It’s still a long way from Asia to Florida, yet a growing number of Asians are joining the throng of foreign investors buying Florida real estate, according to a recent study done by the National Association of Realtors in cooperation with Florida Realtors.
While still a minor player in Florida real estate, China has joined Latin American nations like Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina in becoming a growing source of foreign-national buyers in the state, the survey found. Meanwhile, Europeans from the United Kingdom, Germany and France “have figured less prominently compared to previous years.’’
The number of Florida real estate transactions by foreign nationals dropped 15.8 percent to 22,572 from 26,806 a year earlier, the survey says. Still total foreign sales rose 3.8 percent to $6.43 billion from $6.20 billion a year earlier, reflecting higher prices.
Among all foreign sales, the Miami area accounted for 21.1 percent in the year ended in August, followed by the Orlando-Kissimmee area, which accounted for 13.5 percent and greater Fort Lauderdale, which accounted for 8.5 percent.
Canadians continued to lead the pack among foreign nationals buying Florida real estate, accounting for about 30 percent of foreign sales in Florida, while Venezuelans totaled 8 percent, the survey of 977 Realtors conducted July 9 to Aug 16 revealed.
Asians accounted for 11 percent of foreign purchases in the Fort Lauderdale area over the past year (a surprising finding to some Realtors interviewed); 10 percent of those in the greater Orlando area; and 5 percent in Miami, the survey said.
A Japanese real estate broker, representing 10 buyers and accompanied by a translator and investment advisor, recently signed deals for 10 units at Nine, a new condominium project under construction above Mary Brickell Village in downtown Miami.
Edgardo Defortuna, CEO of Fortune International, which is marketing the project, said before the visitors left, the broker “asked if he brought 10 more friends in a month, would I respect the same pricing. I said, ‘Let’s see if I have units,’ and he was very excited.”
Defortuna said a Chinese visitor recently signed up for a pre-construction unit at the Jade Signature condominium in Sunny Isles Beach. The architect on that project, Herzog & De Meuron, is well known in China, since the firm also did the National Stadium for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, Defortuna said.
“They really have ‘woken up’ [to Miami] lately,” Defortuna said. “It’s something of a different buyer, a buyer that has been attracted to New York. Now it’s trickling down.’’
Others agree that Miami is now on Asians’ radar.
“Interest in Miami in general has elevated in Asia, and the awareness of Miami as an international gateway likewise has grown,’’ said Stephen Owens, president of Swire Properties Inc. That is the U.S. unit of Hong Kong-based Swire Properties Ltd., which is building Brickell CityCentre, a $1 billion undertaking that combines shopping, living, entertainment and work space that is expected to transform downtown Miami’s look and feel.
Swire recently doubled down on its Miami bet with its purchase of the 700 Brickell building, where it plans to develop another nearly $1 billion investment, an 80-story, mixed-use tower as phase two of the downtown overhaul.
“Interest from Asia in generally is up, but it’s also up from Canada and from within the United States,” Owens said. “So Miami’s dependence on Latin America [for investment] is changing.’’
Institutional projects such as Swire’s are, of course, distinct from individual home purchases that make up much of the fabric of international investment in Florida real estate.
Yet many locals see Swire’s presence — along with that of Genting, the Malaysian giant that acquired the former headquarters of the Miami Herald in 2011 and neighboring Omni property for redevelopment — drawing more Asian investment to the region.
“Money follows money,” said Alicia Cervera, managing director of Cervera Real Estate, a Miami brokerage that markets pre-construction luxury condominium projects for many developers. “We’re at a tipping point,” she said, with the widening of the Panama Canal and the deepening of Miami’s harbor to accommodate bigger ships, developments that will boost Asian focus on the region. “The missing piece of the puzzle is a direct flight.”
The Miami Association of Realtors is working hard to prime the pump. Among other things, Teresa King Kinney, chief executive officer of the group, joined a trade mission this year to Hong Kong and Singapore to promote the Miami market. The Realtors group plans to host a Chinese TV crew to film the Miami market for a promotional program.
The GDTV real estate channel broadcasts to more than 40 million viewers in the province of Guangdong.