Realtor launches Web site for condo flippers
By Suzy Valentine
Transactions on a Web site designed to connect condo flippers to buyers are to start taking place next month after it has solicited listings for five months.
Mark Zilbert of Zilbert Realty Group of Miami Beach launched www.condoflip.com in July. He said he has collected listings on thousands of units over the past four months.
"We've seen interest from buyers, brokers and developers of entire projects," said Mr. Zilbert, "but by far the most interest has come from developers."
In flipping, an investor often sells a contract to purchase a condo before closing, aiming for a large profit on a small initial payment. Estimates of investor purchases of new condos in Miami-Dade County range from 20% to 75% of developers' sales.
Mr. Zilbert worked at Esslinger Wooten Maxwell until April, when he left to establish Zilbert Realty Group, which has a staff of 10. He said he plans to at least double staff this year.
"I plan to grow the business to 25 Realtors by the end of the year," said Mr. Zilbert, "and I plan to recruit a further 25 in the spring. I'm getting interest in the site worldwide. The other night, I took a call at 10:30 p.m. from New Delhi."
Some developers are more cautious than others about the flipping phenomenon, he said. "Some haven't given permission to resell. There has been a lot of interest in Related Group of Florida stock, but in some contracts, there is a provision that says that in the event the buyer lists the property with a broker, the developer may default on the purchase."
Nevertheless, the Web site is offering resale units in four Related projects, some preconstruction. They are W South Beach, Melia Royal Palm, The Caribbean and Setai.
Recognized brands are prompting some attention worldwide.
"Setai's notoriety in Asia is sparking interest," said Mr. Zilbert. "It's such a luxury Asian brand that I've had requests from Dubai, Israel and around Asia."
The always-open nature of the Internet accommodates the overseas investor, he said. "We connect buyers and sellers directly," said Mr. Zilbert. "You don't need the sales center to be open."
Despite fears that flipping could precipitate an early and cataclysmic fall in the real estate market, Mr. Zilbert said the Web site is in the public interest.
"There is a lot concern that some buyers won't be able to close," he said. "Things happen. People lose their jobs or they can't finance the purchase after all. When those people reach a point where they believe that they've made a mistake, we offer them a panic button before it's too late."
This year's succession of hurricanes hasn't dampened interest in the South Florida property market, he said.
"At the beginning of the summer, there was a blip in the market," said Mr. Zilbert. "In the third quarter, activity halved, but this month, there have been a lot of inquiries. European investors put back their plans to shop for property for a few weeks, but interest hasn't waned in the wake of Hurricane Wilma."
Mr. Zilbert said he sees no letup in property prices. "I don't know whether the market will support $5,000 per square foot," he said, "but in South Beach, $2,000 to $2,500 per square foot isn't unrealistic."