Trump mansion purchase highlights tide of Russian investment

Fertilizer billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev’s purchase of Donald Trump’s Palm Beach estate for $100 million last week made him the most high-profile example of a growing stream of Russian buyers looking for homes in South Florida.

Wealthy Russians first began scooping up luxury properties in Britain, and are increasingly looking to South Florida’s beachfront, according to local brokers.

Katya Hutton, a broker at RE/MAX in Coral Gables, said she is selling real estate to Russian investors every month. Word about the South Florida real estate “fire sale” has spread to Russian through Internet ads and owners of Miami Beach condos, she said.

Most of Hutton’s clients are looking for one thing: oceanfront property.

“Russians love going to the beach,” said Hutton, a Russian native. “We think it’s healthy and a nice way to spend time with family. So Russian investors are looking for proximity to the beach, and those are usually high-priced properties.”

Singer Island, Bal Harbor and Sunny Isles Beach are among Russian investor hot spots. Sunny Isles is known to many as “Little Moscow” because of its Russian restaurants, grocery stores, bookstores and dry cleaners along Collins Avenue.

Several new high-rise condos have sprung up in Sunny Isles Beach over the past few years, including Trump Towers, Aqualina, Ocean Pointe, M, Solé on the Ocean, Da Vinci on the Ocean, Solis Resort, Spa & Residences, and Fantasy on the Ocean.

As the inventory of high-rise oceanfront condos has increased, so has the Russian population in South Florida.

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A 2006 U.S. Census survey estimated 125,000 people claiming Russian ancestry live in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, a 19 percent increase since 2000.

Still, many Russians aren’t making South Florida their primary home.

Victoria Blintser, a Russian native and president of Aventura-based Rapid Realty, said she shows Russian clients multimillion-dollar properties every week.

“In Aqualina, on any given day, every third person in there is Russian,” said Blintser.

She said her clients enjoy visiting Sunny Isles Beach, which she calls the Brighton Beach of South Florida (after the waterfront Russian neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn). Canadian Russians tend to buy second homes in Sunny Isles, while European Russians are looking at investment opportunities, she said.

Russian clients want more than just a real estate broker, they want a concierge, Blintser said. Her clients expect to be catered to, and she often organizes yacht charters to the nearby Bahamas or even rental properties for $30,000 a month that people to try before they buy.

“Russians are not bargain shoppers — that’s for sure,” she said. “If they have money to spend, they don’t have time to negotiate. If they see something they like, they wire the funds and close. It’s a much easier transaction.”