Buyers trickling back steadily

Miami real estate agent Isabel Ruiz tracks the headlines, and says forecasts that the worst of the recession may be over are great news for her business.
“That will get some buyers out,” she said of more upbeat forecasts. The Coldwell Banker sales associate, who specializes in Kendall and Coral Gables, said activity has picked up this month, and realtors in her office expect to close more deals over the next few months.
Across South Florida, out-of-towners from the “cold states,” as well as France, Canada and Venezuela, are buying luxury condos on South Beach and Hallandale.
Young couples that have saved up enough money are purchasing first homes in Kendall. Executives relocating to Miami are buying homes in Coral Gables. And the baby boomers who have long considered buying homes in Florida are deciding now is the time.
The flood of real buyers with down payments and loan pre-approvals is in stark contrast to a few months ago. After two years of plummeting home values, some buyers think South Florida has come close to the bottom.
“There was a time when everything stopped, but it is moving now, and moving fast,” Ruiz said. “People are afraid this is the best chance and it is going to end soon.”
Foreign buyers ceased looking here during the worst of the collapse of the financial markets. “Now they are coming back,” said Marci Trautenberg, a realtor with Miami-based EWM Real Estate. “Like everyone else, they thought the prices would continue dropping. Now the prices are not dropping.”
The Beach Club condos on Hallandale have seen a lot of interest from foreign buyers. Last year, 97 condos sold there, and in the first four months of this year 25 have sold and another 25 sales are pending.

Buyers are coming from Canada, too, despite the rising strength of the U.S. dollar and a recession to the north. Venezuela continues to produce buyers, as does France, where the exchange rate is favorable.
Trautenberg is seeing a lot of buyers between ages 40 and 55. They aren’t ready to retire but want to buy a retirement home now.
“Most of them are still working people that have the luxury and the time in their lives to have a second home,” Trautenberg said.
Young professionals with good-paying jobs are looking in Kendall and West Dade. Renters who have good credit and some savings are preparing to make the switch to homeownership.
Today’s buyers are checking out homes on the Web. One couple used Coldwell Banker’s Web site, which features new technology called “Lead Router” that links buyers to realtors if they check out a home online. Within weeks, the couple put an offer on a three-bedroom home in Kendall.

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Even Homestead, which has not been a big draw for buyers, is getting attention from first-time homebuyers who qualify for financing. A three-bedroom home in a gated Homestead community can be had for less than $100,000.
To make sure deals close, Coldwell Banker now pre-approves loan applications. “With all the problems banks are having, we get them approved — not just pre-qualified,” Ruiz said. “Financing is tough. They have to have a good job and good credit.”