International real estate deals accounted for 29 percent of all transactions in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in the past year, comprising one of the more vibrant corners of the local economy.
But the truth is Miami real estate isn’t so much bought by foreigners as it is sold to them — by a polished army of real estate agents, who strategize and network to make those sales happen.
This week, some 300 agents who focus on the foreign market have gathered at the Miami International Real Estate Congress at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
The event — put on for the 20th year by the Miami Association of Realtors — has drawn some 70 agents from Brazil, Argentina, France, Italy, Ecuador, Colombia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it is abuzz with the excitement of a city that, after the painful bust of 2008, once again has a skyline full of construction cranes.
“Miami is the most international city in the entire United States,” Teresa King Kinney, CEO of the Miami Association of Realtors, told the gathering. Her proof: More than half the residents in Miami-Dade were born abroad.
If Miami-Dade doesn’t set another record year for residential sales in 2014, it will come close to doing so, buoyed by the strength of foreign demand, King Kinney told the meeting, which continues through Tuesday.
Despite tough economic conditions in much of Latin America and Europe, foreign buyers are continuing to invest in Miami, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors. Still, foreign sales accounted for a smaller share of sales than in 2013, when 35 percent of sales by Miami-Dade and Broward agents involved international clients.
South Florida’s foreign buyers tend to be big spenders: The mean price of a residence purchased by an international buyer was $444,052. That compared with a mean of $245,000 for all Florida home sales. Brazilians had the highest mean purchase price, $494,531, while Canadians had the lowest, $310,484, the report said.
“International buyers in Miami are more upscale, the NAR study found,” King Kinney said.
And that means big money for the Realtors who cater to them.
“We’re probably paying some of the highest commissions in the world — between 5 percent and 7 percent,” Alicia Cervera La Madrid, managing partner of Miami-based Cervera Real Estate, told the crowd.
Cervera’s firm specializes in sales and marketing of pre-construction condominiums and works through networks of agents locally and internationally.
Many South Florida real estate agents are multilingual or hail from a foreign country and thus understand the language and culture of their clients.
Mauricio Mohrer, a Realtor associate with Beachfront Realty Inc. in Aventura, is a Brazilian-American who travels several times a year to Brazil to nurture ties with clients and other agents there.
Mohrer said through training sessions put on by the Miami Association of Realtors, he has also polished his skills in understanding other cultures, including Asians.
While Asians currently make up a small share of buyers in Miami, many locals expect that to increase with the increased trade expected at PortMiami once the expansion of the Panama Canal is complete.
Philip Spiegelman, principal at Aventura-based International Sales Group, another big sales and marketing firm focused on pre-construction condos, said real estate brokers play a vital role in connecting foreign buyers to Miami projects.
“For the guy sitting in Caracas or Buenos Aires or Sao Paulo who doesn’t need shelter but who wants to make an investment or wants a vacation home, it’s our job to create that impetus,” Spiegelman said.
According to the NAR study, 81 percent of South Florida’s foreign buyers paid cash, and 72 percent purchased a condo or townhouse.
Kinney King said, “Cash continues to be king,” even though a growing number of lenders do offer the option of mortgage financing at some level. “The assumption is Miami is a very good place to put your money,” she said.