In housing markets across the country, the reassuring refrain goes a little something like this: At least it's not as bad as Miami. Nowhere has the real estate slowdown hit as hard as it has here. At the height of the boom, speculators gorged on condos, lining up for lotteries and flipping paper units. Then, in 2005, the market turned, and the buyers vanished.
But now the vultures are circling - almost literally.
Peter Zalewski's year-old firm, Condo Vultures, tracks units that stall on the market for more than 100 days and shed at least 10 percent or $100,000 in price. His database now lists more than 1,400 condos.
Zalewski recently let Fortune tag along as he sized up a vacant two-bedroom penthouse in a 35-story tower overlooking Biscayne Bay. With $10,000 in monthly costs, the seller - an investor who failed to flip - has already cut his price from $1.2 million to $849,000. Besides the hefty discount, the unit has one of Zalewski's favorite features: an unfinished concrete floor. "It tells you the seller is desperate," he says.
Desperation hangs in the air here - and analysts say today's market is only a prelude to a bigger glut. Nearly 8,000 units are on the way this year, with another 12,000 coming in 2008, says Jack McCabe of McCabe Research& Consulting in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Bob Zimmel, a 55-year-old health-care exec in Bethlehem, Pa., and a Condo Vultures client, is one buyer who is willing to wait. "I think the market's still going to settle out in the next 18 months," he says. If you can't wait that long, consider leasing in the meantime. The owners of a similar empty penthouse in the Biscayne Bay tower are looking to rent - so badly that they've dropped their monthly price from $4,500 to $2,800.