A sprawling hunting estate in a remote part of southeastern Florida has hit the market for a whopping $25 million — yet another indication that demand for secluded real estate could be soaring amid a pandemic that has prompted homeowners and renters to flee crowded cities.
Known as Quail Creek Plantation, the 3,150-acre estate is a remote hunting and sports ground developed by local Florida businessman Whit Hudson in the late 1990s. Modeled after the estates of Old Florida, the property boasts spacious grounds, a 5,000-square-foot main house as well as numerous lodges, cabins and private hunting grounds. It is located on the edge of Lake Okeechobee, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the U.S., and surrounded with gnarled cypress trees, oaks and pines. Quails, pheasants, deer and the occasional crocodile live in different areas of the estate.
“[Hudson] was ahead of the curve on social distancing,” Billy Nash, the Illustrated Properties listing agent representing the property, told Inman. “This was his passion, his escape from the hustle and bustle of the big cities and the corporate world.”
Elsewhere in Florida and across the country, demand is soaring for luxury real estate in remote, uncrowded terrain.
Phil Wood, the president of the John R. Wood Properties brokerage in Naples, confirmed that the virus has made remote and spacious properties more appealing for affluent buyers. Wood’s brokerage serves southwest Florida and he said the expensive cost of land makes multi-acre properties hard to come by in that part of the state. Additionally, he noted increased interest in real estate on nearby islands such as Sanibel, Marco and Captiva.
“We think that we’re going to see increased interest from cities that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 virus,” Wood said. “There will be people who want to bail out and go live in a smaller area that’s not loaded with virus issues.”
Islands like Captiva and Sanibel are cut off from mainland Florida, sparsely populated and home to multi-million dollar mansions used as second homes by wealthy owners. Just off Sanibel, an entire small island is currently listed for $2.59 million — made for those who truly like isolation, the three-bedroom house comes with its own power generator and is surrounded by four acres of trees, trails and beach.
“I started to get calls from a few of my customers who live in big cities ,” Jeffrey Burns, the Premier Sotheby’s International agent representing the property, told Inman. “They are thinking of either getting a second or moving somewhere that is not quite as populated. I definitely think that is going to become a trend.”
In New Mexico, meanwhile, a 3.41-acre estate built literally atop Santa Fe in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is up for sale for $9.75 million. In Connecticut, a 1.1-acre island with a 3,781-square-foot house, a pool and its own private dock has been listed for $4,900,000 earlier this year. John Campbell, the Christie’s International Real Estate listing agent working with the property, said that online interest in the island grew from an average of 25 hits a day to about 250 hits a day as the coronavirus progressed.
“My original thought was we would experience increased demand in larger properties ‘off the grid,'” Campbell tol Inman. “It’s gone way beyond that, up to and including buyers opting out of exotic vacations and into purchasing their own ‘controllable’ paradise.”
Nash said Quail Creek Plantation was built as an escape two decades before the coronavirus outbreak put escaping at the top of everyone’s priorities. Hudson built a sprawling outdoor territory where he could hunt, entertain friends and family and surround himself with nature. Over the years, the grounds have also frequently been used to host various corporate retreats and sports events.
Okeechobee County, where the estate is located, is an isolated part of southeastern Florida in the tropical wetlands. The town center, Okeechobee, boasts approximately 5,600 residents. According to Zillow, the median home price in the city is $147,928, but the surrounding area is home to a number of affluent estates and large swaths of land, including a cattle ranch currently listed for $8.2 million. If Quail Creek Plantation sells for its asking price, it would break county real estate records — the most expensive home in the county was previously recorded as $16.36 million.
While Quail Creek Plantation is an hour’s drive north from the Palm Beaches, it’s just 20 minutes from a regional airport accommodating private jets — a draw for wealthier homeowners who choose to take advantage of isolated properties and charter plane travel amid the pandemic, Nash said.
After Hudson passed away in 2018, his family members waited a year before making the decision to list the home. While the connection is coincidental, Nash said it coincides well with the current demand for remote estates.
“The timing to put this property on the market is really fitting,” Nash said. “I think large cities are going to see a mass exodus of ultra-high-income individuals who want to add land to their portfolio just in case we get another round [of the coronavirus] or another stay-at-home mandate next winter. People are realizing that if they do have to stay at home, they’d rather be in warm weather and look at palm trees.”
Jerod Davis, the owner of the Boca Raton, Florida-based private jet operator Southern Jet, told Inman that private plane operators saw an enormous surge in demand in March after commercial airlines began shutting down and countries closed borders to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Some flew to wait out the virus in private homes while others paid the exorbitant costs of a charter plane ride (a round trip from New York to Florida starts at around $25,000) to isolated locations all over the country and, in one case, as far as a multi-million-dollar bunker in New Zealand, Bloomberg reported.
While March’s rush was followed by an April lull, Davis said private plane operators expect renewed demand in the months ahead and, potentially, long after the pandemic. When the virus was beginning to spread, he overheard clients discussing the need for remote properties and private plane travel.
“There is definitely going to be a new crop of clientele,” said Davis, whose company does not own the planes but arranges licensed flights between plane owners and clients. “A couple of my owners are billionaires. People they play golf with, especially older ones, have been saying that they’re never flying commercial airlines again.”