March 15, 2005
The Real Deal: A Day At The Beach
By Anya Domlesky Portrait by Gio Alma
I absolutely ignore realtors, I do what I want, said Jordan Bock, who likes playing musical houses in Miami. If a house has sat on the market for more than a year I'd still buy it. I don't care what anyone else is thinking.
One day in late January, Bock, a 51-year-old consultant for non-profit companies and a 20-year Miami resident, was once again looking at houses, even though he already owned three very desirable properties. One, a property he turned into a rental in Coral Gables, is now under contract [asking price $750,000]. He lives in another, in Belle Meade, which is now also under contract [asking price $769,000]. The third is a condo he is moving into in the Walter Chatham Building at Aqua on Allison Island in Miami Beach. But that one is also for sale, for the right price: $1,175,000.
Kevin Tomlinson, a former nightclub promoter and DJ, and currently a licensed realty broker with EWM realtors, was showing Bock around Miami Beach. I buy houses because it's fun for me, Bock said. I am not in it to make money. Bock, who moves easily from home to home with his mutt, Katie, also buys his properties on instinct, regardless of what anyone has to say. And there are a lot of people who want to have a say. He spreads his net wide, staying in contact with 10 realtors, he said, so I keep in control. He also has a veritable cavalry on hand [an inspector, gardeners, plumbers, electricians, and three movers, all of whom are on speed dial] to help him with various aspects of his serial purchases.
Tomlinson, driving a black Infiniti QX56, took Bock to the first of the six different Miami Beach properties he was showing him that day, a ranch-style, four-bedroom, three-bath house at 4771 North Bay Road, listed at $899,000. The listing agent, Michael Toomey, architectural plans in hand, let Bock have an uninterrupted look around. It took only a five-minute inspection of the smallish bedrooms, the generously furnished living room with track lighting, and the high-walled patio for Bock to make up his mind. This house doesn't spill. It needs to spill out, and it spills in, he said. There were few real views, no easy ways to get outside and absolutely no indication that the house was situated in a tropical paradise. The puzzle with this house, he said, is to bring the outside in.
And that kind of major renovation is not Bock's style. He typically moves households every seven to eight months, 24 hours being the shortest stint [a house bought next to his own in Tavernier, in the Keys] and two years the longest [a 1923 house once owned by the Burdine family in Coconut Grove.] Such short time spans mean that Bock will typically not take on a property requiring new windows or walls moved. The most work he has ever done was to replace a roof, a project that cost him $50,000. The replacement allowed him to sell the house more quickly but didn't return much in the sale price.
Usually he sticks to ripping down wallpaper, taking out spray-on popcorn ceilings and making houses look more modern, often with a scoop and white-out. Scooping, Tomlinson explained, means taking small rooms apart and opening up the floor plan; a white-out, he said, involves painting everything white to clean up the confusion.
"I refresh," Bock said. "I don't do over."
He explained: "You know someone who is going for good plastic surgery, They check in for a week, that is what the houses are doing with me."
'I keep it very simple," he said. "If we don't do it my way, it's out the door."
Bock loved the location of the next house, at 25 La Gorce Circle, priced at $2,895,000. From the second story of the six-bedroom, six-and-a-half-bath house, he could see Biscayne Bay over the beautiful, undeveloped garden section of the double lot across the street that was worth $10 million.
But the glow wore off as Bock looked around.
"I don't like this house," he told Tomlinson. "It's very pretty, but I can't stand it. There is nothing for me to do." Bock saw the only possibility for improvement in the addition of a family room, a major project that didn't interest him.
So on to 6624 Allison Road, where he encountered the Villa Manresa. This pre-war five-bedroom, five-bath hacienda-style house, priced at $2.8 million, could not be more than 50 percent expanded under city code. On the other hand, Bock loved the prospect of the waterside lot, "worth $2.8 million alone", he said.
But he found the confusing interior plan vexing. "Where are there more rooms," he asked Tomlinson. 'How do I get to them?"
Tomlinson, who has sold Bock five properties over the past four years, said that he likes the way Bock works. "Jordan is good at staging the house," Tomlinson said, by which he means propping it so it looks good to buyers. And he also likes the fact the Bock is, as he puts it "very liquid."
"That means that when he puts his properties on the market, he prices them to sell," he said.
Bock said he typically makes only $20,000 to $50,000 on any one property because, he said, he doesn't like to hold out for maximum profit like some speculators do, but instead likes working with people on the projects and then moving forward.
The fourth house Bock saw that day at 4215 Post Avenue was not on the water, what Tomlinson calls a "dry lot," but still carried a $739,000 price tag. The 1920s yellow painted bungalow has several strikes against it: a tiny, less than 1/4-acre lot, cramped rooms, and like many houses on the Beach, a spalling problem. Miami Beach realtor Kevin Tomlinson says that spalling is common in Miami Beach. "It usually occurs in homes built in the mid to late 20s and early 30s," he says. The sand used to mix concrete for the house's walls was taken right from the beach. The salt in the sand corrodes the rebar inside the walls and literally busts the walls apart.
In the car on the way to the next contestant, Tomlinson and Bock talk about the real estate market. Tomlinson describes the recent disappearance of the $200,000 house from the Miami Beach market, the disappearance of the $300,000, the $400,000 and the $500,000 property.
"We're in the middle of seeing the $600,000 house become unavailable," Tomlinson said. Bock agreed, "People are being priced out of the house market," he said. "That is what makes sure all the condos will sell."
On a whim, Tomlinson showed Bock a $950,000 house at 6050 La Gorce Drive, which backs up to the La Gorce Country Club's golf course.
Almost immediately the two men found themselves in the unusually large backyard, because the house was crammed toward the front of the lot. The interior, Bock felt, had too many rooms packed in and would require a lot of work to open up.
The price was too high he decided, and the house too irksome to work with.
On to the sixth house of the day, a modest house on a 6,750-square-foot lot at 4320 Post Avenue. It had all the qualifications Bock was looking for: three bedrooms, three baths and a new roof. But inside the $629,000 house there was a heavy, musty smell. Tomlinson amusedly sprung up and down on a section of the wood flooring in the hallway and Bock found himself stuck in the claustrophobic "Florida Room, which had boxes stacked five high, preventing an exit to the advertised huge backyard."
Although the price was decent, Bock said, and the neighborhood was certainly on the way up, the long pokey hallway and "dormitory-style layout" put the house far from consideration.
If he absolutely had to choose one of the six houses, Bock said, it would be the first house he saw, on North Bay Road.
"I like lotsa pretension," Bock said. And with Calvin Klein, Jennifer Lopez, and Ricky Martin as neighbors, one thing is for certain, he'd have it in spades.