Global homebuyer hot spot: Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Fla.

Inman News special report excerpt

Editor’s note: This report on the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Fla., market is an excerpt from a special report by Inman News reporter Andrea V. Brambila, "10 Hot Spots for Global Homebuyers" identifying the 10 markets with the greatest share of buyers with a foreign mailing address in the public record between May 2011 and January 2012. A recently released report from the National Association of Realtors found Florida was the top state in the U.S. for international sales in the 12 months through March 2012.

In 2010, about 39 percent of the Miami metro area’s more than 5.5 million inhabitants 1 year old or older were foreign-born. That same year, 7.4 percent of the market’s residents who reported they had moved in the previous year were foreign-born and were moving from abroad — the second-highest share among the 10 markets.

According to DataQuick, 5.3 percent of homes purchased between May 2011 and January 2012 in the area had buyers with a foreign mailing address in the public record, and local real estate professionals and NAR survey data suggest that figure is likely too low a representation of foreign-buyer activity in the area.

Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Fla.  
Total population (2010):  5,564,635
% of all homes sold that were purchased by buyers with a foreign mailing address in the public record (May 2011 – Jan. 2012) 5.3%
Median sales price for existing, single-family homes (Q4 2011): $184,700
Median sales price % change (Q4 ’10-Q4 ’11): -1.4%
Median sales price for condominiums/co-ops (Q4 2011): $87,100
Median sales price % change (Q4 ’10-Q4 ’11): 6.3%
Top three countries of origin for foreign buyers: Canada, Argentina, Venezuela
% of people who moved in the past year who were foreign-born and moved from abroad (2010) 7.4%
Walk Score: 62

According to NAR’s 2011 Profile of International Homebuyers in Florida, the Miami metro area accounted for 30 percent of international sales in Florida, while the Orlando area (also on this list) accounted for 14 percent of such sales.

"When you see statistics on international buyers, (the reality) is probably a lot greater and (depends) on how you define ‘international,’ " said Terri Bersach, managing broker at Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Weston, Fla.

"We’re seeing (buyers from) all across the board. Twenty to 30 percent live in another country, and the balance are people who may live here or are moving permanently."

Marco Fonseca, a Realtor at FCI international Realty in Miami, added that a lot of foreign buyers buy under an LLC.

"They have a local mailing address, which can (belong to) a registered agent or (their accountant’s office) address," he said.

Bersach has worked with international buyers in the Miami area since she became a Realtor in 1994. She was born in Cuba and raised in the U.S., and has lived in Chile as an adult. She described Miami as an international "feeder market."

"We’ve become the destination place for so many different cultures. Not just from Latin America, but also from Europe, from Canada," she said.

She attributed the area’s allure to its climate, its beaches, its international flavor, and the stability of the U.S. real estate market.

"In spite of the ups and downs of the real estate industry here, it’s still a pretty safe environment. There’s always the mindset that if something is wrong anywhere else, the U.S. is pretty safe," Bersach said.

"In some Latin American countries, there’s political unrest. (Foreign buyers) want a safe haven. If things get really bad, (they) want to be able to come here. They see it as a sound investment, especially (with) today’s property values.

"South Florida has one of the best waterfront (property) prices for our warm waters and what you get for your money."

She added that it is comparatively easy for foreigners to purchase property in the U.S.

"Our country is very open. In (some) other countries you’re not allowed to buy property if you’re a foreigner," she said.

According to public records data, 70.5 percent of foreign buyers in the Miami area during the period examined by DataQuick listed a Canadian home address, followed by 2.9 percent from Argentina and 2.3 percent from Venezuela.

By contrast, a survey conducted by NAR in October 2011 found that Venezuela accounted for the largest share of foreign-buyer transactions (15 percent) in the Miami area, followed by Brazil (12 percent), Argentina (11 percent), and Canada (10 percent).

That survey, NAR’s 2011 Survey of International Home Purchases in Greater Miami, focused on area members’ experiences with overseas buyers in the 12 months leading up to October 2011.

