New Heat players checking out Miami area's fancy home market

Since announcing he would be bringing his talents to South Beach, LeBron James has been called a one-man stimulus package for South Florida - but among the area's real estate circles, the Miami Heat's entire starting lineup looks like a walking, dribbling dollar sign. At least four of the Heat's highest-paid players are looking for a place to live. With hundreds of millions of dollars of net worth combined, the Heat's newest acquisitions - James, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller and Zydrunas Ilgauskas - could each drop millions on a new South Florida pad in the coming months. Add Dwyane Wade to that list of high-end house-hunters - the Heat's top scorer recently sold his six-bedroom Pinecrest mansion, and with the ink still wet on his $107 million dollar, six-year contract, he's looking for flashy new digs.

With the influx of vertically gifted men with eight-figure salaries, real estate agents - and multimillionaires trying to sell their homes - are watching, speculating and maneuvering like a small forward aiming for an offensive rebound.

"The Realtors, some of them are desperately throwing themselves at these athletes," said real estate agent Hazel Goldman, who recently sold Wade's home in Pinecrest for $2.5 million. "They're trying to show that they're the ones that have the 'in' and know the market and know what to buy."

The ultra-luxury homes James, Wade and Bosh could buy are grandiose and unashamedly lavish, featuring expansive waterfront views, high-tech amenities and vaulted ceilings that could dwarf a seven-footer. Of course, there are multimillion-dollar price tags as well, meaning juicy commissions for the agents involved in the deal.

The top-echelon options might not be as plentiful as you think - about 70 homes and condos in Miami-Dade County, where most Heat players have lived, are on the market with prices above $10 million (about 360 are above the $4 million mark).

With only six of these homes and condos selling for more than $10 million so far this year, the Heat players' potential purchases could be a boost to that niche segment of the area's troubled housing market, said Ron Shuffield, president of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtors

"There's a limited inventory of where they're going to look," he said. "There are 50 homes and 20 condos above $10 million. I'd say of those there are about 8 or 10 that they'll be considering."

James' six-year contract will add millions to his net worth, already estimated to be in the hundreds of millions thanks to seven years with the Cleveland Cavaliers and many high-profile endorsement deals. Bosh and Wade, who will both receive upwards of $13 million in the first year of their contracts, also have seven years of fat paychecks boosting their net worth. Being a resident of income-tax-free Florida will only increase their total take home pay.

The Heat's top trio - ages 25 to 28 - are close friends and could choose to live near each other in one of South Florida's top millionaire-friendly neighborhoods.

While most Heat players live in Miami-Dade, Broward County is not out of the running. Many ballplayers on the Florida Marlins and Miami Dolphins roster choose to live in Broward - Josh Johnson lives in Hallandale Beach and Hanley Ramirez lives in Weston - and a sleepy enclave in Plantation has housed at least a dozen professional athletes. But most agents expect the Heat players to opt for one of Miami-Dade's more famous and exclusive locales.

A $30 million mansion on private Fisher Island ranks among the most expensive homes on the market. The oceanfront 5-bedroom includes an in-balcony Jacuzzi, a conference center and high-end artwork. On Star Island, $29 million buys privacy on an 87,000-square-foot lot, and 304 feet of waterfront. Add a gazebo, resort-style pool, dozens of landscaped palm trees and two guest houses.

A home in the Tahiti Beach section of Coral Gables is on the market for $16.9 million. Selling points include a waterfront pool, more than 7,000 square feet of living space and enough land to install an outdoor basketball court.

If the agents listing these homes are meeting with the Heat stars, they aren't talking. The athletes are likely operating with strict confidentiality agreements, meaning the general public won't know where they've purchased until long after they've settled in.

But that doesn't stop the rumors from flying.

Gables Estates - a waterfront neighborhood that has housed a number of Heat elite including president Pat Riley - has been in the headlines recently as the potential locale of choice for James. In the days before James arrived in Miami, multiple Realtors heard that he had put in an offer on Alan Potamkin's $49.5 million mansion. The blogosphere lit up with the rumor, which eventually landed in Life & Style magazine, with the tabloid calling it a "slam dunk."

Potamkin cleared the air this week, stating that he had never been in contact with James.

"I have no idea how rumors like this get started," Potamkin told The Miami Herald this week. "I have no intention of selling my house."

That leaves hope for a number of listing agents looking to cash in on James' home purchase, likely to be the most extravagant of the Heat's buyers. Selling the super-star a mega-mansion, would net the lucky Realtor a hefty commission as well as the resume-boosting cache that comes with such a high-profile deal.

"It's very competitive," said Alex Shay, a Miami Beach luxury Realtor. "Sometimes you'll get an athlete and a celebrity by a phone call, by a listing you have, or simply if the athlete's agent likes you."

Shuffield, whose company has two of the 10 most expensive local properties on the market, said having a solid reputation and many high-end sales under your belt counts when big names come into a new market looking for a home.

"We've worked with a lot of people - Fortune 500 CEOs, owners of teams, community leaders," he said. "Our business is a relationship business.

Goldman, who sits on the board of an exclusive club of 250 Realtors called the Master Brokers Forum, said most of the agents competing for the Heat players know each other, and many agents are going to great lengths to one-up their competition. Some are updating their personal blogs and websites to reflect the vibe of South Beach's celebrity party scene, she said, questioning the authenticity of such moves.

"No one who is really working in real estate has time to party with the stars right now," she said.

Goldman, along with partner Denise Madan, made their pitch by sending Wade's agent a letter indicating interest in working with the star guard again as he looks for a new place. They even offered to give a portion of the sales commission to Wade's charity.

Like many agents hoping to score a deal this summer, they're still waiting on a response, but she said regardless of whether she is personally involved in a Heat player deal, the entire community benefits from having a team of all-stars living in South Florida.

"The good news is that our community has a tremendous amount of hype and the excitement," she said. "And all of that is good for Miami."

Miami Herald sportswriter Barry Jackson contributed to this report.


Ikem Chukumerije represents Buyers and Sellers in all luxury real estate communities including Beverly Hills, Malibu, Los Angeles, Bel Air, Santa Monica, Westwood, Brentwood, Venice, hollywood Hills, West Hollywood, Pacific Palisades, and Manhattan Beach. Contact Ikem at 323-350-8297 about buying or selling real estate in these areas.

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