Miami real estate is a much more different ball game than one might expect. The Magic City – and former home of LeBron James in his time with Miami Heat – is a little bit quirky in terms of real estate, so there are quite a few things you’re going to have to get used to. Sarah Elles Boggs is a real estate agent and investor who started out in Austin, Texas and made her way to Miami, Florida. With Scott Carson, Sarah shares some of her insights and experience in the Miami Beach and Brickell areas of south Florida, along with where the market is at currently. She talks about her experience in the condo, fix and flip, short sales, and REO markets along with discussing foreign investors investing in the area. She also discusses short-term and Airbnb rentals and why she sees opportunities in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.
Listen to the podcast here:
What’s The Deal With Miami: The Miami Real Estate Investment Market With Sarah Elles Boggs
I mentioned that we were going to be focused on different markets across the country, some of our hotspots that people love to invest in. That’s the great thing about having a podcast. I can focus on markets that I love that many of you I also end up loving as well. We’re honored to have a realtor and an investor whom I’ve known for quite some time. It’s a small world. We found out we’re connected to other friends and other people throughout the world, you could say out there. Our guest is an expert in the Miami market. She’s a real estate agent in Miami, Florida, who also started out in Austin, Texas. She has successful investments in Dallas, Austin, Miami, and a small area in northeast Texas called Mount Pleasant. She relies on market stats and gut instincts when choosing new investments and executing sales. She also works with a lot of investors and she’s also talking about a lot of investors moving into the note space. We’re honored to have Sarah Boggs joining us. Sarah, how’s it going?
Let’s talk a little about you, how you got in as a realtor, your background experience, and how it evolved into an investor. Did you start as an investor first or did you work your way back that way? How’s that sound?
I started in Austin. I graduated from UT. Hook ‘em Horns. Straight out of college, I went to work for a local hotel and I was ready to use that degree I worked so hard for and paid so much money for. I was having a hard time working myself up that food chain. They were writing me up for coming in early and not paying me the salary that I thought I was worth. I told my mentor at the time, I’m big into mentorship and I told him, “This is not what I thought I signed up for.” He said, “You need to quit that job right and come work for me. I need to find some land. I’m going to buy that land and build some homes.” Off I went and that was my introduction into real estate. I worked for a small builder there in Austin. I sold all kinds of homes until 2008 happened. I left before 2008. Miami called my heart out of nowhere. Three weeks later, I was gone.
Viva La Miami. That’s how we connected originally. I had some assets, notes, comps and foreclose. You reached out you pulled some CMAs for me and we’ve stayed in contact for a while. We’re also mutual friends with or buddy Sebastian Rusk as well. Let’s so let’s talk about the money market because you work with a variety of investors in that neck of the woods and also residential. Moving to Miami as a realtor in 2008 was an interesting time.
It was scary. It was liberating, to say the least. I knew Miami was such a rich market. There’s so much to have there. There are the beautiful condos, but there’s also the distressed sales that are sometimes a little quirky, there’s a lot of moving parts and people from all different cultures from all different nations. It was different from Austin. That appealed to me. I needed that excitement. I don’t want to down the Austin market because I do love the Austin market. At that point, I was burnt out and I felt monotonous in my job in Austin. This gave me the richness that I was seeking.
I don’t think anybody will deny the richness of Miami, the South Beach area. That whole neck of the woods is one of our favorite spots to go in. There are energy and a vibe to it. It’s like a heartbeat a pulse, except for sleep. It never stopped. It’s 24/7. Something’s going on in Miami. Florida, especially South Florida, was such an interesting time frame. A lot of distress sales, short sales, and a lot of banks had stuff on their books that are working to get rid of. Years ago, it could take 18 to 24 months to get a short sale or foreclosure done in Miami.
It was unreal.
The banks weren’t ready for it. That’s why we had a lot of banks who went out of business down the neck of the woods. You’ve seen it rebound stronger. What has driven the Miami rebound in your mindset and thoughts?