The overwhelming majority of Miami Realtors, 83 percent, had worked with an international client in the previous 12 months, compared with 77 percent of Florida Realtors overall.

Nearly half, 49 percent, said their share of international clients had increased in the past year, while 34 percent said it had stayed about the same. Fifteen percent of respondents had a CIPS designation, while 34 percent had a Transnational Referral Certification (TRC), a course designed to prepare Realtors to integrate international referrals into their business plans. The certification was discontinued by NAR about a year and a half ago.

The Miami metro area accounts for four out of the 15 cities nationwide with the highest number of CIPS designees. Ranked by number of designees, Miami Beach topped the list at No. 1, Coral Springs ranked seventh; Boca Raton, eighth; and Fort Lauderdale, 10th. NAR declined to provide specific designee numbers by city, and there is a total of about 1,800 CIPS designees.

Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Miami Beach, Boca Raton and Coral Gables were among the most popular areas searched by foreign house hunters on property search sites Juwai.com, Realtor.com, Point2Homes, Trulia and LuxuryPortfolio.com.

According to the NAR survey on international home purchases in the Greater Miami area: Overseas clients made up more than half of transactions for 26 percent of respondents, while half of respondents reported that international transactions made up 10 percent or less of their business.

Of those respondents who worked with international clients, 60 percent said they worked with nonresident clients, 8 percent said they worked with a resident or recent immigrant client, and 32 percent said they worked with both types of clients.

About half of respondents said they had some international clients who chose not to purchase a property in the U.S. While 18 percent of respondents said clients could not find a property to purchase, 16 percent said they had financing problems and 14 percent each cited property taxes and the cost of the property as reasons international clients did not buy.

Nearly two-thirds of international clients in the Miami area (63 percent) bought in a central city or urban area, and 43 percent bought a property with an average price of more than $250,000. Five percent paid more than $1 million.

About 71 percent purchased a condo or apartment, while 15 percent purchased a single-family detached home, according to NAR data. One-third planned to use the property for three to six months of the year, while 24 percent planned to use it for one to two months.

Bersach said her brokerage’s international clients tend to buy second homes and rental income properties.

"We also do property management in our office. There is a segment who want to buy (an) investment (property) now with the thought of moving here in the future," she said.

Typically, second-home buyers will buy either condos or homes in gated communities in the $300,000-$500,000 price range, while investors will consider the under-$200,000 price range of any property type, Bersach said.

Buyers in lower prices ranges will typically pay in cash, while those in higher price ranges will obtain U.S. financing with a minimum 30 percent down payment, she added.

According to public records, Broward County had the highest percentage of foreign buyers, at 7.5 percent. Resale condos were proportionally most popular in that county with foreign buyers accounting for 14.4 percent of such sales between May 2011 and January 2012.

International buyers made up only 1.9 percent of sold existing single-family homes and 4.8 percent of new homes in that time period.

Resale condos were also popular in Palm Beach County, where foreign buyers accounted for 8.9 percent of existing-condo sales. In Miami-Dade County, which had the lowest concentration of foreign buyers, such buyers were proportionally more keen on new homes, accounting for 9.3 percent of sales.

Prices may be the main reason for the popularity of condos. The median sales price for condos and co-ops, at $87,100, was considerably lower than the national median ($160,800) in the fourth quarter, despite a 6.3 percent year-over-year increase.

By contrast, existing single-family homes in the area sold for a median $184,700 in the fourth quarter — higher than the national median ($163,500) and the second-highest median among the nine markets where a figure was available.

That median declined only 1.4 percent on an annual basis in the last three months of 2011, compared with a 4.2 percent decrease at the national level.

According to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, prices in the Miami metro area grew 180 percent between January 2000 and their peak in December 2006. They subsequently dropped by 51 percent through December 2011, the third-biggest drop among the 20 major metro areas tracked for the report. Only the Las Vegas and Phoenix areas, also on this list, had larger declines from peak, down 61.4 percent and 55.2 percent, respectively.

