I’ve been getting calls and emails from previous clients asking my opinion on the Champlain Towers South condo disaster in Surfside. It makes sense that a lot of people are worried right now and nervous if something like this could happen at their condo building. Obviously, this is a very tough thing to talk about and I’m not an expert by any means. But as a real estate professional that also works in Surfside, I am going to share my own, personal opinion.
For starters, this is just a very rare and unfortunate event that most likely will not ever happen again, especially in light of this event. What happened in Surfside will be remembered in history as one of the biggest tragedies in the United States and I believe this event will become a catalyst for many needed changes in the construction and building inspection industries in the immediate future.
I’ve been a real estate agent in Miami for 20 years and I’ve sold a lot of condos and homes all throughout South Florida, including in Surfside. I’ve sold brand new condos and I’ve sold condos built in the 1930s. Obviously, no one could have ever predicted anything like this would happen to a Miami condo building, especially one that was considered to be a luxury residential tower in Surfside.
Condos in the collapsed Champlain Towers South have sold for millions of dollars and there has even been a few recent sales within the past 3 months. I’ve been inside of this Miami Surfside condominium a few times and I always remember it to have been very nice and well maintained from my point of view. Obviously, as a real estate agent, I am only able to see things from the surface.
But the Champlain Towers South building was ideally located directly on the ocean in a very desirable location. In fact, the town Surfside has seen a building boom in the past few years with projects such as Eighty Seven Park condo development next door and the Surf Club Four Seasons being built, both ultra-luxury new construction Surfside condo developments. The condo units in this condominium building were very large and much more spacious in comparison to newer condos that are built today. In fact, having such large interior spaces is one of the main reasons that buyers want to live in these older condos in the first place.
Champlain Towers South Building Collapse
From what I’ve read about the Champlain Towers South condo collapse, it appears there were reports about potential design flaws and failing waterproofing that could have lead to exponential damage. It was also noted that the town of Surfside, Florida, released documents including an “unverified” 40-year inspection report that had been received only 16 hours after the building’s catastrophic condo collapse failure.
Again I am no expert, but I’m sure this is something that the experts in Miami Dade County and the mayor Daniella Levine Cava as well as Ron Desantis will be spending a great deal of time on in the coming months. There are so many factors to consider and the engineering team and city officials will be working relentlessly on this for a very long time.
Like everyone, I have been watching the news and mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Ray Jadallah, the search and rescue team, and the entire Miami Dade County have been working nonstop to find survivors at the condo collapse site.
I read somewhere that the condo association and residents knew there were many issues and that repairs were estimated to cost at least $9 million and possibly run as high as $15 million. This is a huge amount of money and Champlain Towers South condominium residents would have most likely been trying to figure out how to pay for this. Usually, when there are big repairs needed, the condo association takes a vote and then decides what the priorities are at that given time. Once they make the decision, the association will pass an assessment. These assessments are typically broken down into monthly payments so that everyone can afford to pay their fair share.
In an older condominium complex such as Champlain Tower or Crestview Towers which has also been in the news, these assessments can cost tens of thousands of dollars. And as a result, oftentimes owners will put their Miami condos up for sale because the costs are just too high to justify the costs. From North Miami Beach to South Beach, there are hundreds of condo developments that are going through these assessments.
How Condo Inspections Work in South Florida
I think it’s important to first explain how condo inspections work in South Florida. When a potential buyer of a specific condo unit goes under contract, an inspection is usually scheduled within 10 days from the effective date. In the Florida residential sales contract, you can put in whatever time frame you want, but as a general rule of thumb, 10 to 15 days is normal.
Most real estate agents in Miami will refer their buyers to an inspection company they have worked with in the past. In Miami, there are probably hundreds of inspection companies, but I always use the same one or two for my residential condo and home inspections.
