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A staggering swath of newly built South Florida homes lie in Irma's path

Hurricane Irma is poised to overshadow the residential destruction of Hurricane Andrew because there is so much more for it to destroy.
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    A swath of newly built homes lay in Irma's path    12:14 PM ET Fri, 8 Sept 2017 | 00:49

    Hurricane Andrew became infamous for its destruction of residential property, but Hurricane Irma is poised to overshadow the 1992 storm because there's so much more to destroy.

    To say that South Florida has seen a pretty big construction boom in the last two decades is like saying Starbucks has a pretty big following. Even the housing crash didn't stop the cranes from returning with astonishing alacrity.

    Looking out over the counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, cranes are once again the unofficial bird of the region. Some 101 new condominium buildings with 11,860 units are under construction east of I-95, according to Peter Zalewski, founder of Cranespotters, a Florida real estate consulting firm.

    "That doesn't include thousands of rental tower units, plus all of the development in the west," Zalewski added.

    And that is just what is under construction now. From 2003 to 2010, developers added 246 towers with just over 49,000 units. Construction halted during the recession, but not for long. Since 2011, 144 towers were completed with 10,552 units, according to Zalewski's database.

    "When you add the new coastal rental towers built since 2003, it is conservative to say there have been at least 100,000 vertical units developed under the post-Andrew building code," he said.

    And that is just towers. The single-family housing market saw an equal if not bigger boom, with builders putting up more than half a million new homes this century. During the mid-2000s, Florida was a favorite among investors, and builders served them well.

    Of course, it remains to be seen if the new building codes will stand the test of a direct hit from a Category 4 hurricane. Developers of Miami Worldcenter, the nation's second largest real estate development, were touting "new flood and wind resistant design technologies" on Thursday, inviting news crews to survey video of the $3 billion project and interview its developers in advance of the storm.

    "We started building this project realizing a hurricane would eventually hit Miami again," Daniel Kodsi, CEO and developer of Paramount Miami Worldcenter, said in a statement. "We are building an entire modern infrastructure of storm drains; we built a foundation higher than any other project in Miami and added everything 'hurricane resistant' from high-impact glass to auxiliary generators."

    The 1.1 million-square-foot, 27-acre development, which includes residential, retail, transportation and entertainment, is still in its early stages with four of the 11 projects under construction. Its builder is Coastal-Tishman.

    Whatever the fate of Worldcenter, there is sure to be considerable damage to South Florida, not just all the new towers but also the single-family homes that went up during the housing boom.

    Florida may have been the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis, but it continues to add new stock at a fast clip. One of the nation's largest builders, Lennar is based in Miami.

    If there is a bright side to the dark threat that is looming off the coast, it is that so many of the new condos are owned by foreigners who do not live in Miami full time. While it is impossible to put an exact number to it, Zalewski estimates that no more than 40 percent of the condos built since 2003 are homesteaded, as in the owners are the primary users. The remainder are either vacant or rented.

    Renters are generally less likely to stay and ride out a storm as fierce and potentially deadly as Irma.

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