Real Estate Fool's Gold

Construction boom and bust in Miami has buyers looking for a way out.

ByABC News
July 10, 2007, 10:39 AM

July 10, 2007 — -- You can't miss the flocks of cranes that hover over Miami's skyline. They were hatched by a condo fever that seized the city and fueled what is now the biggest construction boom in the country.

Not long ago the only thing going up faster than buildings in Miami was the prices -- and Lucy Blanco wanted in.

"It was going up so rapidly that I was fearful that if it went any higher I could not afford it anymore," she said. "So I needed to get it while it was still at a price I could affordbefore it went out of my range.

"If we don't hurry up and buy something now," she said, "we're never going to be able to buy anything."

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In February 2006, Blanco bought a preconstruction one-bedroom unit in a condo community called Quantum on the Bay. She paid $465,000. Today, however, Blanco estimates the property is worth $100,000 less than what she agreed to pay.

The condo has lost more than the value of Blanco's $93,000 deposit. And so, just as fast as Blanco wanted in, she now wants out. That's where Michael Schlesinger comes in.

Schlesinger is at the forefront of a new subspecialty in Miami real estate law, that might be called condo extractors. He said he gets 20 or more calls a week from people like Blanco.

"They're all asking the same questions," he said. "Can I get out? Do I have a chance to get my deposit back? If not, what are my options?"

Schlesinger said he looks for a flaw in the condo contract -- a blocked view, a change of design, delayed construction -- anything about the new building that allows him to argue the developer isn't delivering on what was promised.

Schlesinger said he's got about 50 active cases today. He only takes on a few new cases a week -- the ones he thinks he can win.

"Most of the time, unfortunately, I have [to] say that the contracts are too tight," he said. "There's not much I can do, and the options are either you close or you leave your deposit on the table."