This specific area that I focus on in my residential business is the downtown in Brickell area, which is the area that you see in all the entry videos with the high rises right there in front of the bay. One thing that not a lot of people know about Miami is Miami Beach and Miami are two different cities. They’re close but they’re two different cities. That Ocean Drive with the neon and the Art Deco, that’s where people from Miami don’t go. That’s where the tourists go when they want to get ripped off. Such as Miami, they say it’s a shady place or a sunny place for shady folks. You have to be careful in Miami. The area that I focused on and I still focused on in my residential business is the downtown of the Brickell area, which has all those high rises in the financial district. What drove us there was right when we were coming out of the Great Recession.
Venezuela and Brazil were coming on hard times. A lot of those people needed to move their money out before it became in danger so they did and they would buy anything. It was a running joke for a while that if you can find a Venezuelan client, they’ll buy anything. you still try to put them together because you still have that client. You want to keep that relationship. You don’t want to cash your commission check and move on. It was pairing people up for a long time. Pair people up and pair people up. Things got bad in Venezuela, and they couldn’t get their money out anymore. It was the same thing in Brazil. It was tougher for them. Right around them was when the Salt Tax thing happened up in the Northeast. All of these millionaires from Connecticut, we got a lot of business from West Chester a lot from New York City. In New York City, people love Miami because they still feel at home because it’s still a city atmosphere, but there’s a beach and we don’t get a winner.
It’s not quite as expensive as the Hamptons, either.
Exactly. New York people tend to like South Beach and Miami Beach in general and more the ultra-luxury properties. That was where things went as time went on. We’re still in the midst of the Salt Tax refugees I like to call them.
Has the market rebounded above, where it was years ago and beyond that?
That’s for sure. I don’t see as many distressed sales as I did before. In the 2009 to 2012 range, that was when I made the most money on retail level distress sales not by notes but buying the real estate. The foreclosures already happened and it’s on the open market. You can go buy it. There were some investors who are still able to make a healthy profit off of that. You don’t have to go through all those hoops necessarily. If you need financing, there’s financing. There was financing available there and there’s financing is loosened up again, so there was a lot of good money to be made for everybody.
Where do you see the market in those areas? Are you seeing things dragging out in the market and live in the higher end stuff or is it dropping or popping out?
The ultra-entrepreneurs here which are like $5 million and above, that’s always pretty steady because these people weren’t necessarily buying because they’re getting an amazing deal. They’re buying because that’s what they want. Look at Jeff Bezos. He was raised in Miami. Look at his purchase of $100 million that he made on a yacht. He’s not buying that because it’s a fabulous investment. He’s buying that because that’s what he wanted to get for his wife or his girlfriend.
You don’t know which one. Be careful when you say that because the two could be different people.
All the respect in the world for him, but he’s living his best life. He earned it. There’s Ken Griffin, who’s buying up everything in the super-luxury market and there’s the luxury market from $1 million to $5 million. I see that in condos, especially in the high concentration areas, the higher density areas. That’s not doing so hot now but at the same time, the sellers aren’t necessarily super eager to sell. They’re not selling because they have to, they’re selling because they want to. They’re happy to hold it. It’s the same thing with the $500,000 to $1 million range. Below $500,000, there’s not so much inventory in the downtown area. There’s a little bit but that usually sells to first time home buyers or people who want to live there. Sometimes it’s a vacation buyer. There’s a tremendous amount of inventory in the $500,000 to $1 million range. There aren’t as many buyers as there used to be.
The conundrum that these sellers have, especially if they bought brand new is this is probably not a good realtor speak for me. When somebody comes to you and they said they want to invest $1 million, a lot of realtors would take the client to a brand-new building because they would get a 6% commission and dump that client. The developer would say, “You can sell this in two years for $1.5 million.” The client doesn’t know any better, so they sign up for it. The building is delivered a year late so three years later and it’s worth less than what it was when you bought it. That’s the unfortunate situation that a lot of these investors are in now.
At one point that it would have worked because of the currency conversion between these South American countries and the United States but it doesn’t work that way anymore. It works on the other side. These people are losing their shorts and they can’t afford to sell. They would rather hold it and not sell it. I don’t see a whole lot of discounts going on and there wasn’t a whole lot of little going on during this time period of 2012 to 2016 when all these pre-construction condos were being sold. Most of them were cash and I should not say that when a developer sells a condo to a new construction condo to a buyer, there is not a financing contingency. If financing falls through the last hour, you lose everything. That’s 50% of what you paid. It’s a scary situation for these guys and I feel bad for them.
