New Condo Financing Model Has Merit — And Risk

The new wave of condos on the drawing board for Miami share a common financing strategy.

It\’s called…ther people’s money.

After Florida’s worst real-estate collapse, banks are mostly still balking at lending for condominium construction, though much of the glut from the last debacle has been absorbed sooner than predicted.

So developers are persuading cash-rich buyers, mostly foreigners, to plunk down big deposits on pre-construction deals for cutting-edge towers that are touted as nothing less than transformational for Miami.

“As long as you offer value versus the perceived value of the units, you’re going to get buyers willing to finance the construction and wait to get the property,” said Carlos Rosso, condo division president at The Related Group, which has led the charge on such buyer-financed projects. “I think this is a lot healthier market. Buyers are going to be a lot more wary about what they are buying and who they’re giving their money to.”

New projects boast come-ons such as automated parking; rooftop pools with private cabanas; maid, butler and chef services in smart, green buildings.

Under the new model, condo buyers are agreeing to put up as much as 80 percent in a series of down payments during construction. Ten percent of each deposit is kept safe in an account the developer doesn’t touch, as required by state law. The rest is available for construction.

That shift of risk to the buyer is a stark change from the past, when buyers typically put up 20 percent for pre-construction projects in Miami, with 10 percent set aside in escrow and 10 percent at risk for construction. The balance was due at closing when they got the keys.

Now, it is the buyers, not the banks, who are in danger of big losses if a project goes south. And when it comes to recovering their lost money, buyers are behind most other creditors.

“You’re putting a lot of money at risk with a developer on a promise to complete the project. You’re not getting a mortgage You’re not getting collateral. You’re getting a promise,” said Thomas Lehman, a bankruptcy attorney with Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider & Grossman in Miami.

At least nine projects are already in the works in Miami using the new financing model, according to data from Miami-based Condo Vultures LLC, a real estate consultancy that closely monitors the South Florida market. Latin Americans, Europeans and Canadians, in particular, have been ready to ante up cash and wait for a unit to materialize in a couple of years.

“It’s a really new model we haven’t seen before in South Florida,” said Peter Zalewski, a principal at Condo Vultures, which has assembled a list of more than 50 potential projects in some stage of planning in South Florida — though many may never materialize.

Developers say the new approach weeds out speculators, who upended projects in the last boom.


Source:  Miami Herald

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