By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — As political unrest persists in Venezuela, wealthy Venezuelans look to Miami real estate as a safe haven to park their cash.
Like much of South America, Venezuela’s political right is in decline. The leftward shift is making the well-healed nervous and prompting them to throw down more cash for Miami real estate than any other citizens of the world.
INVESTMENTS: Venezuelans are putting money into Florida’s real estate market, creating a familiar place for the community in the exile.
Florida’s a safer bet for investing.
According to a report done by the Florida Realtors trade association, Venezuelan buyers last year made up about 8 percent of all the international purchasers in Florida, making them the second largest group of buyers in the 2013 survey.
The report also showed the lion’s share of the properties were snatched up for rental or investment, with only about 10 percent bought solely for vacation use.
They favored single-family homes in urban areas like Miami Beach, followed by Fort Lauderdale and Naples. About a third of the homes cost more than $500,000. Most of the buyers paid cash.
The buying frenzy started in the early 2000s, said Luis Ramírez, president of the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce, when the late socialist President Hugo Chavez came to power, putting state-oriented strategies ahead of free-market and pro-business reforms.
But lately, the exodus is reaching critical mass as Miami and other Florida communities, attracting growing numbers of homebuyers looking to safeguard their money from the strong-armed statism gripping the oil-rich South American country.
Ramirez said economic safety nets and culture-friendly vibes is attracting the Venezuelans to the Sunshine State.
“Those who already had real estate investments in South Florida made it a friendly place for Venezuelans, and that attracted more newcomers to the area,” he said.
“Investors are looking for a secure place to invest their money with legal guarantees and economic stability. That’s attractive to a Venezuelan businessman because that doesn’t exist in Venezuela.”
Miami isn’t the only place they’re flocking to. Their stronghold couldn’t be more evident than in Doral, a suburb of Miami with the highest percentage of Venezuelans in its population in the U.S.
Mayor Luigi Boria, elected in 2013, has the distinction of being the first Venezuelan-American mayor in the United States.
Other large Venezuelan communities thrive in Kendall and Weston, nicknamed Westonzuela, in Broward County. Weston, with its Spanish newspapers, gated communities and low crime rate, has grown steadily during the past 14 years as is a favorite of Venezuelan exiles escaping their country’s leftist-populist rule.
While Florida’s real estate sector is making a comeback, Venezuelan tourism is expected to see a decline in the coming years.
As reported earlier this year by FloridaWatchdog, new regulations imposed by the Venezuelan government restrict vacationers planning trips to Florida, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Peru to a $700 spending limit.
“Last year Florida airlines brought in around 600,000 Venezuelans. They came from different purposes,” Ramirez said. “But this year the numbers are going to decline.”
Brazil and other Latin American markets such as Argentina and Colombia continued to show strength, contributing to a total of 7.13 million international guests, up 4.4 percent from the previous year.
According to Pew Hispanic Center, of the estimated 259,000 Hispanics of Venezuelan origin residing in the United States, 65 percent are concentrated in the South, and mostly in Florida — 41 percent.
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter.