Peter Zalewski is a vulture and proud of it. He's the man behind Condo Vultures Realty, a real estate brokerage and consulting firm in Bal Harbour, Fla., that is working with individual investors and syndicates to sift through the wreckage of the once-hot condominium market and snap up properties on the cheap.
In recent years, places like Miami and Orlando were magnets for condo flippers, thanks to easy credit and tens of thousands of new units coming onto the market. The condos are still coming, but in recent months the buyers have vanished. Would-be flippers are sitting on properties they can't sell or rent for enough to cover their mortgages. Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach, Fla., real estate consultant, expects condo prices to plummet in the next 24 to 36 months.
Enter the vultures. Zalewski, who hails from southern Florida, works with all kinds of investors. The majority so far have been individuals looking to buy one or two properties worth maybe $1 million. Lately though, he's been collaborating with syndicates of investors who are pooling their money in funds ranging from $10 million for a Boulder, Colo., group to $200 million for a gang of Michigan investors. Southern Florida is not the only place ripe for a condo bloodbath, according to McCabe. Prices in Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Sacramento are also likely to plunge.
Zalewski has his eye on Biloxi, Miss. The one-two punch of Hurricane Katrina and the credit meltdown is sending buyers fleeing from the condo market there. "It's a true vulture's opportunity," Zalewski says. "This is pure capitalism. I am not trying to return anything to society. I am trying to make money."