What a difference a few years can make, because now Miami is back with a bang. Culture, art and plenty of style have coaxed buyers back to the city by the sea. Apartment prices have risen for 31 consecutive months, says the Miami Association of Realtors, and 62 per cent of buyers are paying with cash, not credit - double the average in the US as a whole. Figures from Christie's Real Estate show sales volume of luxury homes in the city increased by 35 per cent in the past year alone.
(Above left) Art Deco district gem: the Marlin boutique hotel in South Beach, just two minutes from the ocean, has a recording studio used by U2 and the Rolling Stones; (right) from £1.2 million: flats and villas at Ritz-Carlton Residences in Miami Beach
There are 175 new residential towers under construction in Miami, most in Downtown and the financial district around Brickell, along with interesting additions to Miami's ever-improving and exciting cultural life. Most notable is the striking PAMM modern art museum, designed by Tate Modern architects Herzog & de Meuron.
New hotels, such as the Metropolitan by Como on Miami Beach with grey, pastel pink and pale sea-green interiors by Italian designer Paola Navone, are aimed at the growing numbers of styleconscious visitors, now from Europe as well as South America.
From 2015, there will be 111 apartments and 15 villas set in seven acres of gardens with pools, private theatre, gym and private marina at the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Miami Beach
Exciting young city
European architects are changing the residential skyline, too. Miami-based developers Lionheart Capital are building Ritz-Carlton Residences at Miami Beach with thrilling modern architecture by minimalist Italian designer Piero Lissoni. The property, originally a Fifties hospital, is being stripped back to its skeleton and rebuilt.
The Residences front Surprise Lake in Mid Beach, a quiet, affluent residential area of low-level family homes five minutes from historic South Beach. On completion next year there will be 111 apartments and 15 villas in seven acres of gardens with pools, private theatre, gym and private marina. All apartments have some outside space and 28 come with private pools.
"Significant events like the Art Basel international art show held in Miami Beach every year have been good for the city and motivated developers towards high-design projects," says Ophir Sternberg, chief executive of Lionheart Capital.
"Miami is a young city and now that it is maturing, different areas like the Design District are being revitalised. It's an exciting time." The combination of Lissoni's modern design and Ritz-Carlton's top-flight service has attracted 30 foreign and American buyers within four weeks of launching, says Sternberg.
Prices start from £1.2 million, with property ranging from 2,000sq ft to 10,000sq ft. Twenty blocks further south, top-quality homes sell for double the price. Annual service charges will start from £14,000 and 36 marina berths of up to 40ft are £150,000. "The central yet leafy location appeals to full-time residents and many buyers are downsizing from large family homes," says Sternberg. "Overseas buyers appreciate the security and services. This is one of only 10 standalone Ritz-Carlton Residences worldwide."
From £1.8 million: beachside apartments at The Surf Club will be completed in 2015
In Sinatra's footsteps
Directly on the Atlantic beach at Surfside, close to the luxury shops at Bal Harbour, The Surf Club has used award-winning American architect Richard Meier to create a 12-storey apartment building and a 77-room Four Seasons Hotel. The one- to five-bedroom flats, 45 per cent already sold, start from £1.8 million for 1,411sqft with completion due next year.
The Surf Club opened in 1930 as an exclusive social club linked to Indian Creek Golf Club. Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra were frequent guests and Winston Churchill spent so much time there he was given his own cabanas for afternoon naps and painting.
Meier is keeping the original Mediterranean-style clubhouse and adding his trademark light-filled design. Service will be provided by the Four Seasons, where facilities include a spa, pools, two restaurants and three gyms — and, through the landscaped gardens and dense hedge of grapeseed, a long, wide stretch of direct beachfront.
"The Surf Club has the location, modern architecture, beach and historical legacy," says Gabriela Navarro of developers Fort Capital Management. "Through Four Seasons it will also have excellent service quality, a trademark of the original club."
From £300,000: Terra Group homes at Doral, above, just 20 minutes from the beach and convenient for the airport
Value in the suburbs
Twenty minutes east of the beach, Doral is a well-connected suburban area of parks, business parks, golf courses and good schools. It is close to Miami airport and to Florida's biggest shopping outlet, Dolphin Mall, and in 2009 featured in a forbes.com list of 25 best towns to live well in the US.
Gated resorts offer neat, affordable second homes — Doral has a significant South American community — and there's the newly renovated Doral Golf Resort & Spa, where Donald Trump has lavished £90 million.
Terra Group has property on six separate resorts in Doral, from £300,000 for three- to five-bedrooms with communal clubhouses, pools and gyms. Typically these resorts have between 150 and 350 properties, fairly close together but well landscaped. Association service fees are around £220 a month and a three-bedroom house would rent from £1,600 a month.
Ritz-Carlton Residences at Miami Beach: visit theresidencesmiamibeach.com or contact ONE Sotheby's International Realty (onesothebysrealty.com; 00 1 888 919 9153)
The Surf Club: visit thesurfclub.com or call Corcoran Sunshine Marketing (00 1 305 330 4000)
Terra Group: terragroup.com/doral