What they do is they go in and they rent them out. They try to make up as much loss as they can. Thankfully, I don’t have anybody in that position. I do have some clients I’ve picked up along the way that were displeased with their situation and said, “I bought this condo from this person. It’s not making me any money. I can’t sell it for what I want to sell it for. What can we do?” I rent it out for him. I manage it for him for a while and then look into divesting and put that money into notes where they can get more than at most. In Brickell, you’re getting a 3% cap rate. For a show and investors like this, it’s not a lot.
Three percent is not exciting. Those are California numbers that people are looking for out there. California is the land of fruit nuts and all the droughts. You’ve got a bunch of nuts out there for the most part. That brings up a couple of things on the note side of things. That’s where we’ve seen a lot of people. I bought a lot of stuff throughout Florida over the last years. I bought my stuff in the last few years because the prices have increased with a lot of stuff so I’m buying other areas where I can still get discounts for the most part. I still got some performing notes down in that neck of the woods. We see a lot of people always interested in that neck of the woods but it’s also a lot like Austin. Miami and Miami Beach are hot areas, if it’s something’s discounted banks often know that there are buyers waiting in the right price points.
Austin got hot after I left.
It’s crazy hot after you left. We didn’t take too big of a hit, for the most part. There are still areas outside of Austin for the most part and a lot of the high rises stop being built. We had 336 pre-approved downtown condo projects that only four ended up getting built and two of them turned from condos into an apartment complex because people couldn’t afford it. We still see that aspect. I know that we look at track marketing and the average median price the last few years has gone from $250 to $330 or $340 to $350 for the most part. That’s starting to start to price out people in the area having to either move outskirts or looking to move to other places in the state to take advantage of affordability issues. Have you seen that happen too? I know you’re working in the Brickell areas you discovered but are you talking to other agents and seeing what’s going on around Miami?
I work in Brickell but that’s where I market myself and that’s my hub. I still do deals outside. I closed more Coconut Grove than I did in Brickell because that’s what was moving. I’ve done a lot of great deals in Hollywood, Florida, which isn’t even in Dade County, it’s in Broward, but there are some crazy investments up there. Sometimes it’s on the quirky side, but there’s some good stuff up there.
What do you mean by that quirky side there are some good investments? Let’s talk about that a little bit.
When you talk about investing in Miami and in Hollywood, which is where I like to work, it’s a lot different than some other areas. There’s one neighborhood that’s a great neighborhood that’s going to be a hub of great investments and it’s going to be a safe investment. In Hollywood, there’s one street that’s a great investment, the next street, you might be in danger. There are no real neighborhoods. It’s street by street. Not that the scary streets are a bad investment. I’ve made some good investments for people on the streets. You have to make sure that the permits are all pulled and the codes are up to date. There’s no code enforcement drama there.
I’ve had an investor on one of the scary streets, and that’s a scary street because the investors on that street, didn’t qualify their tenants before they moved him in, so there were some characters. In one house, I don’t know what happened in that house, it was separated into an Illegal fourplex. This investor-owned it and I didn’t do this deal on the front side. I got him out of it. He bought this fourplex at the courthouse steps, didn’t do his background check on it and bought it for $150,000 thinking that you could sell it for $250,000. There was a $250,000 lien from the water department. Who knows what was going on there if it was a leak or what but he ended up having to dump it for $75,000 he lost his shirt?
I felt bad for him, but it was either that or negotiate down that code enforcement lien and bring the property back up to code and turn that garage back into one garage instead of three apartments. Things like that happen in Hollywood. They happen all over. They’re more prevalent in Hollywood but there are also some good deals in Hollywood. There are houses that were built in the ‘70s and the ‘60s before the bedrooms were super small. They’ve got huge bedrooms, big closets, solid construction, and pretty things. When you invest in Miami especially if you’re not a foreign investor, but an out of town investor, have an agent there that can go by and look at the place. Do your due diligence. Don’t be, “This is in Miami, this is going to be awesome. Bye.”
Unfortunately, some people are like that. They look at the city and they’ll be like, “I’ll buy all day long.” No, you have to do due diligence. I’m so glad you said that. Make sure you have a realtor go by. If there are twelve cars in the parking lot or around the house, it’s probably got some extra units in there that may not be zoned or permitted for it.
