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$20 million 'virtual' spec home planned for South Beach

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS, (Week of January 17, 2013)
Photo: 24,000-sq.-ft. virtual house offered for $20 million.

Island builder Joe Foglia and architect Tom Hoos are collaborating on what seems like a very smart development project.Working with the owner of a 3.5- acre tract on the ocean about half a mile south of the Moorings, the partners are offering a 24,000-square-foot gated estate with worldwide appeal – and they are doing it without tying up a ton of capital or risking the agony of owning a massive spec house for months or years while spiders spin webs in the corners of cavernous rooms and carrying charges gnaw away at the bank account.

A DEP permit is in place, according to Foglia, and potential buyers, who the partners see coming from congested South Florida, California, or possibly from abroad can see a 3-D model of the home online, view the site plan and floor plan, and tour the interior if they want to – even though no pilings have been sunk and no concrete bills incurred.

“If you build a house of the caliber we have in mind on spec, granted, people have the option to buy it and move right in, and sometimes that is an advantage, and sometimes that is what these people want,” says Foglia.

“But at the same time the buyer doesn’t have much choice about the finishes and features. The money has been spent and the house is what it is.  The way we are doing it with a 3-D model gives us the opportunity to market something tangible and bring in a buyer while there is still a lot of flexibility.

“It gives us a solid starting point without committing a lot of money to it.”

If a billionaire from Buenos Aires jets in and likes the lay of the pristine oceanfront land and also likes the Santa Barbara-style estate home with two guest houses but wants some significant changes, it will be much easier for Hoos to make alterations on paper than it would be to reconfigure a structure made out of concrete and steel.

One disadvantage of selling a virtual home is potential buyers cannot physically walk through it or run their hands over the fine wood and stone surfaces. They have to exercise their imagination a little bit and have faith the builder can actually deliver what the architect has envisioned.

It would be hard for a novice builder or little-known architect to close the deal, but Foglia and Hoos have the reputations and track records to make it stick.

Foglia, who is building the huge house at 3700 Ocean Drive in Central Beach that has been the talk of the town recently, got his general contractor’s license in 1986 at age 19.

“I think I was the youngest GC in Florida at that time,” he says.

He moved his business from South Florida to Vero Beach in 2003 and has been busy building ocean- and river-front homes ever since, sometimes as a contractor, sometimes as part of development partnership.

“I am a builder by nature and trade,” says Foglia, who has also built a reputation for quality and, just as important, efficiency – the ability to successfully manage big jobs and get major projects quickly.

The house on Ocean Drive has gone up in record time. “We will be setting the roof next week,” Foglia says. “The shell will be complete five months from when we started.”

Foglia got the plum assignment to build the modernist home north of the Spires for businesswoman Katherine McConvey, after being referred to her by an island real estate broker and convincing her he would bring the job in on a tight timeframe.

“I do the day-to-day scheduling operations on all my jobs,” Foglia says. “I am not comfortable passing that on to somebody else.”

He says the McConvey house will take 15 months in total to complete. That is the same timeframe he foresees for Palacio Tranquillo, the 24,000-square-foot estate he and Hoos have in mind.

Hoos bona fides are, if anything, even more impressive than Foglia’s.

Since growing up in Stuart and graduating from the University of Florida, he has had a wide-ranging career working for large architectural firms in the U.S. and abroad as an architect, executive and design chief.

During a 10-year stint in Los Angles in the 1990s, he worked side-by-side with Frank Gehrey, one of the most renowned architects of the 20th century, helping design the famed Walt Disney Concert Hall, and with Richard Meier on the Getty Center Museum, another L.A. architecture icon.

After Los Angeles, he opened a successful practice with Mark Vigneault, designing homes in Windsor, John’s island and Orchid Island.

When the housing crash hit Florida, Hoos put his skills to work as vice president of a 1,100-person architectural firm in San Francisco and as chief of design for a 300-person architectural engineering company in Cairo, Egypt. He returned to Vero last summer to catch the wave of real estate recovery that is starting to build.

He has been busy since he returned and has several commissions in hand, including designing a home in Windsor.

“This is the fourth home I’ve designed for the client,” Hoos says.

“That tells you something, right there,” says Foglia.

Buyer’s who want to see how the partners work together can look at Palmeraie, the estate just north of their virtual home. Designed by Loos and Vigneault and built by Foglia and his partner Vic Lombardi at 1920 South Highway A1A, the 16,800-square-foot spec home with guest house sold in 2009 for $11.4 million. It resold last summer for a recorded price of $15.6 million.

“That was a signature project for both of us,” says Foglia.

The Palmeraie lot was 15 acres, extending from the ocean to the Indian River Lagoon, but the new owner did not want the land west of A1A so he sold it to Foglia and Lombardi.

Foglia says it can be attached to the lot where the virtual house is planned if a buyer wants more property.

The owner of the virtual home lot is partnering with Foglia and Hoos by putting up his land.

“The owner is giving us the opportunity to market this house as a means of selling the land,” says Foglia. “His goal is to move the property. Tom’s goal is to design another signature project. My goal is to build it.”