VERO BEACH – International real estate buyers have discovered Vero Beach as people from Canada, Europe and South America are looking at and buying barrier island real estate this year more than ever.
“For the first time in 30 years in real estate, I’m running out of houses (to sell),” said Cindy O’Dare, a Premier Estate Properties Realtor. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in international buyers – our office is up 26 percent.
“I’ve sold several oceanfront properties to international buyers in the past year,” O’Dare said. “They’ve been primarily Canadian and English, but we’ve also had Russians, Germans, and Finns. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in interest in buyers from those countries in particular.”
Another real estate firm saw internet interest by Canadians jump nearly 60 percent while interest from both the United Kingdom and Germany is up about 20 percent.
With much of America still mired in a foreclosure and economic funk, the 32963 zipcode’s real estate market has enjoyed a healthy start to 2011.
O’Dare said that of the six most recent beachfront properties she sold, one went to Canadian buyers and a second was bought by Germans.
Local real estate and businesses have enjoyed some of the best sales numbers in years, and Vero Beach has been touted as a spring break and vacation spot on the “Today Show with Kathy Lee and Hoda.”
In March, Yahoo! listed Vero Beach as its top-searched beachside spring break destination.
In addition to search engines like Yahoo!, local real estate offices have utilized the internet to advertise Vero properties across the globe.
“The web just opens up the world to everybody,” O’Dare said. “Premier Estate Properties has internet domain names in 32 different countries, and because of this my inquiries are tremendous from international buyers. A lot of (foreign buyers) are interested in the beaches, the ocean, and the weather. The buyers who come here in favor of the Miami area like the slow pace, the restaurants, the shopping, and low density – basically what brings everybody else here.”
Treasure Coast Sotheby’s International, as the name implies, caters heavily to the foreign market.
A big part of its success is the boost it gets in the form of internet-based technology. Its office is lined with flat panel monitors that feature high-end properties from abroad.
Some of those properties featured in that rotation are barrier island homes.
“We have E-Gallery, and that’s featured in 550 offices in the world,” said Kim Hardin, co-owner of Treasure Coast Sotheby’s International. “It is price-point sensitive, and it rotates properties priced over $1.5 million. With E-Gallery, we’re able to market a house in 30 countries and territories within 24 hours. That’s something definitely unique to our company. If the house is on the market for $1.5 million and has exquisite photography, it will be featured on E-Gallery.”
Another office actively testing the international waters is Dale Sorensen Real Estate.
The firm’s web site gets most of its visits from Canada, United Kingdom, and Germany in that order.
Traffic to the site from Canada is up over 58 percent year-to-year over 2010, and is up around 20 percent for United Kingdom and Germany.
Dale Sorensen, Jr. said his office’s overseas real estate affiliates, along with the internet, are vital cogs in the recent growth of barrier island real estate.
“In addition to affiliates overseas and networking through these extensive affiliations we have a marketing and public relations office in London, Mayfair International Realty. Mayfair has been instrumental in providing us with exclusive opportunities for media coverage for our company and our listings both online and in print.”
Visits to the company’s web site have shown exponential growth from last year at this time.
Aside from massive numbers visiting that site from Canada, United Kingdom, and Germany, there has been a big change in website visits from Hungary (up 241 percent), Australia (up 91 percent), and the Netherlands Antilles (up from just 12 visits to 205 year-todate).
“Without a doubt the internet has played a major role for us,” Sorensen said. “Our most expensive oceanfront condo sale and oceanfront home sale both were made to international buyers who researched the properties online first. The important fact is, over 90 percent of buyers have had some exposure to the internet as it relates to their real estate search prior to arriving here.”
“While the Internet is extremely important, it still is a relationship business,” Sorensen added. “There are no click-to-buy buttons on real estate websites that I know of, so the buyer still inquires via email or a phone call to the office or agent.”
Matilde Sorensen, broker and coowner of Dale Sorensen Real Estate, and Sorensen agent Rosanne Moler agree that understanding the needs of foreign buyers is job one for a real estate office.
“I had some Canadians buy at Millstone Landing and these people are making (buying a home) part of their vacations – they were looking for second homes,” said Moler. “I’ve worked with a lot of Canadians over the years, and they really take their time. They do a lot of research.”
“I’ve recently had a few buyers from Canada and one from Europe,” Matilde Sorensen added. “I did sell a $7 million house to a Canadian couple, and a few (other) properties in the $1 million range. The foreign buyer likes homes which are ready to be moved into and furnished. They like to buy the whole package.”
Steve and Kris Guynane purchased a home in Old Orchid in July 2009 after visiting Vero Beach only twice. The couple spends about one week per month in Florida and the balance of their time in Ennismore, Ontario.
“My parents used to spend winters in Largo over on the west coast of Florida, but I like it that it’s not so busy here. We live in the country in Canada and I like it here because it’s quiet,” Steve Gynane said. “I’m 52 and we’ve traveled all over. We thought about Mexico; Florida wasn’t really at the top of our list. But we really love it here; it’s like paradise.”
Gynane’s business partner in the building supply industry – also a North barrier island resident and fellow Canadian – recommended Vero Beach to the couple; the Gynanes in turn have returned the favor by asking other Canadians to visit or stay.
“People are so friendly and we have a lot of really great neighbors,” Gynane said. “If I was here more, I’d get more involved in things in the community.”
Staff Writer Liza Zahner contributed to this story.