For about a year, so-called vulture funds have circled South Florida's besieged real-estate market, waiting for enough carnage to force deep discounts on large blocks of unsold condominiums. Some think last week's meltdown on Wall Street may herald the arrival of that moment.
As many as 100 investment funds are shopping for South Florida real estate, hoping to buy extremely low during the current crisis. Their main target: condominium towers where developers and their lenders can't sell enough units to pay off the loans used to build them.
''The bottom fishers, if you will, have been standing around the sidelines,'' said Victor Lopez, a former Hyatt development executive now assembling commercial deals. 'A lot of people out there are saying: `This is our time to get in.' ''
If he's right, it would be one of the clearest signs yet that South Florida's beleaguered real-estate market had bottomed, bringing the region closer to a recovery. If vulture investors are buying, the view goes, it's safer for others to start buying as well.
The funds come to the table with cash, but also a catch: a demand that the developers and banks accept a deep discount, typically between 40 and 50 cents on the dollar.
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