David deMartino just bought a 760-square-foot, one-bathroom condo for $212,900 in the booming market of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He's already ordered custom flooring and cabinets and a flat-screen TV, but he has no plans to move there.
That's because the condo is for his collection of cars and motorcycles.
The idea of buying a parking space is nothing new in crowded urban areas. A 180-square-foot space at the Brimmer Street Garage in Boston's exclusive Beacon Hill neighborhood just sold for $200,000, according to a garage manager.
But a parking space may be exposed to the elements, or next to a rowdy family's hulking sport utility vehicle. That's why some enthusiasts with money to burn are turning to car condos, where their vehicles will be stored in individual, weatherproof, air-conditioned garages with 24-hour security and concierge services.
"It's just peace of mind for my collection," said deMartino, 47, who plans to store a 1930 Ford Model A coupe, a 1961 Corvette convertible, a 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280SL and three special edition motorcycles in his condo.
Three car condo developments are scheduled to open in south Florida by the end of 2007, and developers say they've already sold between 20 and 30 percent of the condos available.
Park Place Car Condo is opening a 224-garage facility in North Miami and a 179-garage facility in Fort Lauderdale and plans to open locations in New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla., and Scottsdale, Ariz., in the next few years. Developer Kevin Buckley said Park Place condos start at $150,000 for a 620-square-foot condo for three cars and go up to $400,000 for an 1,800-square-foot condo that can house a bus.
Buckley said so far, typical buyers have been men in their late 40s to early 60s who have earned enough to buy the muscle cars that enchanted them in high school. Others plan to use their condos for boats and Jet Skis, he said.
"It's part car culture and then a lot of people who are just interested in safe, secure storage," he said.
Another car condo development, DreamCar Carriage House, plans to open a 120-car facility in the Fort Lauderdale area next spring and is scouting for more Florida locations in Naples, Miami and Palm Beach, said Dayna Heit, a car collector who is developing the facility along with her husband. Prices range from $59,000 for a 300-square-foot condo to more than $200,000 for a 972-square-foot condo. Heit says an antique Rolls Royce and a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air are among the future tenants.
Buckley and Heit say Florida was a logical place to start their businesses because of the number of nearby high-rise housing developments with ocean views but little storage space.
"In most of the new urban high-rises, the average guy has 100 cubic feet in a little cage somewhere," said Buckley, who has previously developed high-end retail complexes. "You've had this massive redevelopment in affluent urban areas in the last five to 10 years, but the storage market really hasn't kept up with that."
Heit said buyers also consider car condos an investment.
"It's a piece of real estate as well as a place to put your car," Heit said. "It's very minimal compared to what you're paying for the homes down here."
The threat of hurricanes also is a problem for car collectors. Right now, deMartino keeps half his collection in his two-car garage in Boca Raton, Fla., and half in a warehouse, which has been breached by flood waters and damaged by high winds.
"It kills me. I can't have it," said deMartino, an entrepreneur and chief executive of Ozonelite Inc., a company that makes air-purifying light bulbs.
Both Park Place and the DreamCar Carriage House will offer concierges to take care of details such as picking up and dropping off owners, tuning up the cars before a drive or washing and waxing. The Carriage House will have an onsite photography studio where owners can commission portraits of their cars. Park Place offers infrared cameras that will allow owners to view their cars 24 hours a day, and it will send a message to an owner's cell phone if security is breached.
Car collectors don't have to own a condo to get those kinds of services. At the Collectors Car Garage in Bedford Hills, N.Y., members can rent a parking space in a secure, environmentally controlled facility with concierge service for $345 a month.
Manager James Machinist says the rental concept seems to work for his customers. His facility, which has been open since January 2005, already is over capacity with 191 cars ranging in price from $5,000 to $1.5 million.
"I liken it to a yacht club. Instead of having a slip, you have a car space," he said.
But Buckley says he thinks people will prefer owning a condo because they can customize it. Among the options offered to Park Place buyers are custom rubber flooring and hydraulic lifts so they can store more cars.
"We felt like people would want to be able to put everything they wanted in there and be able to control the entire thing once they closed the door," Buckley said. "We didn't want to be in the business of running a warehouse full of cars."
DeMartino said he's more willing to invest in extras because he'll own the condo. He'd also consider buying a car condo in another city so he can use his cars and motorcycles when he travels.
For now, deMartino is just happy that his days of running back and forth between his hot garage, where he works on his cars, to his air-conditioned home to watch NASCAR races will be coming to an end.
"I spend a lot of my time in the garage polishing them," he said. "To me, they're artwork."