Real estate agents, investors and homeowners are watching in amazement as historic and once-sleepy residential enclaves in West Palm Beach have turned into multi-million dollar homes.
After more than a century, some neighborhoods in West Palm Beach are becoming as hot for buyers as homes in nearby Palm Beach.
In fact, with home prices twice as much on the island, it’s no longer just about living in Palm Beach’s 33480 zip code, said Leslie Holvey, a real estate agent with Ambassador Realty Corp.
These days, buyers are finding, or building, their dream luxury homes across the bridge in West Palm Beach. “It’s all about the 33405,” Holvey said.
Real estate agents, investors and homeowners are watching in amazement as historic and once-sleepy residential enclaves in West Palm Beach along Flagler Drive have turned into multi-million dollar homes.
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It’s a trend that’s been building during the past decade but has experienced a big boost in the past few years.
Wealthy families move south from the Northeast to escape high taxes, and Palm Beachers crossing the bridge to enjoy the restaurants, culture and entertainment options in lively West Palm Beach, are among the new buyers in these neighborhoods.
One of the hottest sections is “SoSo,” short for south of Southern Boulevard, where old homes are being snapped up, torn down and rebuilt into mansions.
Home construction in SoSo began mostly in the 1950s with just a few floor plan variations, said Steve Simpson of William Raveis South Florida.
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In SoSo, the streets are unique and the lots are large, making the area popular with buyers who want to tear down old structures and build something big and new.
“In 20 years, it will all be new homes down through there,” Simpson said.
Many of these new homes are being built in a clean and contemporary style, a break from the fussy look of Mediterranean homes, said real estate associate Burt Minkoff.
“New Med is dead,” said Minkoff, of Douglas Elliman Real Estate on Palm Beach.
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Neighborhoods such as El Cid and Prospect Park have seen their share of homes torn down and rebuilt, too.
But many of the homes in these neighborhoods are deemed historic and can’t be modified, meaning there is a limited supply of non-historic homes that can be torn down.
Earlier this year, West Palm Beach’s most important deal took place in Prospect Park at 2914 Washington Road on the Intracoastal Waterway
Builder Steve Bendat tore down the house on the property and built a new coastal contemporary mansion.
In May, Minkoff sold the home for a whopping $11.5 million, the most expensive home ever sold in West Palm Beach.
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The house features a large dock, infinity pool and guest house. Inside, the home has six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a library and a wine vault. Finishes include limestone floors, chocolate marble in selected bathrooms, plus $65,000 worth of high-end faucets and fixtures.
Bendat now is building an ultra-contemporary home in SoSo, at 6717 S. Flagler Drive, on the corner of Flagler Drive and Forest Hill Boulevard.
The home could be listed for sale for $14 million or more.
The house feature a rooftop entertainment deck, two elevators, solar panels and floor-to-ceiling glass. Construction is slated for completion in early 2020.
In 2015, Ambassador’s Realty Holvey worked with Bendat to identify this site, the Washington Road property and three other West Palm Beach waterview homes that could be torn down and rebuilt into “spec” homes for sale.
Holvey said she became aware that Palm Beach was falling out of favor with buyers who wanted a modern look but could not build to this style, due to the town’s strict architecture review standards.
In addition, owning a waterview home with updated features is half the price in West Palm Beach compared to Palm Beach, Minkoff said.
“A home that sells for $2.75 million here would be $7.8 to $8 million on the island,” Minkoff said.
Moving to West Palm Beach has become even more appealing as the population has grown and traffic gridlock has set in, especially during winter season. Real estate agents say many Palm Beach residents are tiring of the trips fighting traffic across the bridge from Palm Beach into West Palm Beach, where families with children need to travel to attend school or sports activities.
As a result, residential neighborhoods east of Dixie Highway are a hidden gem, near but not in the city’s lively downtown.
Hilary Grinker Musser knows this first-hand.
The interior designer sold a home on Palm Beach near Mar-a-Lago to buy a home for $3 million in SoSo, at 5615 S. Flagler Drive. The six-bedroom home is across the street from the Intracoastal and boasts water views.
Last year, she sold that home for $5 million to Kelly Ortberg, who heads a new United Technologies Corp. aerospace division at the Phillips Point office complex in downtown West Palm Beach.
Musser moved into a property at 3200 Washington Road, which she bought for $3 million in 2016.
She had torn down the old ranch-style house on the site and then built a new contemporary home. The house was featured in October’s Florida Design Magazine.
The five-bedroom house, directly on the Intracoastal Waterway, has 11,325 square feet of space inside and out.
Musser would not disclose how much her new house cost to build, although the county property appraiser pegs its value at $5.1 million.
Musser she said couldn’t be more thrilled by her new waterfront home and her decision to stay in West Palm Beach. “I’ve always wanted to live on the water but it was too expensive to live on the water on Palm Beach,” she said. “So I kept my eye on waterfront properties.”
Musser isn’t alone in making her way from Palm Beach to West Palm Beach.
The Bristol, a 68-unit condominium just completed at 1100 S. Flagler Dr., has lured about half of its buyers from Palm Beach, real estate agents say.
Among them is Palm Beach philanthropist Sydell Miller, who paid $43 million for an entire penthouse floor.
Sydell’s purchase gave added legitimacy to West Palm Beach, Minkoff said, blurring the lines between the two cities.
Builders say demand for new construction in this part of West Palm Beach is a growing trend. “I’ve been in the area for 15 years, building since 2009,” said Paolo Weston of Weston Construction. “It was mostly additions and renovations of existing houses but very little new construction.”
“Now it’s all new construction and everything is being torn down,” Weston said. “It started about five and six years ago, and it’s not just waterfront. It’s inland and landlocked.”
Today, old homes are sandwiched between new homes featuring a variety of architectural styles.
Nowhere is the mishmash of design more evident than on one street in SoSo, on Edmor Road.
There, Chris Allen Homes built three spec houses with the same floor plan but different architectural styles.
The West Indies home at 245 Edmor Road sold for $1.6 million in February, the modern home at 241 Edmor sold in August for $1.5 million, and the Spanish style home at 249 Edmor also sold in August for $1.48 million.
Numerous other homes have sold in SoSo for even more money during the past few months, according to recent sales information provided by Minkoff.
A five-bedroom home at 255 Murray Road sold for $2.97 million in June, a six-bedroom home at 245 Essex Lane sold for $2.75 million in August, and a five-bedroom home at 201 Miramar Way sold for $2.75 million in September.
Homes with water views sell for much more, of course.
For instance, a house in SoSo at 6215 S. Flagler Drive is listed for sale at $7.95 million. It sits across the street from the Intracoastal Waterway and features five bedrooms and eight bathrooms.
If that price is too rich, there’s a six-bedroom home closer to Olive Avenue at 260 Palmetto Lane that’s for sale for $5.6 million.
These big sales and heavy trading come as no surprise to Louis Mrachek, a SoSo resident since 1986.
The West Palm Beach attorney bought a vacant lot and built a two-story home at 5511 S. Flagler Drive, where he raised his children and now welcomes his grandchildren.
During the past few years, Mrachek said he’s seen new and larger homes being built, as well as existing homes expanded. It seems that others now are discovering what he’s known for more than 30 years.
With the waterfront, scenic view of Palm Beach and growth of eateries along Dixie Highway, “it’s a terrific place to live,” Mrachek said.