In the wake of Hurricane Irma, many of South Florida’s real estate pros were eager to get back to work, downplaying the storm damage and predicting that the region will remain attractive to buyers.
Turnberry Associates CEO Jeff Soffer went on CNBC to say real estate prices would not be affected long term, and other developers told The Real Deal that they were mostly dealing with temporary landscaping issues and power outages.
But Franklin Street Director of Multifamily Investment Sales Hernando Perez said that he has fielded calls from multiple clients who no longer want to deal with the hurricane risk.
“I’ve had a handful of calls where clients want to get rid of assets and reposition their equity,” Perez said. “We have tangible examples of clients who want to take action to avoid the consequence of another storm.”
He declined to name specific clients, but said they included the owner of a sizable project in Broward County and the owner of a large portfolio in North Miami. One client had been mulling the idea of cashing out for months.
“One made the decision right after the storm, ‘I want to get rid of my property immediately,’” Perez said.
Perez specified that the investors with this attitude had bought property between 2010 and 2016 and were relatively new to the South Florida market. Franklin Street is a relatively young firm; it was founded in 2006 and focuses on properties in the Southeast. It has six offices in Florida and one in Atlanta.
“Most of the investors we are dealing with today have never been exposed to a major hurricane like a Wilma, an Irma or a Harvey,” Perez said. “When they see firsthand Houston or the Florida Keys, that client’s mindset becomes ‘This is real. This is no longer through the grapevine. This is a real situation.’”
Hurricane Irma left 6.5 million people without electricity, some for more than a week. Insurance claims are expected to reach $18B. Perez said that news coverage of wind and water damage affected some clients.
“They’re thinking, ‘I don’t want to be that person putting plywood on the windows, working 12 to 15 hours a day to prepare my home, putting clients and tenants at ease, making sure I have enough insurance. Maybe I want to move my equity elsewhere,’” Perez said. “They start to see dollar signs.”
Perez said these clients want to shift into assets that require little to no management responsibility, or to an area that is less vulnerable to storms or market downturns. He said some are considering selling and holding onto cash until they see more opportunity to buy at affordable prices.
Then again, he said, the storm also brought out opportunistic types looking to make deals with exactly those types of sellers.
“I’ve had several people say, ‘Hey, find me whatever you can find me in Miami,’” Perez said.
Ultimately, he said, any event that could be a catalyst and significantly affect the market – like a storm, a hike in interest rates or an election – creates reactions in both directions, with some investors moving to more conservative positions and others making aggressive moves.
Perez said that Franklin Street can help investors mitigate risks, as it is a full-service firm with property management and insurance arms. Perez said Florida will always be attractive to investors. The weather and the beaches will always lure people, he said.
“[But] most beneficial for investors is that Florida is a tax-free state,” Perez said. “South Florida still provides significant amount of gain, of yield … It will remain a very attractive market, especially compared to markets [like New York and San Francisco] that are hyper-compressed, where yields are nonexistent.”