Europe Buys More Florida Homes

International buyers account for roughly 15 percent of total home sales in Florida, according to a study released Thursday that confirms what has long been known: Europeans and Latin Americans are a significant component in the state’s residential real estate market.

But in a surprise, the study — conducted from May 2004 to May 2005 — found that the majority of international homebuyers in the state are not from Latin America, but Europe.

Europeans accounted for 58 percent of the homes bought by foreign buyers, according to the study. Overall, the United Kingdom alone accounted for a third of all international purchases in the state. The weak U.S. dollar may be jump-starting real estate buying by Europeans taking advantage of the discount.

“The exchange rate is finally catching people’s attention,” said Ronald A. Shuffield, president of Coral Gables-based Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell.

Meanwhile, buyers from South America, Central America and the Caribbean comprised a third of all international home buyers.

The survey, conducted over a 12-month period by the Florida Association of Realtors and National Association of Realtors, tracked data from 986 Realtors from May 2004 to 2005.

For years there has been overwhelming anecdotal evidence that foreign home buyers play a sizable role in Florida — and particularly in South Florida — residential real estate markets. But according to the Florida Association of Realtors, there has never been a study quantifying the trend.

In an effort to get even more data on where buyers come from and for what purpose — for instance, whether a primary residence or second home — the Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches is launching a study later this year with Florida International University.

“There really hasn’t been any good data out there,” said Teresa King Kinney, CEO of the Realtor organization.

Local market watchers said the number of foreign buyers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties is likely higher than the state figure of 15 percent, but not necessarily by much.

“From the numbers we see coming into the office we think 15 to 20 percent are international sales,” said Shuffield of EWM, the second biggest real estate brokerage in Miami-Dade and Broward.

Some experts argue that the number of foreign buyers in South Florida makes the region’s red-hot real estate market unique. Unlike other parts of the country, the argument goes, South Florida is less likely to be hit with a housing market downturn because of strong international demand.

The study found that nearly a third of the Florida foreign real estate buyers purchased homes in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Roughly 23 percent of foreign buyers bought in the Orlando area, followed by the Naples-Fort Myers and Tampa-St. Petersburg regions.

The survey also found that cash is often king for foreign buyers when purchasing a home. More than a third of international buyers paid cash for their homes compared to just 10 percent of all Florida home purchasers.

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