Generally, the licensed inspector is looking for things inside of the individual condo unit that may cause concern for the new buyer, such as a broken AC unit, appliances that are not working, or faulty electrical outlets. They typically do a very thorough and detailed inspection and take photos and make notes and then email it to the clients within 24-48 hours.
Depending on the type of condo it is, some inspectors might go to the roof and check things out to see if there are any visible leaks and to make sure things look well maintained. But as a general rule of thumb, the inspector does not check the building itself and he/she is only looking at things that the condo owner is responsible for. Anything that has to do with the condo building itself, is done through the building management company and condo association. Obviously, these inspections are much more strict and include examining structural elements and foundation issues in the building.
When it comes to single homes in Miami, the inspections are more thorough because they have access to the entire property, including the foundation, roof, and structural elements.
Miami Dade County requires that all condo buildings need to pass a 40-year certification and this recertification report is required by the city. In South Florida, there are many condo developments older than 40 years, especially in Miami Beach and the Art Deco district.
All developments in Miami are built using concrete and rebar and it is common for the concrete to deteriorate over time due to spalling of the columns from the rebar expanding. Miami is on the ocean and the saltwater and heat play many factors in this. I personally have seen this quite often in Miami condo buildings, especially older ones near the water.
Miami Beach Luxury Condos
As mentioned above, most Miami luxury condo buildings are very well maintained and go through a rigorous inspection every few years to look for damage or potential problems. Things such as leaking swimming pools and spalding on terraces are quite common and specialized engineering experts work with the developers and condo complex residents in order to repair these things before they get worse.
In Miami Beach, it’s pretty common to see balconies and terraces closed off while the engineers and construction specialists repair these back to working condition. Saltwater, humidity, and hot temperatures can wreak havoc on condominiums. It’s quite common for swimming pools to be closed for long periods of time, while experts fix the leaks and re-seal the pool and pool deck. But in my professional experience, this is not something to be alarmed about and it is done to prolong the overall life of the condo building. I have seen Miami condos in all price ranges and these structures are extremely well built.
What About Miami New Construction Condos
Newly constructed Miami Beach condos and new Miami condo developments throughout Miami are built using the latest technologies available and are designed to last many, many years. After the Towers South in Surfside incident, I suspect that many potential buyers are going to focus on newer buildings. In the two weeks since the accident, I have noticed an uptick in web traffic for new Miami condominiums and pre-construction.
There are new construction condos being announced in every Miami neighborhood right now and buyers are snapping them up left and right. The Miami penthouses and Miami luxury condos being built on the beaches in Sunny Isles Beach are built using extreme measures and I am confident they are as structurally safe as anything. I feel that the newer buildings are going to benefit from this tragedy, under the assumption that they’re better built and make for more financially secure Miami condo investments.
Do Miami Condo Investments Still Make Sense?
Miami is one of the most desirable places to live in the world and I don’t see things changing, although I do feel like buyers, lenders and insurers will likely demand more information on inspections, repairs, and recertifications than ever before. And I think in the immediate short term there will be greater scrutiny by buyers to get information about the status of the building and financials.
People will continue to live in Miami Florida but I do expect lower pricing in older buildings and maybe even pausing some deals or propelling associations to move forward with repairs. I think overall, this might create some trepidation for buyers and sellers.
On a Final Note…
The Miami condo collapse site at Champlain Towers South condo was one of the largest search and rescue missions in the history of the United States and a disaster like this was beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. As of July 8th, the building collapse is no longer a search and rescue and has now turned into a recovery effort and the hopes of finding any survivors at this point are extremely grim, if not impossible.
It is a terrible, terrible tragedy that I feel will forever change the rules of Miami condominium building inspections and certifications. If there is anything positive to come out of this, it’s that this tragedy will make the local rules and guidelines much more strict and stringent for future generations.
Like everyone, I continue to pray for all of the family members, friends, survivors, and relatives that lost their lives in the Champlain Towers South condo tragedy. The Surfside collapse two weeks ago should never happen again and I hope to see the neighborhood of Surfside recover from this.