Writer: Felipe Rivas
2 min read March 2021 —In 2020, the South Florida residential market was teeming with expectations of yet another strong year. Then the COVID-19 pandemic made its way stateside. The initial calls for quarantine and the decimating of the travel and hospitality sectors triggered flashbacks of the Great Recession for many realtors, developers, investors, homeowners and managing agencies.
However, a year into the pandemic, the South Florida real estate market remains strong, buoyed by the low-interest rate environment, low supply, strong property values, positive migration from the West Coast and the Northeast and the unabated appeal of South Florida to financial and technology companies.
Locally, property management companies continue to place an emphasis on safety for staff and homeowners while striving to maximize the residential lifestyle experience despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Dania Beach-based FirstService Residential, which manages more than 8,500 properties across the country and Canada, is among those firms keen on ensuring residents can enjoy the South Florida lifestyle safely, especially as the pandemic continues.
“Homeowners are feeling safer at this point in the pandemic life cycle,” FirstService Residential’s South Region President David Diestel told Invest:.“Our property management teams guided them on how to manage the pandemic based on CDC directives. Homeowners are feeling excited for the future, particularly with the widespread availability of several vaccines, and are looking forward to enjoying community life and amenities, seeing family and planning holiday events,” he said.
However, though optimism abounds today, the pandemic’s initial impact was felt almost immediately. “The Board of Directors of the condos and communities we manage were concerned. The impact on the area’s economy was felt almost instantly,” Diestel said. “How were homeowners – many of whom were unemployed or underemployed – going to continue paying their dues to keep their communities running? How were communities going to afford the extra expenses brought on by the pandemic?” Diestel added: “We quickly created a forecast tool to assist communities in assessing their financial position and supported them with operational changes and access to short-term loans.”
South Florida’s residential market performance was a strong silver lining in a year marred by high unemployment, eviction moratoriums and grim headlines induced by the health crisis. Fortunately, FirstService Residential has not seen a noticeable increase in delinquencies, Diestel said. Factors such as government stimulus and understanding the importance of continuing to maintain a homeowners association allowed for the positive performance of the communities the firm manages. “The financial health of the associations we manage has been maintained, unlike back in 2008 when we saw delinquencies rise and financial distress. From the get-go, our teams worked in partnership with our association leaders to identify budget concerns and provide solutions, if needed,” he said.
“It has always been in our DNA to support and be committed to the communities we manage and the residents we serve but our teams really stepped up to the challenge posed by COVID-19. Our ability to make a difference when it matters the most – through hurricanes, floods and now through the coronavirus – was unprecedented. We were able to respond, protect our homeowners by implementing operational guidelines and protocols and keep our associates safe, including transitioning to remote work for our teams where possible. As the industry leader, we made our operational guidelines available to the public, to allow other management companies and self-managed communities to benefit from our expertise,” Diestel added.
As the market remains active in terms of prices and demand, many investors, developers, potential homeowners and property management companies wonder if these trends will remain sustainable as 2021 continues.
“We continue to see a lot of activity insofar as people moving into the communities we manage. Plus, the new developments we partner with are selling at a very fast pace. Florida continues to be a desirable destination, especially as remote work has become more widely acceptable,” Diestel said, adding that the industry is closely observing how the lifting of mortgage freezes and eviction moratoriums will play out in the market. “We will continue to support our associations should that scenario become reality, with tools for forecasting and for developing a solid budget. We will help them address any gaps by coordinating access to funds via lines of credit and loans.”
Looking forward, fostering a diverse workforce and delivering an elevated resident experience are among the main focus points for FirstService Residential.
“We’re taking action to communicate the value we place on associates of different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, religions, gender, sexual orientation, ages and physical abilities. By promoting a diverse workforce, we build a strong foundation to serve our diverse clients while cultivating an inclusive culture for teams and leaders to embrace differences and consider divergent points of view,” said Diestel. “We believe the most lasting and effective way to build great relationships is through respect, trust and communication, where everyone’s voice is heard, respected and appreciated.”
“Today’s homeowner is looking for an elevated resident experience, they’re looking for amenities like food and beverage options at their condos and communities and health and wellness opportunities. One of our core values is to ‘Improve It’ and FirstService is continuously developing upgraded hospitality programs to deliver the exceptional service that today’s residents demand,” Diestel added.
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