a curving arc of beach and the sea on three sides. “We can watch the sun come up in the morning, see boats sailing by and fishermen out on the jetty,” says Logan, a photographer. “It’s fantastic.”
So was its price. Following “brutal” negotiations, the couple knocked 20% — almost $700,000 (£480,000) — off the $3.5m asking price when they bought last July. A similar property in the same block is now on the market for $4.2m.
Two miles north, in Sunny Isles Beach, Charlie Patel, 26, a property developer, is exchanging contracts on a three-bedroom ocean-front flat in the newly built Trump Royale tower, for which he paid $1.575m last July. “You get great value for your money here,” he says. “Florida will always be in demand. I think bricks and mortar make the best investment you can have in the long term.”
Patel is among a new wave of British buyers who are convinced that, after several years of flat or falling prices, now could be the time to buy in Florida. The standoff between buyers and sellers — described by one agent as “like the middle-school dance, with participants looking at each other with interest across the floor, but not actually dancing” — is beginning to ease.
Agents are reporting the first green shoots of recovery in the Sunshine State. “We’ve seen continuing increases in sales volume for six months,” says Michael Cannon, a director of Integra Realty Resources, a valuation company based in south Florida. “The market peaked in the second half of 2004 and bottomed out in the second half of 2008.
“It’s become a buyer’s market. This cycle is bigger than previous cycles, and different. We have low interest rates, a more diverse economy and an influx of money from overseas investors.”
Craig Studnicky, president of International Sales Group, also believes that prices are close to the bottom, and that they should get a boost when mortgage financing returns this spring. The inauguration of Barack Obama as president this week may also put a spring in the step of the American economy, or so it is hoped.
Miami’s panoramic skyline is now dominated not by construction cranes, but by newly completed glass and concrete residential towers — most of which lie empty and are available at depressed prices.
Peter Zalewski, who works for the aptly named consultancy Condo Vultures, says: “Second-homers who have foreign currency tend to prefer close proximity to the sand, surf and nightlife of the beaches.” Figures from the company show that prices in mainland Miami, downtown Miami and the Biscayne Boulevard corridor, as well as Coconut Grove, Coral Gables and South Miami, fell by an average of 37% in 2008; in more expensive areas such as Miami Beach, Surfside, Bal Harbour and Sunny Isle Beach, the price of the average condo fell by 32%.
While Miami residential real estate is focused on condos, Orlando, 200 miles to the north, appeals to British buyers looking for villas within easy reach of Disney World that they can either use themselves or let to holiday-makers. Bill Cowie, business consultant at the Orlando-based British Homes Group, says the price of a typical three-bedroom detached house with a pool doubled between 2001 and 2006, reaching $350,000. By summer last year, such properties had dropped to $300,000.
Cowie says the Orlando market is still soft, but showing signs of life. “Sales have increased,” he says. “We believe the worst is over, prices are stabilising and we will see a resurgence.”