South Florida’s forgotten European buyers

Axis in Brickell

While its neighbors to the north in Canada, and to the south in Latin America, have made a sizable dent in South Florida’s real estate market, a strong portion of residential sales continue to come from across the pond.

Buyers from Western Europe account for 11 percent of the foreign real estate buyers statewide, according to data from Florida Realtors looking at the entire calendar year of 2010.

In the second part of a three-part report on foreign buyers in South Florida, The Real Deal looked at how a number of Venezuelan buyers were coming to the area not necessarily for bargains, but for safety and security in as a result of an uncertain political situation at home. In the first part, The Real Deal looked at how almost half of Brazilian buyers pay less than $500,000 for their Florida purchases.

Buyers from the rest of the continent have become the ones putting more money down, with about 11 percent of the total foreign market share statewide, and an even higher share in South Florida, according to data from Florida Realtors.

Douglas Elliman Florida broker associate Madeleine Romanello said she was seeing an uptick in Western European buyers in Miami.

“I think it’s still dominated by the French and the Italians, and a lot more Germans are looking at Miami because of the lifestyle,” she said, noting she had also just sold a property to a Swiss buyer.

Indeed, German buyers actually represent 24 percent of homebuyers in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market, the second-highest total of any country after Canada, the data show. Latin America as a region, however, still comprises 53 percent of all foreign home buyers in Miami.

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European buyers tend to buy single-family homes in slightly greater numbers than condos, with 47 percent of their Florida purchases involving single-family homes, and 41 percent involving condos.

Among European buyers, 90 percent paid less than $499,000 on their homes, with a median purchase price of $232,500, which is the second-highest among all foreign buyer demographics in Florida (Venezuela’s median purchase price of $258,300 is the highest.)

European buyers also bought predominately in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area, with 31 percent of all Florida purchases by foreigners in that market.

“We see lots of European buyers,” said Beth Butler, president of One Sotheby’s International Realty. “I think you saw a lot more people come [to Florida] because of the urgency — they could be buying [properties] at half off. So those deals really brought the European traffic, especially when the Euro was doing well.”

Butler said there has always been a traditional European market in South Florida, but it had probably increased by about a third in the last few years.

“There’s always a European prevalence [in South Florida],” said Nathan Zeder, an associate with Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell. “Of the [foreign] buyers we’re seeing, it’s probably 30 to 40 percent. Most buyers are from Central and South America, but it’s still a large contingent of European buyers, without a doubt.”

And with Europe’s ongoing debt crisis, it’s looking like that is becoming a consideration for more would-be European South Florida buyers — and could continue to be.

“More recently with the issues [they’ve] been having in Europe, [European activity] definitely picked up again, and considerably,” Zeder said.

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