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Florida, the Land of Gleaming Condos, Frets After Collapse

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“You don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it,” he said.

Nicole Doran-Manashirov and Dr. Ruslan Manashirov, who were married in May, had recently moved into the building. They loved being just an elevator ride away from the sand, said Wendy Kays, a friend who threw a bachelorette party for Ms. Doran-Manashirov, who was originally from Pittsburgh. Both of their remains have been found in the rubble.

“If you come here to Florida and you can afford to be on the water, why not?” Ms. Kays said. “People dream about it, to be on the water.”

In the buoyant years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, Florida’s sizzling real estate market had attracted buyers from Latin America and Europe, many of whom paid in cash and rarely inhabited their units, leaving huge towers eerily dark at night. Some buildings remained half empty for a long time after the economic crash.

The story was not quite the same in Surfside, which had to some extent been shielded from Miami’s booms and busts. For many years, it was small and homey, one of the few places with houses that were walking distance from the beach and restrictions that limited most buildings to 12 stories.

“Surfside was this oasis away from the cocaine cowboys’ violence and the go-go era of Miami Beach,” said Alfred Spellman, a Surfside native and one of the producers of the 2006 documentary “Cocaine Cowboys.” “It was like time stood still.”

Few children lived in town. Many of the houses and condos were winter homes for retirees. The local luncheonette was Sheldon’s Drugs, on 95th Street and Harding Avenue, where the Jewish novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer, who often wintered in Surfside, was seated in a booth when he learned he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.

The building’s condo dwellers were initially older and, in many cases, Hispanic and Jewish. They sought a quiet home (or vacation home) and a solid real estate investment that might someday also be enjoyed by their children and grandchildren. Some units purchased for part-time use eventually became full-time residences, especially when politics deteriorated back home in the South American countries where some of the buyers had come from.


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