08 January 2010

Property Values: What you get in Modern Townhomes

The second installment of the series examining current market values will have a look at available modern townhomes in Southeast Florida. Because of the relatively small number, this post includes all price ranges.

Historically, the term townhouse was coined in the UK, a “house in town” for aristocracy and wealthy country peers. In the US, it used to describe an attached multistory building with a small footprint, including servant’s quarters, located in an urban environment. Owning a townhouse in a metropolitan area such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto or San Francisco was a sign of wealth.

Today in Florida, a townhouse in a strict sense means an attached multistory building with no neighbours above or below, often with a small garden and community amenities such as a pool or tennis courts. Legally, one differentiates between fee simple (exclusively owned, including the land) and condominium townhouses, where the occupant owns the interior only and part of the common areas.

Forget mid-century modern. In Southeast Florida, there is no such thing as a mid-century modern townhouse (elsewhere?). At least I have never seen or even heard of one in 20 years of practice. The available modern townhouses I know of were constructed 2003 or later, confirming that the first builders became aware of an increasing interest in modern architecture somewhere between 2000 and 2002. 

(Interesting side-note: in 2000, a German architect and I were planning a joint venture to build modern townhomes with dockage in Fort Lauderdale. There was no such property available then, and we were certain we had found an interesting niche. Due to serious health problems my then-partner sadly developed, the project never materialized.)

Given the confines of designing interesting and sellable multifamily structures on sometimes smallish lots, expect a bit of stylistic conformity. The starting point is the sleek white box, often three stories, with a vaguely nautical look, befitting the surroundings. 

Within variations mostly due to the price points, standard are kitchens combining stainless steel with warm woods, lots of glass, as well as open floorplans, often orientated around open interior staircases. If you head uptown, tile floors are replaced by marble or hardwood, private rooftop decks pop up, and period quotes such as eyebrows and corner windows appear.

Geographically, the 55 available modernist townhomes I know of are all over the map between Key Biscayne and South Palm Beach county. The highest concentration however is in Miami, Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Sizes vary from 1256 sf under air  to 6100 sf, with a median size of 3365 sf.

As varied as the size are the prices: from $299,000 to $5,495,000, median $977,000, though the sweet spot seems to be between $590,000 and $900,000. 

What then do you get for your money?

$299,000: Miami, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, ca. 1,800 sf under air (ca. 165 sqm), built 2009. On Miami's Upper East Side, with open floor plan and two story ceilings in the entrance.

$425,000: Fort Lauderdale, 3/3.5, ca. 3230 sf (297 sqm), 2-car garage, built 2007. Two story glass atrium overlooking private garden and pool, 2nd and 3rd floor loft areas, rooftop terrace.

$668,788: Pompano Beach, 3/3.5, ca. 2958 sf (272 sqm), 2-car garage, deepwater dockage, built in  2007. Professionally decorated, below market bank pricing, located not far from the Hillsboro Inlet. 

$799,000: Miami Beach, 3/3.5, ca. 2360 sf (217 sqm), 2-car garage, built in 2006. 4-story townhouse on the Bay, garden rooftop terrace, heated pool and direct water views.

$999,000: Miami Beach, 4/5.5, ca. 3730 sf (343 sqm), 2-car garage, built in 2005. On gated 8.5 acre-island with own fitness center, spa, heated pools, children's play center, conference room etc. 
$1,950,000: Miami Beach, 4/5, ca. 3730 sf (343 sqm), 2-car garage, private 40 foot boat-slip, built in 2005. Same location as above, but with a deepwater (read: no fixed bridges to the ocean) boat-slip.

$5,250,000: Highland Beach, 5/7.5, ca. 6100 sf (561 sqm), oceanfront, 3-car garage, built in 2009. End unit/corner on 200 feet of private beach, completely reinforced concrete exterior walls, floor to ceiling hurricane impact/resistant doors and windows.

Eying the trophy, you will have to decide what is most important to you. 

If it absolutely, positively has to be a newer (year 2000 and up) modernist single family house, prepare to budget at least ca. $780,000 (with exceptions, but not many). A newer modernist townhome – most likely built after 2003 – is a viable alternative and can be found from ca. $300,000 and up. And if that still does not appeal to you, take your pick from the considerably larger selection of mid-century modern homes on the market.

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