Northern snowbirds key to Florida real estate market

November 16, 2012 | News

gam-mastheadA tranquil oceanfront location not to mention the five-star services associated with the Ritz-Carlton brand, have been attracting Canadian buyers to the residences at the Ritz-Carlton, Singer Island.

Lured by balmy temperatures and sand beaches, not to mention the strength of the loonie against the U.S. dollar, Canadians have become a key component part of Florida’s real estate market.

According to the Profile of International Home Buyers in Florida 2012 prepared by the research division of the National Association of Realtors, Canadians account for about a third of foreign buyers in the Sunshine State.

While many buyers are seeking modestly priced winter getaways, Canadians also have an appetite for high-end luxury escapes, evident in the success of the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Singer Island in Palm Beach, where more than 70 per cent of its sumptuous suites have been sold, with Canadian buyers accounting for about a quarter of purchasers so far.

The twin towers, which rise 27 storeys offer panoramic ocean views and the unparalleled service and attention to detail the Ritz is famous for. The development sits on 8.8 acres along the crystal waters of the Palm Beach coastline and offer tranquility and privacy.

The former 2700 North Ocean building was taken over by developer Lionheart Capital in 2010. After purchasing the development, Lionheart made some improvements and negotiated a 30-year licensing and managing agreement with Ritz-Carlton. (The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company does not own, develop or sell the Singer Island property). Singer Island is one of only six stand-alone Ritz-Carlton residential properties in the world and and the only one in Florida. It is the top selling Ritz-Carlton residential property worldwide.

“The property was constructed to the highest standards, but the Ritz name has brought a lot of value,” says Ophir Sternberg, managing partner of Lionheart Capital. “All of the employees are Ritz Carlton employees and the service level is outstanding.”

While the Ritz-Carlton Singer Island is a condo and not a hotel, it offers full services with five-star hotel-like amenities such as a restaurant on property, screening room, fitness centre, boardroom, valet parking and a 24-hour concierge who can arrange a multitude of services, including theatre and restaurant reservations, in-residence dining and housekeeping.

The amenities include a spectacular oceanfront pool deck with lagoon pool, lap pool, two whirlpool spas, a poolside grill, and 375 feet of white sand beach.

“Bringing in Ritz-Carlton was a huge turning point,” says Carolyn Block-Ellert , co-owner of Meridian Investment Group the exclusive sales and marketing agent of the Ritz-Carlton Residences Singer Island, Palm Beach. “We were fortunate that the building was a very, very high-end development and that just pushed it to a higher level with an increased level of service and extended amenities.”

Before the Ritz-Carlton management deal, about 13 per cent of buyers in the project were from Canada; that’s shot up to 26 per cent since it adopted the brand.

Canadians are well familiar with the Ritz-Carlton name (there are Ritz-Carlton hotels and residences in Toronto and Montreal) and most of the Singer Island Canadian buyers are from those two cities. While brand recognition has helped with sales, the project appeals to them for several other reasons.

“Singer Island is a spectacular island with a lot of natural beauty. Sea turtles come and hatch eggs on the beach,” says Mr. Sternberg. “There’s a very magical feel to it and the atmosphere of Singer Island is more laidback than Miami or Miami Beach and that appeals to a lot of Canadian buyers.

“What also makes this extremely appealing is that there are direct flights from Toronto to Palm Beach. It’s a quick flight and then under a 15-minute drive to the property,” he adds. “Canadians who have bought here told me that has made a huge difference. They can leave Toronto in the morning and be at their residence by lunchtime.”

Ms. Block-Ellert has found for some buyers, it’s a matter of continuing a longstanding tradition.

“Some people fall in love with the property because they are so fond of this location and have familiarity with it,” she explains. “Many Canadians have been coming to Palm Beach for years and once they see the Ritz Carlton brand, that represents to them the ultimate value.”

Prices range from the $700,000s to $10 million plus, but that offers great value per square foot compared to high-end Toronto condos and considering that the smallest suites are 1,700 square feet, says Mr. Sternberg.

“Prices have been increasing and a lot of it has to do with inventory, which is a leading factor as to why people are purchasing now,” says Ms. Block-Ellert. “There is no other brand new, high-end, highly serviced branded condo in all of Palm Beach. You can’t replace what we have here.”

There are two types of suites on offer. The Resort Residences, which range from 1,700 to 2,300 square feet in size, have been popular with Toronto buyers who want to lease out their suite when they are not in residence. The larger Signature Collection suites, 3,600 to 4,000 square feet, have rental restrictions and are purchased by people who are not interested in renting out their condo.

Suites are appointed with type of upscale features and finishes one might expect in a project of this calibre: granite and imported stone countertops, travertine marble bathroom flooring, jetted tubs and state-of-the-art kitchens with high-end appliances.

Buyers can also choose to purchase enclosed private garages, oceanfront cabanas, private guest suites, junior garages for sporting equipment and air-conditioned storage rooms.

According to BMO chief economist Sherry Cooper, there hasn’t been a better time for Canadians to buy property in the U.S. southern states, including Florida, Nevada and Arizona, in nearly 40 years.

That’s due to the huge gap between Canadian and American home prices, as well as the strength of our dollar, according to Dr. Cooper. In September, she said that potential buyers may want to act sooner rather than later as the gap between U.S. and Canadian housing prices will start to narrow as the American market improves due to continued low interest rates.

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