Following weeks of nonstop news coverage about hurricanes, real estate professionals were understandably concerned that investors might shift their sights away from Florida and its severe weather events. But the experts who spoke about capital markets and foreign investment during Bisnow’s Miami State of the Market event Tuesday agreed: the impact was almost nil.
Walker & Dunlop Managing Director Kevin O’Grady said he is in the midst of several hundred millions of dollars in deals, with foreign investors flying for tours, and “there hasn’t been a peep about the weather.” “There may be a short-term hangover, especially in the residential market,” O’Grady said, but the hurricane was otherwise mostly a temporary nuisance. “Living at the water has a price, but it’s certainly worth paying it,” Fortune International Group CEO Edgardo Defortuna said. “I’d rather have a hurricane than an earthquake.” He added that, because of building codes that came into effect after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, newer properties suffered little from Irma. As far as foreign investment, Defortuna said that “the urgency has gone out” recently, and buyers are being more selective. That is because cheap properties that had been available in the wake of the recession have all been scooped up and deals are harder to find. Also, he said, the high cost of the dollar is making some investors stick to their own countries until they see a more favorable exchange rate. In past years, foreign buyers often made deposits on projects during pre-construction phases, Defortuna said, but as exchange rates worsened over the construction period, they abandoned deals and walked away from deposits. Now, some projects are requiring 50% deposits to hedge against those scenarios, Defortuna said, and his company has stepped in to offer financing outside of typical bank loans and bridge such gaps.
But U.S. investors are also interested in Miami. “The capital has been taken over domestically,” O’Grady said, a push that is “really dominated by the debt funds … Investors want bondable returns.” As recently as the 1990s, he said, Miami was not generally perceived as a stable or attractive market for growth. Starbucks did not even put coffee shops here because it was too hot. Projects were built, but not with institutional-grade capital. That is changing, he said, as outsiders have come to understand that Miami is a gateway city for foreign capital and people want to live here full time. “Our exponential growth is just beginning,” he said. Foreign investors in politically turbulent nations will always invest in U.S. real estate for stability, the panelists agreed. Baker & McKenzie LLP partner Steve Hadjilogiou said foreign clients come to him primarily seeking advice regarding estate taxes and the tax rate on capital gains. He said he sees a lot of investment vehicles set up as corporations. After the Panama Papers saga exposed how foreign entities use shell companies to dodge tax obligations, companies are seeking advice on how to better comply with regulations. Because of the exposé, “we live in a more compliant world,” Hadjilogiou said. “There’s no time to fool around with tax savings restrictions and other things we saw a few years ago.” Overall, the panelists agreed that Miami is still young and ripe for development. “There’s still a lot of money around,” Integra Realty Resources Senior Managing Director Anthony Graziano said. He said real estate remains attractive, especially with the stock market at record highs and investors wondering when it might start to tumble.
“There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight” for real estate in Miami, O’Grady said. “We’re really at the beginning of our growth cycle,” he said. This is great for investors, but bad for affordable housing advocates, as experts pointed out on other panels during Tuesday’s event. “I don’t know if you can fix it,” Plaza Construction Southeast Region President Brad Meltzer said. “Cities that are 100 years ahead of us, you don’t see any affordable housing in the center of San Francisco or New York City. People have to move out to the suburbs and take transportation in. Property values are not going to go down. It’s just not going to happen.” Dezer Development CEO Gil Dezer said that builders are helping, not hurting, the city as they bring money into the region. “We are basically exporters — without exporting any product,” he said. People cannot take their real estate with them when they leave, he added. “Every time you see a crane go up, it’s making housing more affordable,” Key International Co-President Inigo Ardid said. Consider the current market, he said, which has some 12,000 rental units and 17,000 condos under construction. The supply would eventually make rents come down or at least slow the rate at which rents are increasing. Although, he said, “It may take some time before you feel it.”