There’s also another thing I need to bring up as a be forewarned in Miami. A lot of cities are this way, but Miami especially. There are little villages around and they’re inside the city limits. They’re Miami but they’re not because they have their police force and city hall. Miami Shores, for instance, there are unincorporated areas that are still within Miami, but they’re not in Miami. In some of those, they have different code enforcement agencies. Some of them allow what they call a Pre-occupancy inspection. That’s when the permit violations are found and the illegal garage is closed down to make an extra bedroom and illegal bathrooms. A lot of investors lose a lot of money on that because they buy into those things and they have to bring them back to the way they were before the code violation and that’s expensive.
We’ve run into that a couple of times with some of the portfolios we bought before we end up picking a property back and seeing, “The owner got creative in their house trying to stack people in there for the most part as best they could and turn into a multiplex versus the single-family residence.” The foreclosure timeframes have sped up in Miami or South Florida anyway. We should say that. Instead of being two years, we were seeing stuff, 9 or 12 months for the most part. It’s cut in half out there. We’re talking about investment dollars coming up from the northeast area but at one point, there was a loss of about $0.40 of every dollar and in South Florida, real estate was international money. Where do you think more of the International money is coming from these days? Is it still not Brazil or Venezuela? Is it other areas you see?
We still see a lot more from Colombia and Mexico. Everybody keeps saying that China is going to become a big player. They’ve been saying that for years, but they even made a direct flight from EMI to Hong Kong and it hadn’t happened.
It’s probably not being a lot of people on there now either too.
I know right? Even before the whole coronavirus.
There was a lot of talk about foreign money coming from China. You’re right about that. We had a few people reach out and say, “We’re bringing in China money.” I’m like, “Tell me when the money arrives and we’ll start talking.”
Let me see it happen. I’ll tell you another place that’s new on the map over the last few years. Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
I could see Saudi Arabia buying along here Turkey’s interesting. That’s new. That’s the thing is depending on what their dollar versus our dollar though in the real estate stuff and other things like that. There are opportunities still available out there. Are you still seeing a lot of the high-end stuff high rises getting built up or that slow down quite a bit in the last few years?
It slowed down quite a bit. What’s happened there is over the last, probably a few years between 2012 and 2018. That’s been more of the mid-range so around $500,000 to $1.5 million because the market slowed down on that market. They started with super luxury, which has done well. Those buildings are all starting to be delivered now. These are your Ritz Carlton’s and Palena. Palena was a couple of years ago, but Ritz Carlton’s are opening right now. Muse, which is a building in Sunny Isles. It’s amazing.
It’s a gorgeous property. Walking by that one when it was first being built in, I’m like, “This place is going to end up being gorgeous.”
I wish that you had connected with me while you were in town. We spoke a little bit but I wish that you had had time to come with me on a couple of views. I could have taken you to the top of that. It’s sick. It’s crazy.
With you working with investors and we talked a little about how you have been investing stuff? What’s your favorite thing? What do you like? What do you love in investing? What gets you rocking and rolling when it comes to your portfolio or investment dollar?
I like Hollywood properties.
The neighborhoods are even a little bit questionable.
There are two things here and one other point that I wanted to make about what’s moving is the trend now that the super-luxury properties are all being opened up sold out. The new hot thing that a lot of people ask about is Airbnb in Miami. I don’t advise people to buy it. It’s my personal choice of broker. I don’t advise it because it’s too volatile. I’m in Miami Beach. They still have all of the drama going back and forth with the city over whether or not it’s legal in the city of Miami. As of now, it’s legal but that could change anytime. The markets are being flooded with it. If there are investors that want to buy that specifically, I advise two buildings in Brickell that I would send people to and maybe a couple in some other areas or buy a house. I don’t advise this new construction of Airbnb buildings. They’re too filled with drama and too filled with risk.
That’s exactly what happened here in Austin, Texas. Airbnbs are illegal in the city limits of Austin, Texas.
You guys had the same because you all have a Nativa building, don’t you?
We did too and it’s all filled with questions now
One of the things that I saw happening and some stuff that there’s to worry about deferred maintenance and extra costs, especially on some of the condos with COAs, the condo associations. The nice thing there if you’re buying the note, we’ve got safe harbor where the note buyer, if you do buy a note and foreclose, you’re not paying the full association dues. You as the owner, if you’re going and buying it, you’ve got to worry about the deferred maintenance and kicking into and hurting your profit.
