The Biscayne Times

May 19th
Affordable and Authentic PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shane M. Graber, BT Contributor   
April 2016

Palm Grove has found its groove

HPix_ShaneGraber_4-16ome prices continue to soar in South Florida, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Upper Eastside.

Headlines proclaim, “South Florida housing market barrels toward unaffordability,” and cite the home affordability trends index from RealtyTrac, which declares that South Florida markets are “headed in a direction of becoming not affordable.”

The Upper Eastside’s central location and proximity to downtown, airports, and the beaches, plus our burgeoning shopping and restaurant options, are fueling interest in our historic neighborhoods.

According to Miami Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Services (MLS) past 12-month sales records, this demand comes at a hefty price -- in most cases.

Bay Point, the uber-private, luxury enclave east of Biscayne just south of Morningside, commands the highest prices in the area, with an average sales price of $804 per square foot. This is more than double any other Upper Eastside neighborhood.

In Morningside, homes sold at an average sale price of $399 per square foot, and for most Miamians, this is not affordable.

Belle Meade and Bayside are somewhat more affordable: Belle Meade non-waterfront properties fetch $322 per square foot, and Bayside is close behind, at $316. (These figures include all sales, including foreclosures and short sales, so typical prices are actually higher in these neighborhoods.)

What is relevant, though, is the relative difference between neighborhoods -- and while many buyers believe they cannot afford the area, I’d suggest that they take a look at Palm Grove.

Palm Grove is the promised land.

The neighborhood stretches from NE 58th Street to NE 77th Street, just west of Biscayne Boulevard, across from Morningside, Bayside, and Belle Meade.

Palm Grove shares the same beneficial location and all of the services and amenities of the Upper Eastside, yet homes are valued at a fraction of the price -- for the time being, that is.

Case in point: Palm Grove homes sold for $227 per square foot -- or 68 percent less than non-waterfront Morningside homes, and one-third less than Belle Meade and Bayside homes.

This is an amazing opportunity for buyers seeking a more affordable Upper Eastside address.

Palm Grove homes mimic the architectural styles and layouts of those found in Morningside, Bayside, and Belle Meade; and the streets have traditional curbed sidewalks and swales, much like historic Morningside and Belle Meade.

It’s no surprise that many people refer to Palm Grove as Belle Meade West. In 2009 the City of Miami created the Palm Grove historic district, creating Miami’s “largest and most eclectic historic district,” and noting that “Palm Grove is illustrative of the growth and development of Miami from the 1920s through the late 1950s.”

The city’s historic designation report goes on to state that “the homes, apartment buildings, and multi-family units are representative of middle-class dwellings popular in Miami through each of the key phases in the city’s historical development: the boom era of the 1920s, Depression-era construction of the 1930s, and postwar construction of the 1940s and 1950s. Architectural styles in the district range from modest Miami-style bungalows to multi-family postwar residences.”

This is exactly the authenticity and character that today’s buyers are looking for.

Realtor Donald Wilson, a 16-year Palm Grove resident, stresses the affordability factor: “It’s one of the last Upper Eastside neighborhoods where a middle-management couple can still afford to buy a home.”

After months of searching in 2014, Alejandro de Onis, who works as a digital strategy director for a prominent national foundation, and his wife bought their first house -- a two-story 1937 wood-frame bungalow. With children in tow, the young professional family found themselves enamored of the Palm Grove neighborhood.

“Some neighborhoods can be cooked up from scratch by developers, de Onis tells the BT, “and Miami has no shortage of those. Other neighborhoods have something altogether, the right sofrito. Palm Grove has that special foundation that makes it an amazing place to live.”

De Onis and his wife are not alone. New buyers are pouring millions into the neighborhood, according to Wilson, who tells the BT that Palm Grove is reaching the point of critical mass, where more than half of the homes have been renovated.

Longtime Upper Eastside Realtor Lori Brandt stresses that area amenities are driving the interest: “Many of our buyers have become interested in Palm Grove due to its proximity to Biscayne Boulevard restaurants, the farmers market, and Vagabond, plus NE 4th Court and the Ironside complex.” All are within walking distance.

Wilson appreciates the sense of community. “It’s the type of neighborhood where everyone knows each other,” he explains. “There’s a sense of being in Palm Grove.”

James Davis, a.k.a. drag queen Elaine Lancaster, was a Palm Grove pioneer. Davis lives in the top floor of a beautifully restored 1938 multi-family apartment home on NE 63rd Street that he bought in 2002, after being introduced to the area by longtime friend Mark Soyka, founder of News Café and the eponymous Soyka restaurant.

“In 2002 I bought the building,” says Davis. “I wanted to buy on the Beach, but I didn’t have a lot of money. I’d worked hard for years, I renovated on my own, paying my way forward with the money I had made [as a performer] from the night before.... I wanted to be part of the transformation.”

Davis jokes that back then, he decided, either he [or she, as Lancaster] or the prostitutes had to go -- and he wasn’t about to go anywhere.

Today the pimps and drug dealers have been replaced by Starbucks and Beacon Hill Chocolates.

I can attest as well to the neighborhood’s change. In 2001 I bought a Palm Grove four-plex rental property on NE 68th Street. I still own that property, yet I recall how different things were a decade ago; my experience cleaning up that troubled property gave me an appreciation for the famous quote of Thomas Paine: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Clearly, though, I enjoy the pain and pleasure of renovating property, especially when I see the potential of an area like Palm Grove.

While de Onis has benefited from our housing affordability, he says he worries that the secret is out. “With its new and historic homes, walkability, access to parks, promising schools, and a Boulevard with tremendous economic potential, its affordability will be a thing of the past. It’s just a matter of time.”

Yet for now, with Miami home prices rising to painful levels, Palm Grove is a poster child for relative affordability. Its location, amenities, and potential are reason enough for buyers to grab the opportunity -- while it lasts!


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