Published: Friday, September 19, 2014 at 2:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 12:10 a.m.
DAYTONA BEACH SHORES — Arturo Hernandez comes home from work and steps onto the balcony of his 17th-floor condo to unwind while overlooking the beach and Atlantic Ocean.
“It’s quiet, relaxing,” said the neuropsychologist from Colombia. “It’s the weather, and this area doesn’t have the environment of a big city with the pollution and traffic jams.”
Hernandez, a physician at Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare, has joined a growing number of international homebuyers in Volusia County and statewide. Florida leads the nation as the top destination for international sales, but Volusia County captures only a tiny fraction of the state’s sales — 1.6 percent in 2012, but up from 1.1 percent the year before.
Some area Realtors see it as a missed opportunity to attract international buyers, who spent almost $30 billion on homes in Florida over the past three years, according to a Florida TaxWatch study.
“It’s a self-inflicted wound. We just don’t market as hard as other areas to international buyers,” said David Wyant, owner/broker of Wyant Realty International in Ormond Beach, who teaches an international sales-specialist certification course for the National Association of Realtors. “We are not as well-known. We have to get out and tell our story. We are one of the last areas to recover and still have good deals.”
Efforts to attract foreign buyers may be growing locally. MG on the Halifax, the 25-story condo complex in Holly Hill, markets to potential international buyers from Canada, Russia and Brazil, a condo official said.
“We were the only ones doing that, but now we have the Hard Rock and the Russian hotel projects being marketed to international buyers. It’s creating that synergy that will help everyone,” said Eva Garcia, who oversees MG on the Halifax’s luxury rental program.
Work on the oceanfront Hard Rock Hotel and Cafe is expected to start by the end of the year for a 250-room hotel with 107 condos located a mile a south of the Daytona Beach Pier. A Russian group based in Palm Coast is planning a beachfront project at the eastern tip of Oakridge Boulevard that will have two towers for 500 hotel rooms and 122 condos.
Bayshore Capital Inc., a development partner in the Hard Rock project, considered marketing heavily to international buyers and even held meetings with brokers in South Florida, but found that international marketing wasn’t necessary.
“We targeted the Florida drive market and up and down the east coast,” said John Ott, vice president of development for Bayshore. “Right now, three-quarters of our reservations, and we have 120, are from Florida. The international market is looking for more investment properties and we are more a lifestyle purchase.”
The addition of the high-energy Hard Rock could change the local laid-back, smaller-town and older population reputation that has pushed foreign buyers to the larger cities with international flights and cultures, Realtors say.
“It’s always been a challenge to get (international buyers) to Daytona Beach,” said Fay Sarshory, owner/broker of Florida Property Experts and past president of the Daytona Beach Area Association of Realtors’ International Council. “We get mainly retirees, while the younger ones want to go to Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale. It’s more about the lifestyle of the major cities.”
According to the latest National Association of Realtors survey, foreign nationals spent more than $92 billion on residential property in the United States from mid-2013 to mid-2014. That represents 7 percent of the U.S. market and the value is up 35 percent from the previous 12 months.
Florida is by far the top U.S. destination for international sales, netting 23 percent of them. California, Texas, Arizona and Washington round out the top five states, according to the 2014 Profile of International Home Buying Activity by the National Association of Realtors. The Sunshine State has led the list that’s been compiled annually since 2007.
“International buyers want something special, unique, and that’s our oceanfront,” said O. Kheir, a real estate sales agent with Re/Max Signature in Daytona Beach Shores.
The Miami area led the state, netting more than 26 percent of the state’s international buyers last year. Orlando drew 11 percent and Fort Lauderdale attracted 10 percent, according to a Florida Realtors survey of Realtors.
Florida TaxWatch estimates more than 60,000 home purchases will be made by international buyers in the 2014-2016 calendar years with an estimated value of more than $20 billion.
Foreign buyers usually buy higher-end properties and do not qualify for homestead exemptions so they pay more taxes, according to Florida TaxWatch.
“We have a number of local buyers, but that is a limited market for our product,” said Brett Dill, president of Tarpon Partners, the South Florida group that owns the MG on the Halifax complex. “So, we need the infusion of international buyers. They make MG a more interesting and vibrant place to live. I think we have the highest concentration of international buyers in the Daytona area.”
One of MG on the Halifax’s international marketing efforts is busing up Orlando-based Realtors with international experience to the condo for special Latin-themed events to showcase the property and lifestyle, Garcia said. “The goal is to attract the growing number of Brazilian tourists to Orlando who are also looking to buy vacation properties.”
Efforts to train Realtors about international sales have found little success.
The Flagler County Association of Realtors tried to help its members and draw working-vacationers with a weeklong international sales-certification class in July. A low response forced the course to be rescheduled for January, when Realtors up north may want to get away, said Dorothy Sperber, association executive.
Polish national Brygitte Lusinski, a real estate sales agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Palm Coast and a certified international sales specialist, said international sales could increase with more international specialists.
“Little by little, international buyers are coming our way. We have quiet, peaceful, restful, beautiful beaches that are not crowded,” she said. “There is new wealth in China, India and South America. Our prices are a lot cheaper for an oceanfront home than in West Palm Beach, but we have to do a better job selling the area.”
International buyers help expand and diversify the local tax base, expand tourism and also boost the economy by frequently starting businesses.
German national Horst Henrich and his wife visited New Smyrna Beach several times in the early 1990s, renting a condo at Bethune Beach.
“It was the most amazing beach I had seen in my life,” said the former hotel owner and operator in Berlin. “After a couple of years, we bought a condo and decided to stay.”
In 1995, Henrich built a commercial building on South Atlantic Avenue and opened a business that sold clothes, furnishings, gifts and arts and crafts. He also developed the Sugarmill Gardens and Veranda residential subdivisions in New Smyrna Beach. He recently bought a beachside duplex to fix up and rent out.
“It’s the weather,” Henrich said about what brought him to the area. “Second, it’s the friendly people and third, there are more freedoms to do want you want here. There are too many restrictions in Europe.”