Economy

Miami Real Estate Market Is Hot Hot Hot. Is It Boom Or Bubble?

Construction in Miami's Brickell business district.
Construction in Miami's Brickell business district.
Jaime Mejía

MIAMI â€" Luis Flores has been on a roll of late, handling real estate deal after real estate deal and helping close, in the past 18 months, on no less than $1 billion worth of property.

As the lawyer's hot streak suggests, property investment has made a serious comeback in Miami, which is attracting capital from the world over and from Latin America in particular. Investments are pouring in and settling in luxury construction projects in the desirable Brickell business district, in the bohemian midtown area and, as always, along the long, narrow island that is Miami Beach. There is also more action in nearby coastal areas like Sunny Isles and Aventura. Prices, as a result, have risen steadily â€" to the point that Miami-area land values have begun surpassing the levels reached just before the bubble burst and prices collapsed in the late 2000s.

People in the United States have not forgotten the global financial crisis of 2008 and recession of 2009, when millions of families, unable to make their mortgage payments or sell their properties to pay off their debts, ended up losing their homes. The crisis hit all sectors of the U.S. economy. And many towns and cities have been slow to get back on their feet.

But in Miami, for all the damage done, the recovery began relatively quickly and is now, by all indicators, in full swing. Cranes are visible all over the city as workers erect dozens of new towers, some reaching 40, 50 or even 60 stories high. Someone returning to Miami for the first time in five years would hardly recognize the skyline.

From the 40th floor of a building in Brickell, a public relations executive shows me the landscape outside his office window: skyscrapers, cranes and more skyscrapers, rising on islets in the bay. "There," he says, pointing at an empty plot of land, "they're starting to build an 80-story tower."

Building with capital, not debt

The market's present exuberance and memories of a decade ago are unnerving to some observers. But experts and investors we talked to do not see a bubble about to burst. Things may slow down a bit, they say. But they're unlikely to crash.

"The current boom will last at least another two years, after which the market will continue to grow but at more normal rates," says Raoul Thomas, head of the investment firm CGI Merchant Group, which is investing in a big hotel in Miami in partnership with Spain's Meliá hotels.

The biggest difference between now and the "loco" years leading up to the crash, he explains, is that the current growth is "based on capital, not debt." Lawyer Luis Flores of the firm Arnstein and Lehr's agrees. The new boom, he says, has a far more solid financial base. "Developers get financing from banks only if they show they have already sold 50% or more of the units in their building projects," he says.

Liliana Gómez, head of international sales for the realtors ISG, says the recovery was widely expected to take a decade. But investors, keen to take advantage of suddenly low prices, didn't wait that long. Money began pouring in relatively soon after the 2008 crash, and within five years, "any excess stock there might have been was absorbed," Gómez explains.

Much of the post-crisis investment has come from Latin America. But European investors are also making their presence felt, as are the Chinese, according to Harvey Hernández, managing director of Newgard Development Group.

Bargain hunters

Miami's real estate boom is not just residential. It is also fueled by a growing number of firms settling here and adding to their business infrastructure. The traditional presence of banks, for example, has expanded to encompass other financial services.

"There are bankers moving here from New York and Los Angeles. And family offices (wealth management for families) are moving from Colombia and Venezuela to Miami," says Jean-Pierre Trouillot, a partner at the auditors KPMG in Miami.

Trouillot expects demand to continue, not not necessarily at the current rate. "The growth rate is too high to continue indefinitely so it should stabilize, though I couldn't say when," he says.

With the discounted prices that followed the 2009 crisis, investors were able to buy property in Miami that earned them annual returns in the double-digit range. Now that the market has corrected itself, the numbers are coming down.

But there's still money to be made, according to Antony Graziano of Miami's Integra Realty Resources, a firm of property consultants. "Now we are returning to a more normal market and the rise in property values could be between 5% and 8% over the next two years," he says.

Prices are also being driven up because of a labor shortage that resulted from the building boom and is affecting construction costs. Another factor to watch out for is the U.S. dollar's rising value against Latin American currencies, something that could temporarily dampen demand. But a stronger dollar, assuming it stays that way, can also be an investment incentive, says Luis Flores. Either way, Miami is about a safe a bet as there is, the lawyer says.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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