Metro Orlando condo market slowly heats up again
From the fluffy pillows atop the guest bed to candles next to the garden tub, the “new” model units at Fairview Grande condominiums look exactly as they did when the original developer abandoned the midrise project four years ago.
Overlooking Lake Fairview on one side and an industrial stretch of North Orange Blossom Trail on the other, Fairview Grande’s 50 units have sat, unsold and empty, for years and years.
The over-leveraged, undersold project was emblematic of a local condominium market that thrived during the homebuying frenzy almost a decade ago before plummeting into darkness during the subsequent crash and recession. Fueled by easy-to-get mortgages, the median price of a condo unit in Metro Orlando hit a high of $170,000 in 2006 before diving to less than $50,000 less than four years later.
Now, like the Fairview Grande, Orlando’s condominium market has started to show signs of life again. The median price in four-county Metro Orlando has rallied to $90,000 in just the past year — almost double the market-bottom price back in 2010, according to data from Florida Realtors.
“For us, the timing couldn’t be better,” said Fairview Grande sales manager Zack McJunkin. “There is virtually no new inventory out there. … For us, there’s not a whole lot of competition that’s new and lakefront.”
The landscape has changed so much that real-estate professionals sold seven times as many condos in March of this year as they did in March 2008, when barely 100 units sold in the four counties — Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Lake — that constitute Metro Orlando.
Even so, Orlando condominium prices continue to lag those of Florida’s other metro areas. The median in Miami, for example, is $117,750, while the midpoint price in Sarasota metro area is $145,950. But Orlando now appears to be recovering faster, with prices increasing 20 percent in March from a year earlier compared with a 16 percent increase for all Florida metro areas combined.
“Definitely we’re seeing a dramatic increase in demand for existing condo product,” said Cristian Michaels, who markets units in the Vue, a tower in downtown Orlando. Two- and three-bedroom units in the Vue have all sold for more than $300 a square foot during the past three months, and prices have risen 25 percent in recent months.
Further fueling the condo recovery are wary lenders unwilling to finance the construction of new condominium projects. And apartment towers in the city center are years from transitioning from rentals to condominiums, Michaels said. Several downtown projects, such as 55 West, were planned as condos at the market’s peak but became apartments during the slump.
Fairview Grande, about four miles northwest of downtown, has been resurrected by Patten Sales & Marketing, a Naples-based real-estate-investment company that started bulk-buying distressed condominium properties in 2009. Since then, it has purchased more than 40 projects, mostly in Florida coastal areas but also in North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky and Colorado. The various properties carried more than $600 million in combined debt, but Patten officials said they purchased them at a “substantial discount” and have since sold more than 1,600 units valued at $250 million.
Unlike many of the other properties Patten has acquired, the five-story Fairview Grande was in turnkey condition when Patten purchased it. The entry gate, signs and model units were in good condition. The project’s 50 units were tested and certified mold-free. Prices of the condos, which are at least 1,700 square feet each, start at $200,000, with condominium-association fees of $420 a month.
The previous developer had prepared a foundation for a second building overlooking Lake Fairview, but those units were never constructed. McJunkin said his company considered developing the additional site but said Patten is more likely to stick with its current business model: buy at a discount, upgrade as necessary and sell out quickly