The Real Deal Miami

Forget Brazil, Venezuelans rule Miami’s residential real estate market

By Alexander Britell | April 22, 2011 10:23AM

In a South Florida residential real estate market dominated by foreign investors, Brazilian buyers have been getting the attention — freely spending on high-end condominium units in downtown Miami and South Beach.

But the data show otherwise. According to the Miami Association of Realtors, buyers from Venezuela make up a greater share of the foreign real estate market than those of any other country.

“Venezuela is by far the biggest foreign investor here,” said Peter Zalewski, founder of real estate consultancy and brokerage Condo Vultures.

Zalewski said the spending drive from Venezuela came from two places: devaluations in the Venezuelan currency about a year ago, along with an increasingly unstable political situation.

“The president [Hugo Chavez] continues to take control of business and property, and wealthy people there are trying to set up a situation where they can have a foot in the U.S., i.e. Miami, and a foot in Venezuela.”

According to a MAR report, which was based on a survey of South Florida realtors in 2010, 28 percent of clients hail from Venezuela, followed by Canada at 10 percent. (Canadian buyers have long been coming to Broward County, and that trend has continued throughout the downturn).

Like many Latin American nationals, Venezuelans have been coming to Miami for some time, and originally focused on Doral, where they still buy a significant amount of property, said Armando Vera, an associate with the Keyes Company.

“I would say 50 percent of my clients are Venezuelan,” he said, with most now concentrated in the Brickell and South Beach area. “The new buyers are concentrating towards the water rather than towards the west side. I would presume it’s because the new condominiums and luxury buildings are drawing attention, and because they’re closer to the business district.”

The latter trend — proximity to office space, largely financial, in Coral Gables and Brickell — is becoming far more common, Zalewski said.

“The other thing I don’t think people realize is, as the Venezuelans come and purchase real estate, any number of them are also trying to set up businesses,” Zalewski said. “It’s not unheard of to buy [residential] real estate, and then buy a company, and with that company make a [visa] application to live and work here.