Features Sunshine State of Mind

Northern Exposure

Photo by Ron Rosenzweig at Onshore Construction

For decades, well-heeled New Yorkers’ winter playground was the island of Palm Beach, Florida: site of The Everglades Club, The Breakers, The Colony and Mar-a-Lago. It’s where the golden-skinned zip in fast cars, flaunting their Salon Margrit updos through balmy evenings. It’s where grand mansions with private boat docks hide from view by perfectly manicured hedges and walk-to-sea Mizner-esque homes are laced with bougainvillea in purple and fuchsia. It’s where oceanfront condos mix with charming, beach bungalows painted in pastel hues. 

But as New York shut down, a stampede south ensued, raising Palm Beach Island prices higher than its Royal Palms. When it comes to Palm Beach Island, even the one-percenters these days are suffering from sticker shock.

While some continue the good life in the Hamptons, demand is not slowing down. Buyers are now finding their way further north to the towns of Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, Juno Beach and North Palm. According to state statistics, from September 2020 through March 2021, over 14,000 New Yorkers migrated to Palm Beach County. Many of those are heading to gated country club communities in the north county like Old Palm, Bears Club, Admirals Cove and Mirasol Country Club. Palm Beach County has always been a second home haven, offering tax benefits, open-air living and no wool hats to contend with, but today it’s transitioning to primary home status. 

“One of the lessons from the pandemic is that you can work from anywhere,” said Jeremy Lansat, a private wealth management advisor with Merrill Lynch based in Palm Beach Gardens. “I have many clients moving down here from up north. With the current tax environment, why not? Plus, you can play golf almost the entire year.”

“It’s unprecedented the amount of work I am getting in these north county gated communities,” said Andrea Aragon, owner of Lapis Designs LLC, who specializes in high-end bathroom and kitchen renovations. “New Yorkers are social, so they love the idea of being part of a club that offers a strong community feel through private restaurants, tennis, boating or golf. Today’s young-minded professionals are focused on an active lifestyle and security for their children.” 

But a home or condo here is still not easy to come by. Inventory is down 47% year to date. Nothing stays on the market for long, and bidding wars are the new reality. “We normally work by referral, but this year a large number of buyers have found us on our website, homespbgardens.com,” said Laura Gambino, realtor at One Sotheby’s International Realty. “They’re telling us, ‘I can’t do another lockdown in a New York winter.’” 

Gambino often shows virtually through WhatsApp and Facetime. A handful of her buyers this year bought homes in North Palm Beach County sight-unseen. “The idea of ‘Let me rent first and see if I like it,’ has gone out the window,” Gambino said. “Finding a rental is like finding a unicorn on the green. Potential tenants have quickly transitioned to all-cash buyers.” 

New luxury developments are also scarce. The Sea Glass, a collection of 21 oceanfront condominiums expected to be completed in 2022, sell for $5.9 million to $10 million dollars. And while not completed, all units are allegedly sold out.  

“We have more than doubled our workload since the pandemic,” said Dan Reedy, owner of Onshore Construction, one of Jupiter’s most exclusive custom home builders. “I have never seen anything like it. We are getting more than two or three large scale opportunities of $5 million to $15 million-plus per week.” And that’s if you can find a lot or teardown property.

“Sellers are calling the shots,” said realtor Carolina Buia Barefoot of the #CLTeam at One Sotheby’s International Realty. “In the quaint town of North Palm there are some old Florida homes that have potential, as do Singer Island condos.”  

But for buyers who want a deal, they better be prepared to roll up their sleeves. “Get ready to deal with contractors, demolition and delayed gratification,” said Barefoot. Or have it done while you’re still in the Hamptons.

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