PROFILEmiami had the exclusive opportunity to sit down with Craig Studnicky, Principal and Co-Founder of ISG Realty and leads sales at The Residences at W Fort Lauderdale. Take a look inside Related Group and Related Companies $60 million renovation of the iconic property and find out how the Fort Lauderdale Beach real estate market is on the move.
PM: Fort Lauderdale and Fort Lauderdale Beach have seen an influx of high-end condo and hotel developments in recent years. What sets The Residences at W Fort Lauderdale apart?
CS: The W Fort Lauderdale was completed in 2009. It was designed and developed as part hotel and part condo, essentially a condo hotel. A lot of the developments on the ocean in Fort Lauderdale, like Auberge and Paramount, are being developed for the end-user. Auberge and Paramount have typical rental restrictions for end-user condominiums. The Residences at W Fort Lauderdale, by contrast, has the ability to be rented short-term. The original developer designed the W as two towers, with the hotel in the east tower, and the condo residences in the west tower.
What really sets The Residences at W Fort Lauderdale apart is the flexible use of the units. You can buy a unit as a second home and never rent it, buy it as your permanent residence and live there year-round, or you can buy it as a combination second home and rental property. Most of the people who buy at the W use their condo as a combination of a second home and rental property. When owners are not in town, they sign a management contract with Starwood and Starwood manages the unit as a “hotel residence” which generates income for the owner.
W Fort Lauderdale was acquired by Related in 2014. Related has developed more than 80,000 condos over the past thirty years, and are clearly the largest condo developer in the U.S. After taking ownership, Related decided to do a $60 million renovation to the entire property. The W, Starwood and Related agreed to use New York-based design firm Meyer Davis to head up the redesign. Meyer Davis has also been hired by Related for Auberge Beach Residences & Spa, the Paraiso Bay Beach Club in Edgewater, Park Grove in Coconut Grove and 1 Hotel & Homes in South Beach.
PM: Do you see a need for more hotel branded residences in Fort Lauderdale?
CS: Absolutely. We are welcoming the Four Seasons, just two blocks north of the W, which promised to break ground this fall. The Four Seasons is the most recent addition to the high-end branded residences in the area, including W Fort Lauderdale and Ritz-Carlton.
PM: So, you guys were selling strong when a lot of other projects were slowing down?
CS: We are selling strong because Fort Lauderdale Beach is selling strong. The pricing gap between oceanfront properties in Miami Beach vs. oceanfront properties in Fort Lauderdale Beach has never been greater, and developers and buyers from around the world have noticed. Historically, the price difference from Miami Beach to Fort Lauderdale Beach has been about 25 to 30 percent, with Miami always getting the premium. Today, Miami Beach is about 200 percent more expensive than Fort Lauderdale Beach.
In the last three years, $1.5 billion in new development has taken place in Fort Lauderdale, 70 percent of which has already been sold.
PM: Where do you see most of the buyers coming from? Are there a lot of New Englander’s and New Yorkers who want a second home and like the supplemental income and the ability to show up with their golf clubs?
CS: The United States is the number one market for The Residences at W Fort Lauderdale. The overwhelming majority of buyers are from the northeast, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Chicago but also Canada, Toronto and Montreal. The next market after that is Brazil. Brazilians have discovered Fort Lauderdale and the price difference between Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale is very appealing to them. They love the beach, and the beach in front of the W is the nicest beach in Fort Lauderdale. Even though the dollar is high, they love the idea of buying into a condo hotel because they get their rental income in U.S. dollars, which is valuable for Brazilians.
PM: So how did you start to connect with Chinese buyers?
CS: I have owned my company for 25 years and we have done lots of work for developers, but I can honestly say, this is the first time I have ever sold to Chinese buyers. About 18 months ago, I started a division called ISG Asia and currently have 20 Mandarin-speaking agents working with me. A majority of China has not been exposed to South Florida and needs a lot of education on what Florida is and the different markets it includes. They are starting to discover South Florida and interest is rising because Florida is a bargain compared to pricing in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. The Chinese are only investing so far, mostly looking for income-producing properties. Of all of the properties I show them, The Residences at W Fort Lauderdale is one that they like the most because of its brand.
When President Xi visited President Donald Trump at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach in April, travel websites from China were completely sold out of availability for Florida. The visit was really big for Florida real estate in terms of introducing Florida to the biggest country in the world. By the end of 2017, we are supposed to have a non-stop flight from Tokyo, and by the end of 2018, we are supposed to have non-stop flights from Beijing and Singapore, which will be a real game changer for South Florida real estate.
PM: Can they move money freely out of China? How easy is it for them to invest their capital in the United States?
CS: Currently there is a $50,000 restriction per individual on foreign investments annually, which is a challenge. There are ways of getting around it, but it is very challenging. The Chinese government is watching them very closely at the moment.
PM: What else does Related Group and Related Companies have in store for Fort Lauderdale Beach?
CS: I think you will see Related develop more high-end condos like Auberge Beach Residences & Spa. The value difference between Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale Beach makes this Fort Lauderdale’s time.
About Craig Studnicky:
Craig Studnicky is a principal of International Sales Group, ISG, and has been a real estate broker for more than 25 years. Studnicky began his career in New York City as a sales associate in residential real estate for JPS Associates. In 1984, he founded Steven Craig Realty in Atlantic City where his firm became Atlantic City’s leader in real estate, cornering two thirds of the market. In 1992, Studnicky relocated to Florida to work as Director of Sales for Country Club Estates in Aventura from 1992 to 1994. In partnership with Philip J. Spiegelman, he co-founded International Sales Group. Under Studnickys’ leadership, ISG maintains the areas top-producing sales force who have posted record real estate sales. Studnicky is a licensed real estate broker in states of New Jersey and Florida. He holds a degree from Virginia Tech.