In a special feature of Breaking Ground, we sat down with Gary Saul, Co-Chair of Greenberg Traurig’s Miami Real Estate Practice to discuss the legal aspects of real estate.
We dove into buyer’s rescission rights, contract advice for developers, and project financing in Florida. Plus, we reflected on market conditions, federal law changes, and the 2008 real estate crisis.
But before we dive in, we encourage you to enjoy the full interview here:
Len: Welcome, Gary! I want to start by having you give some background on yourself and your firm, Greenberg Traurig.
Gary: Thanks, Len. I started at Greenberg in 1984 when our goal was to reach 90 lawyers by 1990. Fast forward, we now have about 2,700 lawyers across 42 global locations. I stay focused here in Miami though, trying to mind my own business in the real estate world.
Len: And you’re being modest – you’re recognized nationally for your real estate law expertise, especially with large luxury developments. Is it true your firm handles legal work for over 85% of new condo projects in Florida?
Gary: We like to say we want them all and have a good cross-section. I can’t take credit for our growth, but we do strive to work with all the major developers in the state.
Len: Let’s discuss some hot topics. What are the biggest current challenges for luxury developers and how do you advise them?
Gary: A few core issues persist – high construction costs, insurance rate increases, rising interest rates. But Miami’s resilience and growth helps offset those headwinds. Developers focus on world-class design to maintain buyer interest. My job is crafting structures for branded projects to align with hospitality standards while complying with Condo Act unit owner protections.
Len: What do you see as the biggest challenges for developers of luxury properties today?
Gary: Major pain points include escalating construction costs and rising insurance rates. However, Miami’s strong growth and developers creating exceptional luxury designs help counter those difficulties. I also have to craft branded project legal structures to meet both hospitality brand standards and Florida Condo Act unit owner protections.
Len: On that note, what are top considerations nowadays for structuring high-end deals and sales contracts?
Gary: The priority is being able to deliver what you promise to buyers. I start working with developers years before projects launch, evaluating buyer demand and financing needs. Control is key – ensuring the vision aligns with realities ahead like secured bank funding based on pre-sales, potential legal changes, and competent project management through completion.
Len: Florida has unique progress payment programs – can you outline how they work?
Gary: Buyers can pay any amount at any time, but deposits function in two buckets: under 10% of purchase price and above 10%. Deposits under 10% remain in escrow unless we post “alternative assurances” like bonds equal to those deposits. That safeguards buyer funds but allows developers access by collateralizing with bonds. Deposits above 10% can be taken from escrow and used for construction costs once vertical building begins. Lenders rely on those progress payments to cover parts of project funding needs.
Len: How about project delivery timelines – what are typical contract standards today?
Gary: Back in the day, federal law mandated completion within two years via the now-defunct Interstate Land Sales contract exemption. Without those regulations, I include reasonable buffer periods beyond the developer’s actual projected finish date – often adding 6 to 18 months. That anticipation of possible delays balances buyer delivery expectations with the complex realities developers face like supply chain disruptions. If we miss contracted timeframes, buyers can declare default and pursue damages.
Len: We’re seeing more “no rental restriction” buildings branded like hotels but without on-site management. How do those impact legal planning?
Gary: Structuring them doesn’t raise huge concerns for me, but I worry about potential chaos when owners become individual entrepreneurs without unified brand standards. We can implement some guardrails like occupancy limits, quality controls, and transparency on who is on premises. But enforcement is difficult without staff acting as police. Ultimately maintenance of standards and building rules falls to the democratic votes of unit owner boards. So the bulk of owners determine if things slip to being run like a frat house instead of a luxury hotel.
Len: As we wrap up, tell us about an impactful lesson you learned over your long career?
Gary: My primary trait as a lawyer is fear and paranoia! I know there’s always more to learn so I spend time listening and understanding perspectives across the industry – from developers to agents to paralegals to buyers. We had almost 20,000 buyer contracts when the 2008 housing crash started. Buyers uniformly tried canceling sales and claiming legal outs. Standing firm on doing proper work under the circumstances was critical, and we ultimately prevailed in court back then. But it reinforced understanding all sides and doing right by people ultimately determines success.