The Housing Scene

Chinese Latest to Find Miami

There's no question that Miami has become a true international city, maybe even more so than San Francisco and New York. After all, it offers it all -- culture, sports, fine dining, plenty of sunshine and the one thing those other cities don't have: moderate housing prices.

But the folks at ERA Real Estate, the global realty franchise, have identified five lesser-known spots around the country that are now being targeted by buyers from other countries.

"We are seeing an influx of international buyers in these off-the-radar markets," ERA's Frank Malpica said at last month's National Association of Real Estate Editors annual conference in Miami.

ERA's "hidden gems" include Amelia Island, Florida, which it calls a "coastal treasure" 30 miles from Jacksonville, and Nashville, Tennessee, a "big city in a small-town body" that's famous for its music but also boasts nearly 30 institutions of higher learning.

Also on the list are Kingsland, Georgia, on the Atlantic coast three miles from the Florida line; Lake Norman, North Carolina, a 34-mile-long man-made lake

15 miles from downtown Charlotte, and Kennewick, Washington, which is located in the heart of the state's wine country along the Columbia River and has 300 days of sunshine every year.

But back to Miami, where the local real estate board has working agreements with Realtor groups in 126 other countries.

According to Teresa King Kinney, CEO of the Miami Association of Realtors, most international buyers use their Miami residences as vacation homes. Others actually migrate to the United States, and still others use their places to establish U.S. residency so they can send their children to college in this country.

Then there are those who invest here now with the idea that they will exit their home countries sometime in the future, said Ronald Fieldstone, a partner in the Miami law office of Arnstein & Lehr who specializes in immigrant visas.

According to Kinney and Edgardo Defortuna of the Fortune International Group, a high-end real estate firm based in Miami, buyers from China are the most recent international buyers to find Miami.

In the past, Defortuna told the NAREE conference that Chinese buyers have tended to invest in Los Angeles, New York and even Chicago because those cities have large Chinese populations. But now they have discovered that Miami also is a world-class city.

Defortuna told the story of a recent Chinese buyer who was having trouble communicating with a sales agent, so the agent gave the man a list of the 24 units still available in the property. The man marked out four units and gave the list back to the agent.

The thrilled agent thought the man wanted those four units, but it turns out he wanted the 20 he didn't mark out. He wasn't interested in the other four because their unit numbers didn't square well with Chinese superstition.

Although the Chinese are buying here in greater numbers, according to Kinney of the Miami realty association, they still are only eighth in the pecking order of international buyers, with just a 2 percent market

share.

The Realtor association executive also reported that Miami's foreign buyers paid an average of $444,000 per purchase last year, compared to $245,000 statewide.

Foreigners don't believe in mortgages, either. More

than 80 percent in Miami are all-cash buyers versus just 31 percent nationally, she said.

But while million-dollar-and-up estates and condo apartments grab the headlines, they hide the fact that Miami and environs are still relatively inexpensive. The median sales price in the country's eighth-most populous and fourth-largest urban area is still just $282,000 for a single-family residence and $207,000 for a condominium apartment.

Nationally, meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors reported recently that for the first time, the Chinese have supplanted Canadians as the top international buyers in U.S. real estate.

Overall, five countries accounted for 51 percent of all foreign purchases in the one-year period between April 2014 and March 2015, with China and Canada in the lead, followed by Mexico, India and the United Kingdom, NAR said. But the Chinese spent more than twice as much as the Canadians ­- $28.6 billion versus $11.2 billion.

NAR estimated total international sales in America for the period at $104 billion, compared to $92.2 billion for the same period the year before. This 13 percent gain was realized even though the number of transactions was down by 10 percent.

"The amount of money spent ... means international purchasers in the U.S. have become an upscale group of buyers," NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement.

While international buyers purchase property throughout the country, four states accounted for half of all international sales: Florida (21 percent), California (16 percent), Texas (8 percent) and Arizona (5 percent).

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