Foreign investors have more than doubled their purchases of Tampa Bay real estate in the last year, as buyers look beyond Miami for bargains.
At $120 million, overseas purchases in Tampa Bay in the last 12 months trailed only Miami at $127 million and Palm Beach at $275 million.
In the previous two years, according to Real Capital Analytics, foreign buyers spent a total of $107 million in the Tampa Bay area.
International investment in Florida is not new, but the money flow from Latin America is increasing, said John Stone, a managing director at Colliers International Tampa Bay. "There is a sense around the world that America is for sale," he said. "They're buying up everything."
Although foreign buyers still drive the South Florida real estate market, their increasing presence in Tampa Bay is being fueled by rising condo prices and a dwindling supply of high-end units in Miami.
Florida's rock-bottom prices on luxury condos attract buyers from Venezuela, Canada, Israel, Argentina, Germany and Brazil, experts say. The prospect of using the condos for rental income is an additional draw.
"Venezuelans are leading the charge," said Peter Zalewski of Condo Vultures, a real estate advisory and research firm in Bar Harbour. "They're going all over the state."
Europeans seem drawn to Orlando, while Venezuelan buyers scour Tampa Bay, Sarasota-Bradenton and Naples, he said. Latin American buyers want to be near the water, Zalewski said, adding: "They don't want Mickey Mouse."
The wealthiest Venezuelans fear losing money from the political instability under President Hugo Chavez.
Stone recently closed a $2.3 million deal for a 96-unit apartment complex in Naples. The Venezuelan buyer plans to rehab the units and market them as condos in his country, Stone said.
Many are also interested in bulk purchases, like entire buildings or blocks of units, not just individual condos.
Another factor luring the foreign cash: Luxury condos are currently cheaper than the cost of building new ones. New construction has been halted as the market rids itself of an excess inventory from the building boom.
In February, condo sales rose 58 percent in Miami compared with the same month last year. The median sales price was $94,000, compared with $65,100 in Tampa Bay. The bay area price dropped 27 percent from $89,200, but sales increased 33 percent.
Jim Selvey, president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, said area agents have been trained in dealing with foreign buyers. He hopes the cash can help the area market.
"We'd be more than happy to deal with them," Selvey said. "This is something to be looking forward to."
Foreign buyers search for more than condos in Tampa Bay.
John Burpee, the head of NAI Tampa Bay, a commercial real estate firm, said prices of multi-family buildings are up 10 to 25 percent in the last year.
He added: "There are multiple buyers for good properties, and great properties are sold before they hit the open market."
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markapuente.