The Urban Lifestyle

Thomas Allen is happy to live in a downtown Orlando condo, despite reports about the market crashing.

In fact, he’s working to recruit more people to the urban lifestyle.

Allen and his mother, Dorothy Williams, this month are rolling out their new concept dubbed Urbanista. The new real estate brokerage company, which is affiliated with Olde Town Brokers, will focus on sales, resales and rentals of downtown condo tower units.

While the concept is still fairly new, Allen already is talking about possibly expanding to other U.S. markets.

But for now, with sales of condos being slower, Allen says Urbanista may start out with a stronger emphasis on rental services. “It’s where the market is. A lot of people fight the ship — but we let the helm lead us. It’s a renter’s market.”

Fighting numbers

To be sure, Urbanista has its work cut out for it.

Hundreds of failed condo conversions that reverted back to rentals combined with more new apartment building construction are expected to create an 8.1 percent vacancy rate this year, up from 7.6 percent last year, says a recent report by Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services.

And existing condo sales continue to tank in Central Florida. December saw a 66 percent decline in closings, down from 320 to 108, when compared with the previous year, says the Florida Association of Realtors.

For the year, 2,141 condos sold in the Orlando area, a 57 percent drop from the 4,933 sold in 2006.

Along with that, recent news of several failed condo projects in downtown has turned off many potential buyers. A most recent example was the Jan. 7 foreclosure of the former developer of 55 West on the Esplanade, which could result in many unsold condo units being taken out of the 34-story tower, which originally had 405 units.

But a certain group of home seekers don’t care about the numbers, says Allen. And those are the customers he’s after. “With your home, you either see it as a necessity, as shelter, or you see it as a sexy object,” he says. “Those who see it as a sexy object get it.”

Re/Max Town Centre Realtor Darryl Hunt, better known as “Downtown Darryl,” adds that downtown Orlando is still in its infancy. Planned new restaurants and retail — especially the new downtown Publix slated for The Paramount mixed-use tower on Central Boulevard — can only bring more residents downtown.

“With all the new development, [interest in urban living] is starting to show up now,” Hunt says. “Yes, there’s a lot of units for sale, but that’s just how the market is everywhere right now.”

Living the life

For Dr. Clifford Dubbin, there was never a question of if downtown would grow and develop. It was just a matter of when.

Dubbin, a local ear, nose and throat specialist who is founder and president of the Florida Otolaryngology Group PA, packed his bags and moved from his single-family home in Windermere to a downtown condo after his divorce in 2002.

Now, Dubbin and girlfriend Ann Link thrive on their urban lifestyle at The Sanctuary, an 18-story upscale complex near Thornton Park. They ride their bikes to the Cady Way Trail or walk to restaurants and attend shows at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, all without battling rush-hour traffic.

“The new condo lifestyle is ideal for mid-lifer like myself,” says Dubbin, 55, who adds that he also is an investor in two units at the Sanctuary, in addition to his home. “It was natural for Ann and me.”

Meanwhile, Allen lives a similar urbanista lifestyle. He works from his condo at The Jackson, travels the streets by foot to his favorite lunchtime eateries and is waiting for the movie theater to open at The Plaza on Orange Avenue, much like many of his neighbors.

And because he lives the downtown lifestyle, Allen says it’s easier for him to hawk it.

“It gives me more enthusiasm and pride of ownership,” he says of his live/work/play lifestyle in downtown. “It’s more than the money — it’s my neighborhood.”

[zilla_alert style=”grey”] Originally written for the Orlando Business Journal by Anjali Fluker, Staff Writer [/zilla_alert]

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