You do and that changes from city to city how much it is, because there is a regulation. I’m not 100% percent sure what it is bow because they could have changed it over the last couple of months. If it was a foreclosure sale, the person who owned the note would only have to pay 1 or 2 years instead of having to pay whatever they owed, which was sometimes 5 or 6 years. People can be operators. They can stay in properties for years while it’s in the middle of foreclosure. That’s another thing to be careful of. Do your due diligence when you’re about to buy a note. People want to move out because if they don’t, they may not move out.
We had one situation with a family of four. Four people were on the mortgage in each one when it came down to it took the time to file bankruptcy so it would drag out in the BK courts for roughly a four-year period. When one would do it, later on, another one would do it and that would get discharged. The third person would do it, “Luckily, we’re getting ready to steal but it was a bit of pain in the rear.”
For every story like that, there’s a story. Every and again, you’ll find a unicorn. I found a unit back in the late summer in Aventura. The note was for sale for $750,000. It was quiet. It wasn’t on the market. It was something I heard about under the table. The person who lived in the property that was going to be foreclosed wanted to let it go. It was a strategic foreclosure. He said, “Buy it and resell the property. I don’t care. I’m out. I’m moving back to wherever I came from. I’m done.” Somebody made some good money on that one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t any of my investors. They weren’t interested. It was probably $1.5 million.
That’s a nice 100% return on your investment if you can make it happen. That’s the thing, a lot of the higher-end note purchases, people shy away from because it does tie up a lot of capital and one asset that could potentially a drug out before closures and insurance. I was sitting in the Miami airport one day talking with a gentleman across from me. We got to visit. I asked him what he did and he’s like, “I’m an international lip gloss salesman. I have this lip gloss company.” I’m like, “Okay.”
He’s worth a zillion dollars and drives a Bugatti too, right?
Exactly. He asked me what I did. He started laughing when I told him I bought and sold. He’s like, “You would love my deal. I’ve got a $4 million mansion on Miami Beach that is maybe worth $2 million because of everything and I haven’t paid the mortgage in three years. It’s cheaper to pay my attorney every month to drag this thing out. I’m living for free.” What a crazy operator. He goes, “I bought another house that I used a cash-out refi four years ago. I pulled $500,000 in equity out and bought a house for cash that has no mortgage on it but that’s part of that $4 million mortgage.” It’s not quite fraud but is it?
It might be. Some other areas that are cool for investment and one thing to look for when you’re investing in Miami is, people will flock to certain school districts. I’ve seen people do crazy things to get into the school district. One of them rented a whole separate apartment to be in the area and get put on somebody else’s mortgage. They’ll do anything to get into the school district. It’s Sunset Elementary. I saw a short sale in the Sunset Elementary School District when I was doing some numbers. It was probably a little bit of a risky short sale. They were saying they want you to buy the note and foreclose the note, which is fine, but I’m a little bit questionable about that if it comes from the MLS. I would rather it come from the bank.
That’s a weird situation. Do you know who the bank was on out?
I don’t remember off the top of my head, but I could go back and check if anybody’s curious.
You and I need to talk about that afterward. We won’t do it here, publicly. It might be something there.
The property had been on the market forever. It was a pretty house, maybe a teardown. They were marketing it to tear down and rebuild. I thought it was a pretty house, to begin with as long as I kept it up. It was on a prestigious street and it was something like $1.8 million. Again, that was on the higher end. There are other areas like Kendall or Durham that have great schools. You don’t necessarily have to drop that much money.
Things move pretty quickly on the MLS there but if it’s priced right.
If it’s priced right and it’s in a hot area, yes. When I say an okay area, it’s something like if you list a condo in Brickell now, be prepared for four months. If you list in the Sunset School District, it could be days.
It’s all dependent on zip code area what’s going on there too, which happens everywhere here in Austin. We see a lot of things with less than a two-month inventory for the most part. It’s a lot of stuff, its price even close to being right stuff is getting bought relatively quickly in a matter of 30 days or less for the most part. That’s good to be a seller in the right thing. It’s not always a good day for your buyer. If you’re trying to look at things.
