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Got House?

If you're a real estate broker dealing in seven- and eight-figure properties, the news is all good. Keep the Kristal flowing, son. According to Rick Goodwin, publisher of Unique Homes Magazine, about 50,000 multimillion-dollar homes were sold nationwide last year, compared with 9,000 in 1997. And Florida is right there, tux-clad, at the high-stakes table. With 205 houses on the market right now for $8 million to $125 million, the state ranks second only to New York ("New York City's on fire," Goodwin says) in stratospherically priced properties.

Just last week, the fifth most expensive house ever sold in Broward County, a Harbor Beach mansion, was picked up for a cool $12 million by Biotech Executive Myrtle Potter.

So what does that mean for people like you and Tailpipe?

It means, get thee back to Tamarac or Cooper City, wretch. Or find a mobile home on a back road where Wilma victims haven't already squatted. While the luxury market stays as hot as an aluminum-foil snowball in a microwave, the so-called "affordable housing" segment has, with rare exceptions, all of the energy of a burnt-out bulb. Says Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition, the price of existing homes has risen 80 percent over the past three years. While home prices rose on average 13.5 percent across the nation in 2004-05, in Florida over that same period, home prices rose 25 percent.

It's the ultra-rich who are fueling the boom, with troubling results for the rest of us, Ross says. "The hyperappreciation that we have had and the superhigh prices that people are willing to pay, usually for a third or fourth home, creates a market that prices out people who actually work in the community."

So just who are these Daddy Warbucks- es skewing South Florida neighborhoods in an upscale direction?

For one thing, they're people with huge surpluses of cash. A recent survey of the Luxury Real Estate Council — a group that represents real estate brokers and agents who buy and sell the kinds of homes that Robin Leach used to visit — showed that 54 percent of luxury-home buyers didn't need financing. Real estate experts say this doesn't mean buyers are coming in with garbage sacks of $100 bills (though the 'Pipe has heard stories...). It's just that these buyers are in the enviable position of being able to write a check for the full purchase price.

A lot of the buyers are foreigners, mostly Europeans, with Indian and Chinese nationals not far behind. Goodwin attributes this to the falling value of the dollar and, of course, "the lifestyle in Florida."

If you're lucky enough to be selling to the upper crust, don't worry about that real estate bubble, Goodwin says. Although the market is "cooling a little bit," South Florida is "one of the most important international urban destinations... Sure, there'll be some slowdowns, but we're not looking at a huge bubble."

How much of this is real estate industry hype? The 'Pipe has noted a big drop from the figures being thrown around to actual selling prices (that $12 million Harbor Beach place, for example, was described a week earlier as an $18.5 million property). But prices are still well beyond the means of the average firefighter or teacher.

"The door to home ownership has been closed," Ross says. "We're just trying to get people into apartments."

For the moment, the 'Pipe is holding onto his cozy garage with the familiar grease stains on the floor. It's pure gold, baby.

Who, Us?

The rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, is in hot water with the Internal Revenue Service for an antiwar sermon he preached shortly before last year's presidential election. The sermon imagined Jesus telling George W. Bush and John Kerry that "God loathes war." Too partisan, says the IRS, which is now threatening to withdraw the church's tax-exempt status.

Tailpipe expected the Reverend D. James Kennedy and the folks at Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale to leap to the good preacher's defense. After all, Kennedy has long crusaded against the government's attempts to "silence God's people" by restricting partisan politics in the pulpit in exchange for tax-exempt status. His annual Reclaiming America for Christ conference at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church partly serves as a boot camp for conservative Christians entering the rough-and-tumble world of politics.

But Coral Ridge Ministries hasn't issued so much as a statement on All Saints' troubles, nor does it intend to, according to spokesman John Aman. "No, I'm not familiar with it, so I have no comment on it," he responded.

Tailpipe is scratching his battered noggin, given that the organization's website is dedicated to remarking on the nexus of Christianity and government. But then, Coral Ridge Presbyterian's take on the war is markedly different from that of the Pasadena minister, the Rev. Dr. George Regas. Posted on the Coral Ridge website is, among other things, a letter from an unnamed Iraq soldier, who writes, "Morale is high and we hope that the constant drumbeat of 'bad news' back there in the states will not impact our ability to finish the job we have come to do. Thank you for your stalwart support of the values that built our great nation."

The political spirit of Coral Ridge is best summed up in the words of O'Neal Dozier, a local preacher who told a Reclaiming Christ conference crowd two years ago: "I love that man; I love President Bush. Thank God for President Bush."

Is Coral Ridge Presbyterian under investigation by IRS? The 'Pipe left a message with Coral Ridge Church's executive pastor, Ronald Siegenthaler, asking the question, but he didn't return the call. If the 'Pipe were a betting auto part, he'd put his cash on "not."

Piscatory Playmate

There are those who have protested Wellington's bodaciously stacked mermaid statue, The Siren, which adorns the grounds of the village's community center, but the national media know better. Playboy is all over the buxom sea beauty and plans to include her in the January issue. The 'Pipe believes she's centerfold-worthy, not for top-heaviness alone but also for the kind of fascinating personality we've come to expect from Playboy pinups.

Bust: 52

Waist: 26

Hips: Slippery

Turn-ons: Mermen, the perfect storm, dorsal fin massages, Charlie the Tuna, global warming, dinghies, luring mariners to their deaths.

Turn-offs: Gill nets, Portuguese men-of-war, bras, community busybodies, Jacques Cousteau, John Ashcroft, roe deposits, sushi, Hemingway.

Ambitions: Swimway model, Olympic track-and-field competition.

Parks Are for Rabbits, Silly

When residents of Rock Island voted last year to become part of Fort Lauderdale, they figured they'd finally won. Instead of lonely, unincorporated status, they'd finally start to enjoy the amenities of big-city life. But then they learned their new daddy was a bit of a cheapskate: Fort Lauderdale said it hadn't taken into account the cost of running the athletic fields and community center of 30-acre Osswald Park, a verdant oasis in the midst of suburban sprawl. At the same time, Broward County announced it would sooner close the park than spend more money on it.

This was supposed to be an improvement? Shutting down a sea of much-needed green that's usually packed with schoolkids with time on their hands?

Well, the county backed down two weeks ago, coughing up $2 million to pay for the park's upkeep and allowing the annexation to go forward. But the clock runs out in four years. After that, Osswald manager Kris Sehlke says, who knows? "No one has talked to the staff here. The discussions don't come down to this level."

It ain't Central Park, but it's all the community has.

Mildred Jones-Fuce, an activist who has lived in Rock Island for more than 40 years, says that pressure from the community helped buy the temporary fix, allowing the annexation to proceed. "If we don't fight, who's going to do it for us?" she says. In the meantime, four more years of soccer games and afterschool tutoring for the area's children is better than none. "In four years, if I'm still alive and things are going downhill," she says, "we'll do it again."

— As told to Edmund Newton

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