When the Regent Bal Harbour condo-hotel hit the market in 2005, it fetched some of the highest prices seen in Miami.
Rooms of 500 square feet sold for $550,000 -- that's $1,100 per square foot. In the luxury building, condo owners could tap into all the hotel amenities, including room service.
"Back in the day, people were really excited. And this was a trophy location with spectacular views, spectacular quality, spectacular name brand recognition," said Peter Zalewski of Condo Vultures Realtors. "People jumped in."
Last week, that same $550,000 unit sold for a mere $32,000 when an investment fund bought 51 heavily discounted units from the bankrupt builder.
The drastic price cut is a casualty of the South Florida real estate collapse. Miami is now buried in unsold buildings.
The Regent is one of nine bulk sales that have seen so-called vulture funds scoop up hundreds of condos at discounts of 50 percent to 90 percent. But don't rush to get your check book, the Regent sale was a one-of-a-kind deal in which the buyers bought most of the building.
But there is good news for the average person in all this: Prices are falling so far that properties are beginning to move. In 2005, at the height of the market, 21,000 homes sold in Miami Dade County; in 2008, that number dropped to only 9,000. This year, sales are rebounding and are on track to hit 12,500.
So how much more time before the market hits rock bottom?
"I think here in Miami we're looking at least the middle of next year, middle of 2010," said Jack McCabe, a housing analyst of McCabe Research and Consulting.
In 2005, Carlos Bergouignan began looking for homes with his wife. Properties that once sold for $350,000 were suddenly selling for $600,000.
Bergouignan decided to sit on the sidelines. He feared he might have to rent for the rest of his life, but he said he just couldn't rationalize being over-mortgaged.
"I didn't feel comfortable with pulling the trigger with prices the way they were. It was way too high," he said.
"Now that the market is correcting itself to the prices as they should be, it's definitely the time to get in. Some people say 'how do you know?' and you never really know. The property values next month are going to continue to go down. But at this point I'm comfortable enough to get in," he said.
Last week, Bergouignan put in an offer on a home just blocks from Miami's downtown. He's confident that at $330,000 he got a good deal. That price is typical of what's selling -- 86 percent of the homes and condos that have sold this year are going for under $350,000.
For those looking for bargains, McCabe recommended buying if you plan to keep the property for five to seven years.
"There are some early deals out there that make sense," he said. "But if you think you're going to make money on a quick flip in the next three to five years, I'd say you're probably better off in the stock market."
The bottom of the market may be closer, but recovery is still a long way away.