Monday, June 13, 2005

Sales in Sarasota to International Buyers on rise

Manatee real estate market attractive to buyers overseas: "Better than the British stock market"
Herald Staff Writer

MANATEE - When David Ford took early retirement from his job in England, he envisioned spending six months in Florida playing golf and six months in England.

"I fell in love with Florida," Ford said.

Now, the owner/broker of Sunset International Realty and Property Management in East Manatee, Ford helps international and local buyers find their own piece of Florida.

International buyers, led by those from Great Britain, are searching for permanent residences, second homes, rentals or straight out investments.

"It's better than the British stock market," Ford said.

Though many like to spend vacations on or near Florida's beaches and sunshine, Coldwell Banker sales associate Barbara Ackerman has dealt with many buyers recently who are interested simply in investment.

"Most of international buyers I've dealt with are using the purchases as a vehicle of investing with the idea that they'll spend little to no time here," Ackerman said.

It's not uncommon for Ford, Ackerman and other Realtors to never meet their buyers face to face.

"They buy really freely and they will buy virtually sight unseen," said Mike Migone of Wedebrock Realty.

The international market hasn't been completely smooth during the past five years. In October 2001, the Patriot Act was passed, making it harder for international buyers to purchase property.

"The Patriot Act soured people on it," said Michael Saunders Realtor Michael Moulton. "Several clients sold their properties because they don't want to own here anymore."

An initial panic following the Patriot Act had buyers around the world thinking the United States was going to place a limit of 30 days on visa waivers instead of the 90-day system currently in place.

"Why would you buy a home if you could only use it for 30 days instead of 90 or longer?" Ford said. "Fort Myers took the brunt of the panic selling in 2001."

The international buyers started to slowly creep back into the market, until last year when the number of international sales shot up. Two percent of 2004's recorded property sales in Manatee County were to foreign owners, with United Kingdom buyers surpassing Canadians as the most prevalent buyers.

Luxury Real Estate owner Mark P. Riley said international sales have picked up tremendously in the past six to 12 months.

"You can't make this kind of return in England," Riley said.

Moulton hasn't seen the same resurgence. Working on Longboat Key and dealing primarily with properties that top the million-dollar mark, he said the international buyers aren't looking to spend the way they have in the past.

"High-end foreign investment is drying up," Moulton said.

He said people in the European market are looking closer to home for real estate comparable to what Florida can offer. Places like Spain, with its beaches and warm weather, requires a shorter trip and they can travel more freely.

While weather is often a big draw for international clients, Rose Bay Real Estate agent Donna Bucher has recently sold homes to several families relocating so their children can attend Nick Bollettieri's IMG Tennis Academy.

"I recently sold to families from Thailand, India, Belgium and England," Bucher said.

Ten-year-old Oscar Bailey's love for tennis and desire to attend IMG might have led the English family to Bradenton, but Kim Bailey said they feel completely at home.

"We fell in love with Manatee County," Bailey said.

She and Oscar live here full time. While visa issues have so far prevented her husband Luke from being able to call the United States home, he visits quite often.

The Baileys moved to the area in August 2004 and four hurricanes soon followed, but the family never considered leaving.

"We didn't think much of the hurricanes because we're from England and it's always blustery and windy there," Bailey said.

For son Oscar, life on the hot tennis courts of IMG was different than the indoor courts of England. The stifling summer heat took some getting used to, but now, weather and all, Oscar loves Florida as much as his mother.

"He's already speaking with an American accent," Bailey said.

Exchange rates are favorable for European buyers with the Euro valued higher than the American dollar. For those English buyers, the constantly appreciating real estate market in their country makes United States real estate more appealing.

"It's like buying property at half price for us," Bailey said.

In addition to their Cypress Creek home, the Baileys bought a condo as an investment. Finding renters for their Wildwood condominium is easy now that Bailey took a job as a property manager for Rose Bay Real Estate, the same company that helped her find her dream home.

Turning residential homes into rental properties, especially short-term rentals, irritates some year-round residents in different communities, but Ford said it is usually only a small group of people who complain and usually it is because of poor management of the property.

"Some property manager will leave trash cans to rolling around in the streets," Ford said.

In some areas, Ford has heard of attempts to change deed restrictions, but hasn't heard of any location where it has actually been successful.

Technology has brought about many changes in both buying property and finding vacation rentals.

"The Internet has created a lot of entrepreneurs," he said.

Barry Edgley and his family moved to Florida on Jan. 13, 2004. The booming real estate market didn't scare the Edgleys one bit, in fact it was kind of like home.

"Property in England has been silly really. At one point, home prices were going up 10,000 pounds a month," Edgley said.

Edgley found a similar market when he moved to Lakewood Ranch. After just 10 months, Edgley sold his home for a 43 percent profit before moving further east to Wauchula, where real estate prices are rising steadily but not at Lakewood Ranch's rate.

For less than what his house in Lakewood Ranch sold for, Edgley was able to buy a home situated on 13 acres in Wauchula.

"We're planning to do what we did in England, which is buy a house and completely refurbish it," Edgley said.

He also wants to carve a five-acre parcel out of the property and build another home there as an investment.

In England, Edgley said he quadrupled his money in three years with one particular property.

"The biggest problem in investing in places like Bradenton and England is you have got to have lots of money," he said.

With the exchange rate, buying what you can before prices go higher has Edgley's friends across the pond talking. He is keeping his eye out for properties for friends.

Edgley believes Wauchula will continue to grow because of its location.

"We've gone about as far north as we can, we've gone about as south as we can and we've definitely gone as far west," Edgley said. "The only place to go is east."

Melissa Followell, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7920 or Valeo Clearance License 3.120.4597122-101259

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