Florida Realtor April 2012 : Page 19

Who, What, Where International Purchasers in Florida Canada/Mexico 41% Western Europe 23% Eastern Europe 3% Asia/ Australia 4% Middle East 2% Africa 1% In South Florida, Brazil and Russia are leading sources of international buyers, especially for condominium purchases, according to Beth Butler , president and chief operating officer of ONE Sotheby’s International Realty in Miami. “In ar-eas like Key Biscayne, we see [buyers] from Argentina and Peru, and there’s still strong European traffic on Miami Beach,” she says. In Central Florida, Ellen L. Thunell is seeing buyers from even farther afield. of our transactions involved a foreign buyer,” says Pat Dahne , broker of Pat Dahne Realty Group in Coral Gables. In the past year, for instance, Dahne has seen a family from Venezuela that pur-chased a luxury single-family home; a father from Australia who purchased a foreclosed condominium for his daughter at the University of Miami; and a French couple that explored sites in Coconut Grove for a small business. “One of the most interesting clients was an investor from Argentina who had set up a fund back home and was purchasing condo units and managing them for his partners,” Dahne says. What Do Buyers Want? Two words sum up Florida’s appeal for international buyers: vacation and value. With its beaches, golf, shop-ping, boating, and cultural and tourist attractions, Florida has been a global vacation destination for four decades. However, vacation buyers face U.S. residency restrictions that limit the amount of time they can spend in Flor-ida (see “Understand U.S. Visa Pro-grams,” this page). Today, Florida also offers excel-lent values for international buyers compared with vacation destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. “With today’s low prices and Latin America 26% “Our agents are serving buyers from South Africa and Australia, as well as Canada, Norway, Brazil and France,” says Thunell, broker/vice president at ChampionsGate Watson Realty Corp. near Orlando. “The UK is still a strong market for us, but re-cently many British owners are selling their vacation homes, and Canadians seem to be the leading group of buyers.” Perhaps the most salient point about Florida’s international market is its breadth and diversity. “About 25 percent Understand U.S. Visa Programs S ince one of the issues facing interna-tional buyers is the amount of time they can spend in Florida, it’s important to understand current and pending U.S. visa programs. In general, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) encourages foreign visitation and foreign investment, but imposes strict rules and requirements that vary from country to country. If you’re working with a foreign buyer, take a close look at the USCIS website, uscis.gov, or suggest that your customer speak with an immigration attorney. In recent years, many international investors have taken advantage of the EB-5 visa program, which is designed to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment. A foreign national who invests $1 million directly into a business that creates at least 10 jobs or invests $500,000 in a regional center that creates new jobs can get a green card and become a permanent U.S. resident. The U.S. Congress is now considering the VISIT-USA Act, which is designed to make it easier for some foreign nation-als to obtain visas. Called Visa Improve-ments to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America (S.1746), the act has several important provisions, including: • Home purchases. The bill creates a nonimmigrant visa, renewable every three years, for an individual who spends at least $500,000 to purchase single-fam-ily homes in the United States. At least $250,000 must be spent on a primary residence where the visa holder will reside for at least 180 days out of the year while paying taxes to the U.S. • Canadian tourism. A new “Canadian retiree visa” (nonimmigrant visa) would be created that would last 240 days and be renewable every three years for Canadians over age 50 who have visited the United States or own a U.S. residence. • Premium visa process. Visitors could pay a higher visa-processing fee in order to receive a visa interview within three business days, reducing long wait times in countries like Brazil and China. • Videoconference pilot program. A secure videoconferencing pilot program would be authorized for conducting visa interviews, making it easier for appli-cants to obtain a U.S. visa. Currently, an in-person interview is required. April 2012 FLORIDA REALTOR 19

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