ON Jan. 12, Richard Goodwin, who made a fortune building condominiums, publicly lamented his own real estate woes. In a letter to The Fisher Island Voice, an online forum for residents of this tiny, gilded island less than a mile off Miami, he wrote, “I have $1.2 million invested” in property here, and “I am suffering under a 40 percent meltdown of my net worth.”
The house had but one door, and a thatch; its terraces were tottering, the bases of its pillars rotten, the coverings and plaster of the walls loose. On a sudden the whole house was from every side put in conflagration by a mass of fire. Let us suppose that the man had many little boys, say five, or ten, or even twenty, and that he himself had come out of the house.
Until last year, some residents of the island thought it had special features that would help shield it from economic hurricanes. It’s only 20 minutes from Miami International Airport, and it attracts a wide range of buyers. About 70 percent of residents come from outside the United States. Moreover, its appeal extends beyond retirees, or families looking for a second home; many residents live on the island year-round.
That diversity was in full view at the beach club one morning, where guests were speaking English, Spanish and Russian. The crowd ranged from sedate grandparents surrounded by a clutch of family members to fit young men in $200 Vilebrequin swimsuits.
When the economy was soaring, few worried about the high cost of living here. But the downturn has created tension, and many residents are trying to rein in spending.
That’s tough to do when you live in a place where the board of the country club recently approved a plan to spend $60 million in upgrades. That has caused some tenants, like Mr. Goodwin, whose annual expenses run to $80,000 for a 720-square-foot home, to put his property up for sale.
Now, Sâriputra, that man, on seeing the house from every side wrapt in a blaze by a great mass of fire, got afraid, frightened, anxious in his mind, and made the following reflection: I myself am able to come out from the burning house through the door, quickly and safely, without being touched or scorched by that great mass of fire; but my children, those young boys, are staying in the burning house, playing, amusing, and diverting themselves with all sorts of sports. They do not perceive, nor know, nor understand, nor mind that the house is on fire, and do not get afraid. Though scorched by that great mass of fire, and affected with such a mass of pain, they do not mind the pain, nor do they conceive the idea of escaping.
Still, some of the island’s premier properties are for sale. Bruce McMahan, a hedge fund executive, has put his 7,300-square-foot condominium, which he used exclusively to entertain business associates, on the market, along with all its art, for $30 million.
Its walls are covered with copies of paintings from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The paintings were done by a team brought over from Russia by Mr. McMahan, who heads the Argent Funds Group. There is also a collection of Fabergé eggs and boxes and original correspondence from the Romanov family, which ruled imperial Russia, all housed in what is called the “Romanov bedroom.” Two Rodin sculptures adorn a terrace that fronts the ocean and is guarded by a German shepherd.
The man, Sâriputra, is strong, has powerful arms, and (so) he makes this reflection: I am strong, and have powerful arms; why, let me gather all my little boys and take them to my breast to effect their escape from the house. A second reflection then presented itself to his mind: This house has but one opening; the door is shut; and those boys, fickle, unsteady, and childlike as they are, will, it is to be feared, run hither and thither, and come to grief and disaster in this mass of fire. Therefore I will warn them. So resolved, he calls to the boys: Come, my children; the house is burning with a mass of fire; come, lest ye be burnt in that mass of fire, and come to grief and disaster. But the ignorant boys do not heed the words of him who is their well-wisher; they are not afraid, not alarmed, and feel no misgiving; they do not care, nor fly, nor even know nor understand the purport of the word 'burning;' on the contrary, they run hither and thither, walk about, and repeatedly look at their father; all, because they are so ignorant.
It’s all but impossible to live on the island and not belong to the country club, which offers access to golf, tennis, a spa and six of the seven restaurants. That helps explain why friction intensified with the decision in early 2008 to charge a $60 million assessment to redo the club, part of which was $16 million for a makeover of the spa, at a time when other costs were rising. Even though Fisher Island’s developer agreed to contribute $25 million toward modernizing the club, that still meant the balance would have to be paid by the members — a bill of about $54,000 a member, payable over 10 years.
Then the man is going to reflect thus: The house is burning, is blazing by a mass of fire. It is to be feared that myself as well as my children will come to grief and disaster. Let me therefore by some skilful means get the boys out of the house. The man knows the disposition of the boys, and has a clear perception of their inclinations. Now these boys happen to have many and manifold toys to play with, pretty, nice, pleasant, dear, amusing, and precious. The man, knowing the disposition of the boys, says to them: My children, your toys, which are so pretty, precious, and admirable, which you are so loth to miss, which are so various and multifarious, (such as) bullock-carts, goat-carts, deer-carts, which are so pretty, nice, dear, and precious to you, have all been put by me outside the house-door for you to play with. Come, run out, leave the house; to each of you I shall give what he wants. Come soon; come out for the sake of these toys. And the boys, on hearing the names mentioned of such playthings as they like and desire, so agreeable to their taste, so pretty, dear, and delightful, quickly rush out from the burning house, with eager effort and great alacrity, one having no time to wait for the other, and pushing each other on with the cry of 'Who shall arrive first, the very first?'