Saturday, July 28, 2007

Florida real estate bubble in 1920s

A lesson for the current situation in the property market. Are we doing the same thing as those people in the past? Read this and learn from it.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
by George Santayana

Florida Real Estate Bubble

The 1920’s, in America, were a time of great prosperity. Skilled and educated working Americans had jobs providing numerous fringe benefits, paid vacations and pensions. In addition, automobiles were becoming commonplace for the wealthy and middle class allowing cross country travel. This good fortune set the stage for the Florida real estate bubble.

Starting in 1920, many Americans became enamored by the materialistic and prosperous lifestyle of the time. During this time, the stock market was moving forward at an extremely fast pace. Many investors were becoming quite wealthy. Florida became a hot spot for these newly rich people, who didn’t enjoy the cold. Many whole families took vacations to Florida. It was at this point that tourism started booming and land prices were skyrocketing. Many astute investors took notice and started buying Florida real estate. The population in Florida was growing exponentially and housing couldn’t meet the demand. Florida became the “playground of the rich and famous”. Illegal casinos and drinking parlors became widespread in Miami.

At this point, almost anybody could invest in Florida, even without much money. Credit was plentiful and soon everybody in Florida was either a real estate investor or a real estate agent. In 1922, the Miami Herald became the heaviest newspaper in the world as a result of its humongous real estate advertisements. People in the North heard about the real estate prices “doubling and tripling”, causing a snowball effect. Capital was rapidly pumped into the real estate market. Whole golf communities were developed, such as Temple Terrace. Resorts and retirement communities were developed almost overnight. Mansions were sprawling in every area, as were swimming pools. As always, waterfront property was the most desirable. Florida was seen as a veritable Utopia.

Real estate prices quadrupled in less than one year. An elderly man invested $1,700 in property and by 1925 the property was worth over $300,000! It seemed you could do no wrong by just buying any property in Florida and become a millionaire. By 1925, real estate prices had become so exorbitant that buying land wasn’t affordable any longer. New investors failed to arrive and old investors started to sell. Panic arrived, as it always does, and the real estate market crashed. Prices kept moving downwards as heavily indebted investors tried to sell to avoid bankruptcy. In most cases, no buyers arrived, and the investors were bankrupt from the enormous mortgages.

These are pictures taken from wikipedia of the failed development over at Florida, known as the Isola di Lolando. The concrete pilings for the development still sits there while the company, Shoreland Company and the Venetian Island company are no longer around.

To make matters even worse, a highly destructive hurricane ravaged South Florida in September 1926. The 125 mile an hour winds eventually turned Palm Beach County into swamp lands. After the storm, a huge tidal wave crashed upon the towns of Belle Glade and Moore Haven. Due to these horrible turn of events, over 13,000 homes were destroyed and 415 people died. Additionally, the arrival of the Mediterranean fruit fly obliterated the large citrus industry. It took years for Florida to fully recover, even through the highly prosperous time from 1925 to 1929. Florida was barely affected in the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, because of its poor financial state from the start.

Market crashes always occur in the same manner. Regardless of the market, the same simple psychological underpinnings are always at work. People who are caught up in a bubble never look back for historical examples. For this folly, they become paupers.