The unicorns popped up. They did it. If you’re a buyer with a timeframe, if you’re doing a 1031 or something, then I don’t know that.
You might need to do a deferred sales trust if you’re limited in your timeframe. We had Brett Swarts who handles all that stuff. He’s out of California, but he got stuff in Miami. We’re talking about that market. He’s working with a client on a $5 million 1031. The guy ended up doing a deferred sales trust so it bought him time. He didn’t have to make an immediate impact in 45 days or 180 days to close on the thing.
With you liking the Hollywood areas, you like fix and flips, rentals, I know you’re knowledgeable enough in note space or it for but what do you like the most?
I like the Hollywood area because it’s shown its character throughout time. I love the fix and flip. I love the architecture in the area. The bedrooms are nice and big. For the same house that you would get in on a nice street in Hollywood, you would pay maybe $500,000 in Hollywood, whereas in Coral Gables it would be $2 million.
It’s a much bigger bang for your buck a buy for a dollar. Are you seeing a decrease in our increase in rent rates to net $500,000 or less rate decrease may be a decrease in rates the higher end stuff is sitting there long-term?
I’m seeing an increase in single-family homes and a stagnation in that area in condos.
Where do you think the markets are going to be in the next few years? Do you think it’ll still keep going up? Maybe do you think we’re due for a correction?
They’ve diversified enough and there are enough things coming as far as infrastructure coming into Miami that I don’t think we’re going to see the big crash like we did. These investors who are hurting right now and bought pre-construction are going to start trickling off and selling for what they can sell. I do see things in the Brickell area, the condos selling for about 93% of list price. People aren’t taking a bath on the but that’s on the retail market. Every now and again, you see a bank that is struggling to over-leverage themselves, and they’ll dump their notes. That happened to me a couple of years ago and it was great.
I keep waiting for that. I don’t see. We’re not going to see 2008 numbers. I remember getting lifted from US Century and notions bank. Great. No, though. Yeah, those are great. I saw an asset manager. He’s at a different bank, but he was the head of secondary marketing over at Century Bank. I was talking to him the other day because he’s speaking on a panel at a bigger evening. I talked to him a couple of years back. I call it, “is this the new guy?” I said as he remembered me laughing. I started laughing because he remembered me as I was going back and forth.
That’s what happens when you take a guy out to the Miami Heat game in the finals game in Miami when you’re in town. I remember you. That was one of the most interesting things that we did see. We have done bought some notes and short sales from some of the guys that played for the Dolphins back a few years ago, some of the previous Heat players. That brings me to Daniel when LeBron. When LeBron left Miami they said that was about a $200 million hit to the economy. Would you agree to that or thinking that it wasn’t that big of a difference?
Did LeBron hurt the economy?
Yes, when he left a little bit.
It hurt the Miami Heat economy as far as ticket sales. There used to be this whole vibe about the Miami Heat we’re going to play when it was D. Wade and LeBron. Miami fans are intense, but they’re also very fickle. I don’t think it hurt real estate as much as it hurt the Miami Heat ticket sales.
There you go or maybe a little bit of tourism with the hotels and things going on there. That makes sense.
Around the same time, when all that stuff happened with the, with the Miami Heat, there was a new cruise ship Terminal that opened up right around the corner. That brought a whole bunch of new people in and the new mall in Brickell opened. You may not believe it that people will travel to a new mall but people will.
We have seen that here in South Texas. Some of us are in Saint Marcus. On the weekend, busloads and busloads are coming up from the valley or Mexico, especially on tax-free weekends and things hat. It’s so overcrowded in the outlet malls I don’t even go there anymore because it gets so crazy on the weekends
In Miami, there are people who fly in from Venezuela and Brazil and they bring their big Gucci and Louis Vuitton suitcases that are empty. They take them to the malls and they fill it up. They fly back so those probably weren’t the people that were going to the heat games, but that did help to keep the economy propped up.
About Sarah Elles Boggs
Sarah is a real estate agent in Miami, Florida who started out in Austin, Texas. She has successful investments in Dallas, Austin, Miami and a small area in Northeast Texas called Mt. Pleasant. She relies on market stats and gut instincts when choosing new investments and executing sales.
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