Mention the words “Quebec”, “Florida” and “real estate” in the same sentence and the chances are you envision a mile-long stretch of Hollywood Beach packed with swim-suited bodies. Winter visitors who are more likely to read Le Courrier de Floride or Montreal Gazette than the Miami Herald, eating les crêpes and la poutine instead of hot dogs or empanadas. And diners singing along with Céline Dion instead of Gloria Estefan. Bienvenue! Welcome to Flori-bec!
For more than 50 years, French-speaking Canadians from Quebec have flocked to Hollywood Beach and Hallandale for winter warmth, feeling comfortable there culturally and linguistically. But while these somewhat-cartoonish images carry some truth, many of these visitors have moved elsewhere in South Florida as currencies fluctuate and market trends shift.
As a real estate professional with a 30-year presence in South Florida real estate market combined with my French background, I always found the French-Canadian connection to South Florida intriguing. I would like to share my experiences and observations with the growth and evolution of Miami’s Quebecois “snowbird” homebuyers.
Before winter, they relocate to their Miami and Fort Lauderdale homes and live up to six months here, drawn by Miami’s tropical weather, resort lifestyle and world-class shopping. More than a million Canadians over 55 years old have adopted the “snowbird” lifestyle. At the same time, there are expected to be well over 4 million Canadian tourists — snowbird and non-snowbird alike — this year in Florida, including about 1.2 million Quebecois.
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According to the 2016 Profile of International Home Buyers of Miami Association of Realtors Members, Canadians continue to search for Miami-area real estate. In fact, Canada had the fifth-most web searches for Miami real estate in November 2016. That ranking came on the heels of its first-place finish in October and second-place finish in September.
More numbers to show the impact that Canadian consumers have: Canada is the fourth-most represented country among buyers of South Florida real estate from other countries. Buyers from the U.S.’ northern neighbor registered 6 percent of all South Florida international sales last year. And perhaps most important: Among all international buyers, Canadians spend the most cash on South Florida real estate. About 81 percent of Canadian buyers paid all-cash for South Florida real estate in 2016. Argentina (78 percent), Colombia (71 percent), Venezuela (71 percent) and Brazil (65 percent) trailed Canada in cash sales.
Do Canadians, especially French-Canadians, still prefer Broward over other parts of Florida in the winter? That’s debatable. Besides Hallandale, Hollywood Beach and elsewhere in Broward, many live in North Miami Beach and Miami-Dade. There’s also a significant Canadian presence south of Palm Beach in Boynton Beach, Lake Worth and Delray Beach. Some Canadians have chosen to move in and around Naples, where the beaches are also attractive to buyers.
Also, depending on their budget, some of these snowbirds like to vary their destinations by flying to the Caribbean from South Florida. Norwegian Airlines has competitive direct flights between Fort Lauderdale and Guadeloupe, for instance. Canadians also travel to Mexico and Cuba during the winter.
Over the past year, market observers have noted that there have been fewer francophone Quebecois in the Sunshine State than in previous years — especially in 2010, when the U.S. was pulling out of its recession — and that they are visiting for shorter periods, because the exchange rate has tilted in favor of the States. As of Friday (March 17), a huard, as the Quebecois call a Canadian dollar, was worth 0.7480 U.S.
Yet it’s unlikely that the long lines of license plates bearing a blue fleur-de-lys and “Je me souviens” — “I remember,” a reference to Quebec’s historical memory — will go away anytime soon.
Daniel Veilleux, president of Desjardins Bank, whose headquarters are in Hallandale Beach, sees the number of bank transactions with visitors as an indication of how many Canadians are in Florida.
“At the bank branch level for the last three months of the year, we see a decrease of about 6 percent compared to the same period last year,” Veilleux said. “On the other hand, statistics showing the level of financing and the demand for the last three years is maintained from year to year.
“I am therefore not too concerned about our performance, despite the increase in exchange rates over the last two years.”
Also, a unique real estate cycle may develop as older Canadian retirees find they can no longer afford to spend six months away from home — and their health insurance — and decide to sell their South Florida homes. New buying opportunities will open up for a younger generation of Canadians looking for a home in the sun.
In addition, the immigration changes and fears may limit visits and investors from other parts of the world, but the relative ease with which Canadians can cross the border will make the Quebecois even more important to all the sectors of the South Florida economy catering to foreign investors and visitors.
Therefore, we can’t afford to ignore the Quebecois. They are a force to be reckoned with. Whatever minimal impact the strong dollar and the realities of a changed immigration situation have, the power of the sun and the sand and warm ocean are far more powerful. That balance will continue unabated in 2017 as it has for over 50 years.
Stephanie Hirschenson is a Realtor-associate at Macken Realty in Aventura and Las Olas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-467-4400. Website is www.stephsellsmiami.us.
▪ This is an opinion piece written for Broker’s View/Real Estate in Business Monday of the Miami Herald. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the newspaper.
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