Venezuela opposition leader spurs renewed interest among SoFla real estate investors amid turmoil

Miami brokers and other industry pros say change in the country's regime could benefit Venezuela — and South Florida — real estate markets
By Katherine Kallergis | February 22, 2019 02:30PM

Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido (Credit: Wikipedia and Google Maps)

UPDATED, Feb. 21, 4:10 p.m.: As Venezuela descended into economic turmoil in recent years, real estate values plummeted and investors looked elsewhere, including to South Florida. Eventually, that too dried up, as the government’s grip tightened and the country grew more isolated. Now, as Venezuela’s opposition leader vies for control amid a humanitarian crisis, some of those investors are turning their attention back to the country, sensing or hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel.

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido — backed by the U.S. and dozens of other countries — “has invigorated a lot of interest in Venezuela,” said Craig Studnicky, principal and owner of ISG. “A lot of Venezuelans [in South Florida] are lining up to do cheap real estate deals in Venezuela.”

Vicky Fulop, senior counsel in the Miami office of Holland & Knight, said her Venezuelan friends who listed their homes for sale before leaving the country in recent years, hadn’t gotten any offers — until recently. In the last few weeks, she said, “the brokers have been calling them like crazy.” The real estate movement, she said, “has been incredible in the last two weeks.”

A change in Venezuela’s regime could benefit the country’s real estate market and eventually bring Venezuelan buyers back to Miami, local industry pros said.

But now, most Venezuelans struggle to pay for basic items as inflation soars. On Friday, President Nicolas Maduro shut the border to Brazil and said he may also close the border to Colombia to block incoming aid.

Over the last three years, more than 3 million people have fled the country, according to United Nations estimates. Over the same period, foreign investment from South America into the U.S. has largely dropped off.

Between 2012 and 2015, condo buyers from Venezuela represented roughly 25 percent of Latin American real estate sales in Miami, Studnicky said. Now, that figure is essentially down to 1 percent, he said.

Several brokers say it will be a long time before Venezuelan nationals are again buying real estate in Miami.

Sergio Pintos, who works for ISG and Property Markets Group, believes it will be another two to three years before the country begins to improve. Most of the major real estate brokers left Venezuela in recent years, he said, and are no longer doing business in their home country or in Miami. Even if conditions improve quickly, most Venezuelans don’t have enough wealth to buy property, and those who do, he said, have ties to the Maduro government.

But Fulop, who was born and raised in Venezuela, is more optimistic. Once the oil and gas sector reactivates, she said, real estate, hospitality and other industries will follow. Despite the chaos, Fulop added, property values are already rising. Fulop is now part of a new group at her firm, made up of 20 partners working with clients with interests in Venezuela. The group’s expertise lies in real estate and hospitality, sanctions and trade, corporate and tax, international disputes and energy and natural resources.

“Even though people left in massive numbers, they always kept a foot firmly grounded in Venezuela. They kept their businesses, they kept their residences,” she said. Those who remained and who have the means, “will definitely be at the forefront when things change and pick up.”

Alicia Cervera of Cervera Real Estate expects that a change in government would create wealth in Venezuela that would eventually arrive in Miami. Most wealthy Venezuelans have already moved their money out of their home country, she said. And while some are still buying in Miami, Cervera said, the number is not “as much as we would like to see.”

But like other Latin American countries that faced political and economic instability, and whose investors returned to South Florida, Cervera said the same will happen in Venezuela.

“Colombia is back, Brazil is back, Mexico is here. … The bottom line is that Miami tends to win when there’s a good turn in the politics and Miami tends to win when there’s a problem,” Cervera said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Vicky Fulop’s name.