Northeast Buyers Shift Focus to Miami

Henry Torres, president & CEO of The Astor Cos., talks to MHN about how tax reform has encouraged buyers to look south, and why Coral Gables is proving to be an attractive place for investment.
Henry Torres, The Astor Cos.
Henry Torres, The Astor Cos.

George Merrick founded Coral Gables during the Florida land boom of the 1920s. The city was incorporated in 1925 and became home to the University of Miami in the same year. One of South Florida’s oldest and most historic areas, Coral Gables was designed with Mediterranean influences and boasts some of the strictest zoning regulations in the region.

Nicknamed the “City Beautiful,” Coral Gables is one of Miami’s most sought-after destinations and home to The Astor Cos.’ newest luxury development dubbed Merrick Manor. Founder, President & CEO Henry Torres of the Coral Gables-based Astor Cos. spoke to Multi-Housing News about the 10-story project that features 227 residences and a vast array of amenities. Torres also discussed the appeal of Merrick Manor and how the community fits into the lush and opulent Coral Gables scenery.

How does the tax reform impact demand from Northeast buyers in tax-heavy states?

Torres: The tax reform has certainly intensified the existing demand from New Yorkers and other Northeasterners to relocate to South Florida and take advantage of the lack of a state income tax. Many of these buyers would have historically looked to buy seasonal or vacation residences to escape the winter months, but now they are searching for permanent homes to meet the residency requirements. That has a ripple effect beyond the residential market, as these would-be seasonal residents become full-time residents who are working, shopping, dining and enjoying their year-round entertainment down here.

What type of retailers are interested in coming to the area?

Torres: Here in Coral Gables—a suburb of Miami—we are seeing interest from chef-driven restaurant concepts that are established in other parts of South Florida and seek a new location. There is a flurry of interest from new boutique fashion shops, lifestyle wear, accessories, home design, family pet care and classical art. The city’s retail landscape is diversifying from the traditional bridal shops and boutiques.

Our luxury residential project includes nearly 20,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and restaurant space. We are certainly benefiting from the maturation of the nearby Shops at Merrick Park, which has added the Landmark Theatre to strong anchors like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. The Shops are now known for luxury thanks to brands like Burberry, Diane von Furstenberg and Lilly Pulitzer. There’s definitely an overlap between the interest we are getting and what the city is recruiting.

Which is the main demographic drawn to Merrick Manor?

Torres: The wide range of product at Merrick Manor, with a mix of one- to five-bedroom residences, is allowing us to reach many kinds of buyers, from locals to Northeasterners and Canadians, South Americans and Europeans. But I would say the core buyers are local end-users who are buying to live in their residences. People who live in Coral Gables tend to stay in Coral Gables. But they look for opportunities to upgrade their lifestyle within Coral Gables while staying in close proximity to the numerous top schools—including the University of Miami—and popular golf courses such as Biltmore Golf Course, Granada Golf Club and Riviera Country Club.

An important thing to note is that this category of buyers will not be in a position to speculate on a building that is years away from completion. They will focus on projects that are nearing completion so they can close and move into their new residences as soon as possible.

Can you tell us if there’s a trend of downsizing from owners in search of a more dynamic and amenitized condo lifestyle?

Torres: Our buyers at Merrick Manor are often empty-nesters downsizing from large single-family homes in favor of a more vibrant lifestyle. They can enjoy the amenities and lifestyle of condominium living without compromising when it comes to luxury. And they don’t have to compromise much on space. Once the kids move away, those two-story single-family homes can seem cavernous. To appeal to the downsizing buyer, the project or community must be in the middle of a walkable neighborhood with easy access to shopping, dining and entertainment.

What is the primary appeal of Merrick Manor and how does it fit into the Coral Gables scenery?

Torres: One of the great things about developing in Coral Gables is that the city does not just let anyone come in and build a large-scale project like Merrick Manor. The city is dedicated to preserving the quality of life that attracts people to Coral Gables in the first place. It is also stringent about ensuring new developments seamlessly blend into the surrounding Mediterranean-style buildings, homes, fountains and other signature features. With that in mind, Merrick Manor is designed with a Mediterranean villa-style that is in character with the Village of Merrick Park neighborhood.

By bringing completely new product to the city, we are attracting local buyers who otherwise may not have considered condominiums as an option. The project is also resonating with buyers because it offers a convergence of luxury, value and location. The imminent completion of Merrick Manor later this year is another factor, as buyers in today’s market are less inclined to speculate on whether a project years away from completion will ultimately get built.

Images courtesy of The Astor Cos.