Like those areas, the Miami metro had a substantially higher foreclosure activity rate than the national rate in the fourth quarter, with 1 in 94 units receiving a foreclosure filing. A quarter of sales during that time period were in some stage of foreclosure.

Nevertheless, data aggregator CoreLogic singled out the Miami metro area as one of its top three most improved markets at the end of 2011, out of 100 major markets.

"Just six months ago, home prices (in the Miami area) were declining at double-digit rates from a year earlier, but by the end of 2011 were slightly up. Sales have been steadily improving over the last two years and the nondistressed share fell to 28 percent in December 2011, down from 48 percent in January 2011," CoreLogic said in its March MarketPulse report.

International business has been "a huge factor" in Southeast Florida’s recovery, Bersach said.

Peter Zalewski, a principal with the Bal Harbour, Fla.-based real estate consultancy Condo Vultures, said in a recent report that "South Florida’s supply of new condo product created during the recent boom is on pace to sell out in the first half of 2013."

"International investors with strong foreign currencies deserve much of the credit for the strong sales velocity — an average of more than 250 new-unit transactions monthly in 2011 — being experienced in South Florida," he said.

Zalewski cautioned, however, that "the unanswered question is whether the foreign buyers will continue to flood into South Florida given the economic dynamics now being experienced in Europe and key Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela."

Thus far, Fonseca, who specializes in foreign buyers from Brazil, isn’t worried. Brazil’s economy, he says, is stable and strong.

"With a weak dollar exchange comparing with the (Brazilian) real, the Brazilian currency (has gained) power and (made) our real estate market even more attractive," Fonseca said.

He added that, over the last few years, many people in Brazil’s lower classes have moved into the middle class and are consuming more goods, consequently making Brazil’s upper classes even wealthier.

"With more money in their pocket, people from (the upper classes) are the buyers buying real estate here," Fonseca said.

He traveled to Brazil seven times last year to network with real estate agents and companies in several states there.

"I go there almost every month and I do presentations to (a) small or big group of potential buyers, where I explain the opportunities and the mechanism of our real estate market," Fonseca said.

He advised agents interested in international real estate to acquire the CIPS designation and participate in international events and opportunities at their local, state and national associations.

The Miami Association of Realtors, for instance, has more than 100 partnership agreements with real estate organizations around the world.

"Today our real estate market is global," Fonseca said.

Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Fla. Metro U.S.
% of all homes sold that were purchased by buyers with a foreign mailing address in the public record (May 2011 – Jan. 2012) 5.3% 1.1%
Broward County 7.5%  
–New homes 4.8%  
–Resale condos 14.4%  
–Resale houses 1.9%  
Miami-Dade County 3.2%  
–New homes 9.3%  
–Resale condos 4.0%  
–Resale houses 0.6%  
Palm Beach County 5.4%  
–New homes 4.9%  
–Resale condos 8.9%  
–Resale houses 2.2%  
Median sales price for existing, single-family homes (Q4 2011) $184,700 $163,500
Median sales price % change (Q4 ’10-Q4 ’11) -1.4% -4.2%
Median sales price for condominiums/co-ops (Q4 2011) $87,100 $160,800
Median sales price % change (Q4 ’10-Q4 ’11) 6.3% -1.7%
Population (2010) 5,564,635  
% of people who moved in the past year who were foreign-born and moved from abroad (2010) 7.4% 2.3%
% population over age one that is foreign-born  (2010) 39.2% 13.1%
% foreclosure sales (Q4 2011) 24.6% 23.7%
Foreclosure activity rate (Q4 2011) 1 in 94 units 1 in 222 units
Vacancy rate (2010) 19.5% 13.1%
Top three countries of origin for foreign buyers (May 2011-Jan. 2012) % of all foreign buyers in metro  
–Canada 70.5%  
–Argentina 2.9%  
–Venezuela 2.3%  
–Other 24.3%  

For access to the full report, see: "10 Hot Spots for Global Homebuyers."

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