The Next America

Fisher Island: America’s most exclusive zip code

Jeremy Hobson Jan 25, 2013
The Next America

Fisher Island: America’s most exclusive zip code

Jeremy Hobson Jan 25, 2013

Fisher Island is only minutes south of Miami Beach by boat. But for most Miamians, it might as well be light years away. The island houses some of the richest of the rich in condos that sell for upwards of 12 million dollars. And it’s not just the prices that keep the 99 percent out. Fisher Island is only accessible by ferry, and only if you know the right people.

A security guard greets cars at the private ferry terminal, if greeting means demanding photo IDs for every passenger in the car to be checked against a guest list in the guardhouse. As it happens, we were on the list, thanks to real estate broker Chris Bluntzer of the luxury real estate outfit The Bluntzer Group. Bluntzer is one of the few brokers who sells property on Fisher Island. After a quick ferry ride through sparkling aquamarine waters, we met up with Bluntzer for a golf cart tour of Fisher Island.

A condo development on Fisher Island

 “It’s 217 acres, and you’ve got a private club, you’ve got the old Vanderbilt mansion, tennis courts, tiki bar, beach club… A little bit of everything,” says Bluntzer. Yes, he means those Vanderbilts. They owned the island in through 1930s after purchasing it from the eponymous Carl Fisher in 1927.

And like the Vanderbilts, Bluntzer says, most of the people who own condos on Fisher Island don’t live there full time. “For a lot of people, this may be their third or fourth or fifth home.” The island has on average about a thousand people living on it at a time. In the off season, there may be more gardeners and housekeepers than residents on the island.

So where do the people on Fisher Island live the rest of the year? “You have a huge influx of Brazilians, you have a large group of Russians and you have a lot of primarily East Coast Americans,” says Bluntzer.

Parts of Fisher Island offer stunning views of the Miami skyline

When the housing bubble burst in the U.S., Brazilians flooded into the luxury market in South Florida. They had ready cash and knew a good deal when they saw one. Fisher Island’s housing prices are still off about 20 percent from the peak, Bluntzer says, but more Americans are buying again and prices are going up. Bluntzer says more U.S. buyers signify more confidence in the domestic economy.

What money can buy

Puttering around the island on a golf cart means waving hello to every person jogging or walking their dog through the quiet streets. It also gives you a pretty good glimpse at some of the reasons Fisher Island is another world away from the mainland. Like the custom golf carts made to look like Hummers or Porsches. Or the yachts floating in the marina.

“I spoke with the crew of that far yacht over there the other day and they were telling me that it cost the owner about 40 million dollars. We sell slips here as well, and we’ve sold slips for anywhere from a million to two million dollars just for the slip,” says Bluntzer.

The 40-million-dollar yacht in Fisher Island’s marina

And it’s not just the tangibles that have people throwing down millions for condos on Fisher Island. “One of the reasons a lot of people buy here — as you experienced coming on — it’s very private. If you’re not cleared with security by one of the owners or club members, you’re not allowed on the island,” Bluntzer says. “Safety, security and privacy. A lot of these folks, they’re not necessarily celebrities, but they’re very successful. And what they want is privacy and not to have to worry about being bothered all the time.”

Living the dream

Past the lazily floating manatees in the marina; beyond the grass, clay and traditional tennis courts; around the bend from the private beach with a view of the Miami skyline is the newest development on Fisher Island. Bluntzer took us up a private elevator to the fourth floor to show us what six million dollars buys on the island.

Bluntzer offers a warm greeting to the woman standing next to the wood-paneled fridge and built-in espresso machine in the kitchen of the enormous condo.

The breakfast nook in the condo

Susan Neiman and her husband moved into the condo two years ago after he retired from the family’s real estate business (they owned factory outlet malls across the country). “We love Fisher Island,” Neiman gushes. “I don’t always leave the island. I mean, sometimes I stay here two or three days and don’t even realize that I haven’t left.”

It’s all about the view for Neiman. From one of the condo’s terraces, you can see South Beach, Miami’s cruise ship port and water. Lots of water.

“I love being on the water. I get up every day and I look out and I smile. And I say, ‘the water, it’s still here.’ It just feels good.” Neiman never expected to live in one of the most exclusive zip codes in the world. But that doesn’t make her much different than most of the other residents on Fisher Island according to Bluntzer.

Real estate broker Chris Bluntzer on one of the condo terraces

“Very few of the folks who live here had money drop down to them from the sky. Most of the people here made their own money,” he says.

And Bluntzer says that’s why anyone can aspire to live on Fisher Island some day. You may not be on the list yet, but that doesn’t mean you never will be.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.