MIAMI -- Offshore investors are flocking to Florida's distressed real estate prices as major companies with ties to Hong Kong, Spain, Argentina and Malaysia are snapping up properties sensing the local market has bottomed.
International companies can park their investment and position themselves for the next development cycle, said Tere Blanca, president and chief executive officer of Miami-based Blanca Commercial Real Estate.
"Acquiring prime properties at discount prices in the height of the market was not achievable. Whomever has deep liquidity and can be nimble and act when opportunities arise can acquire properties at what we consider to be solid pricing," he said, according to the Daily Business Review (http://bit.ly/r12HEj).
Stephan Gietl of Austria and his partner Fernando Levy-Hara, of Argentina, have purchased 307 South Florida condo units for $40 million, since 2009. The duo has sold most of the units, mainly to international investors. Levy-Hara says the units yield between 5 and 6 percent profit per year after maintenance fees and property taxes.
"With the potential appreciation, if you're buying at half the price of the bubble, you have the potential to go up 60 to 70 percent in the next five years," he said.
As Americans worry about the economy and debt ceiling, international investors still perceive the U.S. as "the most reliable country in the world," said Andrew Hellinger, chief executive of Coral Gables-based Hellinger & Penabad.
"We are a country where you can place your money for investment and know it's safe."
South Florida's most notable recent deals have ties to investors with connections to major international companies.
Swire Properties, part of Hong Kong-based real estate and airline owner Swire Pacific, bought 2.15 acres in Miami at $14 million, along with the $13.1 million acquisition of Eastern Bank's headquarters.
In May, Malaysia-based Genting Group paid $236 million for the Miami Herald's headquarters. Genting, which also owns 50 percent of Norwegian Cruise Lines, plans to build nearly 7 million square feet of hotel, convention and restaurant space. Genting executives cited Florida's growing population, budding Miami tourism and a likely nonstop flight from Asia to Miami International Airport as motivating the deal.
Agave Holdings, with ties to the owner of Jose Cuervo tequila, paid First Bank Puerto Rico $30.55 million for a project in Coral Gables.
Espacio USA, the American arm of Spanish real estate company Inmobiliaria Espacio, is about to close on its second office building. The company paid $31.52 million for another office building last year, with renovations running more than $1 million.
Brazilians have led the Miami condo market resurgence, accounting for 9 percent of unit purchases among international buyers of Miami single-family homes and condos, according to the Miami Association of Realtors.
"The feeling in Brazil is certain aspects of their real estate and economy make U.S. real property a relative bargain," said Richard Goldstein, of Bilzin Sumberg. "In other countries like Venezuela, the currency is not as much of a factor. Political instability is a factor; they want a safe haven for their money."