One can’t help but wonder how images of Hurricane Irma turning the Brickell financial district and downtown Miami streets into rivers will influence foreign buyers in the coming months. Fortunately, Irma brought with her valuable lessons to help the region’s community of real estate practitioners address subsequent doubts left in her wake. Here’s what we learned.
While initial reports of Irma’s impact painted a dark cloud over Miami real estate, the reality for South Florida’s condo market is much brighter. Florida Power & Light reported that 4.45 million customers lost power when Irma made landfall Sept. 10. Further research, however, from one high-rise condominium management company indicates that many condominiums across the region lost power only briefly, if at all, during or immediately after the storm.
FirstService Residential, which represents 350 properties in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, reported that 69 percent of its properties powered up within four hours of the storm. Furthermore, 93 percent of its condos reported as powered up within 72 hours after the storm.
Eighty-one percent of its buildings in the Brickell financial district and 100 percent of its condos in downtown Miami — the same two neighborhoods whose waterlogged streets were telecast to the farthest corners of the globe — did not lose power, according to FirstService.
As of Sept. 18, 171,230 FPL customers remained without power, including 43,010 in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. By comparison, 99 percent of condos managed by FirstService reported being powered up.
Other factors that contributed to the positive performance of South Florida’s condos include the 2008 introduction of the Miami 21 Zoning Code, which received the American Planning Association’s “Award of Excellence for Best Practice” and resulted in more stringent construction practices by developers. No major structural damage was reported to condos in Brickell, downtown Miami or Edgewater. Cervera Management, Inc., a subsidiary of our brokerage that offers property management services to absentee owners, received fewer than 25 condo incident reports from its 300-plus properties.
International real estate buyers often tell us U.S.-based brokers and agents that solid government, law enforcement and infrastructural strength are the primary reasons for their decision to invest in America. The effectiveness of our authorities’ disaster preparedness, response and relief (elements that often don’t exist in their home countries) was on full display before, during and after Irma.
Gov. Rick Scott deserves praise for his swift action in declaring a state of emergency a full six days before the storm’s landfall. Proactive measures taken at the national, state and local levels allowed residents to prepare with time and maximize safety. These included a lift of the moratorium on fuel tankers to allow more fuel to enter the state, and coordination of more than 19,000 utility companies from around the U.S. to provide power recovery efforts immediately after the storm. By Sept. 11, authorities had sent an aircraft carrier and other Navy ships to the Keys to assist in search and rescue efforts. Also, mobilization of the National Guard helped protect evacuees’ property from looters.
Florida real estate buyers can also take comfort in the fact that existing federal laws and programs provide financial relief after storms like Irma. Federal law requires mortgage holders to give homeowners a three-month forbearance on mortgage payments (in certain cases, at no cost and with no credit implications). Fannie Mae works with its mortgage servicers to ensure that homeowners impacted by hurricanes and other natural disasters get help. Last but not least, the Internal Revenue Service announced relief measures for Hurricane Irma victims in parts of Florida and elsewhere, allowing until Jan. 31, 2018, to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments.
Locally, cleanup after the storm was swift and organized. Police officers directed traffic at all intersections that were without power, curfews were enacted to ensure public safety, and shelters for displaced residents of the Florida Keys and elsewhere were opened. While the loss of life and the impact on South Floridians can’t be ignored, we can find reassurance in the overall performance of our government and our condos after Irma.
The strength and spirit after Irma provided again our community’s tremendous resolve. Miamians banded together to pick up the pieces and support more than 180,000 people in need. Hundreds of local business and residents donated water, nonperishable food items and supplies in disaster relief to Keys residents, along with other affected residents elsewhere in the region.
Just like any destination in the world where one may choose to live, the possibility of a natural disaster is all too real. The recent earthquakes in Mexico and the devastating hurricanes that have rocked Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are stark reminders of this point. As such, we in the real estate and business community must be diligent in reminding our elected officials of the need for prudence, planning and preparation in all aspects of flood prevention.
And we must keep reminding the world that the sun has returned to Miami and that our future continues to look bright.
This article originally appeared in The Miami Herald