The Florida real estate market has an international following, according to the Florida Association of Realtors trade group.

International buyers account for 15 percent of total home sales in the Florida residential real estate market, according to a study conducted for the trade group by the National Association of Realtors. This study marks the first attempt to quantify the trend in international buyers.

Of the 986 Realtors who participated in the 2005 Profile of International Home Buyers in Florida survey, 87 percent reported that they did at least one home sale transaction with international buyers in the previous 12 months (from May 2004 and May 2005). About 66 percent – of those Realtors who brokered foreign-buyer purchases noted that one to four of all their transactions were with international clients. Altogether, the Realtors surveyed closed 1,844 home sale transactions to non-U.S. buyers.

Highlights of the survey findings include:

  • Most buyers chose South Florida, Central Florida or the Gulf Coast. Almost one-third (30.4 percent) bought a home in Miami-Fort Lauderdale, followed by Orlando (22.7 percent), Naples-Fort Myers (13.7 percent), Tampa-St. Petersburg (9.9 percent), Sarasota (9.9 percent) and West Palm Beach (5.8 percent). Only 7.6 percent of foreign buyers bought homes elsewhere in the state.

  • Florida’s international home buyers came from more than 100 countries in all areas of the world, but Europeans bought the majority of Florida homes – 58 percent – with more than half those European buyers from a single country, the United Kingdom.

  • The United Kingdom alone accounted for one-third of all international home purchases.

  • One-third of international buyers were from South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

  • Over one-third – 36 percent – of international buyers paid cash for their home compared to only 10 percent of all Florida home buyers.

  • For foreign buyers, an almost equal share purchased their Florida homes to use as a vacation home (38 percent) or as an investment (37 percent). Only 17 percent purchased a home to live in while traveling to the U.S. on business.

Non-U.S. residents purchased homes for many different reasons, according to the study: U.S. mortgage interest rates are low, many can get “more house for the money” here, the U.S. is seen as politically stable, airfares are generally affordable, and the “rise” of the Euro has spurred travel to the U.S. In addition, foreign baby-boomers – like their American counterparts – are looking for ways to maximize their return on investments.

For the survey, the Florida association defined a foreign home buyer as someone who principally resides in another country (outside the U.S.), and is not classified as a foreign-born resident of the U.S. International buyers are not U.S. citizens (either naturalized or native-born and living outside the U.S.), a U.S. immigrant, or a foreign student or worker on a temporary visa.

The Florida Association of Realtors has about 125,000 members in 70 local boards and associations.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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