Miami real estate brokers have noted a steady stream of French investors pocketing vacation homes off Florida’s coastline for a few years, but fears of terrorism have turned some vacationers into full-time residents.
Some French buyers looking for a more permanent stay are trading vacation-ready condos for single-family homes near schools, said Danny Hertzberg, a Miami Beach broker with Coldwell Banker.
“A lot of French people who were coming here for vacation are actually moving here and moving their families,” said Hertzberg, a member of the luxury real estate team known as “The Jills” and the son of co-founder Jill Hertzberg.
Hertzberg is showing property to French buyers on a weekly basis, up from about once a month a year ago.
“Many of them are very open on why they’re moving,” he said. “They don’t feel comfortable, they don’t feel secure, and security is everything.”
In early 2015, two masked gunmen attacked the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, leaving 12 people dead. The attack generated media headlines worldwide and was followed by several Islamic State-related attacks in France and Belgium, hurting tourism and pushing out residents looking for a safer place to live.
Miami is a “natural” transition for French buyers, Fabrice Lechevestrier said in an email. A French national who now lives in Miami, Lechevestrier confessed, “Living in a condominium, it was new to me, and I do not love it very much.” But he praised the region for its weather, diverse population and proximity to the ocean — “essential for me,” he said.
Ross Milroy, a Miami Beach broker who works mostly with international buyers, helped Lechevestrier and several other clients relocate to South Florida via the E-2 investor visa program. The visa allows immigrants to live in the U.S. by investing in new or existing businesses. Lechevestrier opened a beauty salon.
The expanding pool of buyers typically looks for single-family homes in the $1 million to $5 million range on or near the water and large enough for a big family, said Milroy, founder of Ross Miami. The clients also want to live near international-type schools like a Montessori.
“It’s mostly families who move here because they feel that they’re kids are more secure,” said Sandra Debuire, a French-speaking broker with Coldwell Banker in Miami Beach. The bulk of French buyers don’t speak English, but she said the language is not a barrier.
While a French-dominated neighborhood has yet to appear in Miami-Dade, buyers have gravitated to areas like the Upper East Side in Miami, Keystone Islands in North Miami and Normandy Isles in Miami Beach.
Brokers say several factors aside from terrorism have contributed to the French flight to South Florida, including France’s tempered economy, the influx of refugees and Europe’s tense political climate. These conditions are vastly changing the European buyer’s market, said Milroy, who has helped Europeans invest in and relocate to South Florida for two decades.
He’s working with more German and Austrian buyers than ever before, a movement he describes as highly unusual. Milroy said Europeans are cautious and conservative, which means they like to stay in one place and make long-term investments.
“They don’t move around a lot,” he said. “So what’s happening? The political climate is causing distress. People are really worried about the future of the European Union.”
Hertzberg is also working with more Turkish buyers and tenants. He said some are leasing quickly just to secure a place in Miami with plans to buy property later.
His day-to-day customer has changed from a year ago when he was showing property to buyers from Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina on a daily basis.
“Now it’s a lot of local South Floridians, Northeasterners, and we’re seeing a big uptick from France, Turkey and also from the U.K.,” Hertzberg said. “Some of the London buyers are circling back to Miami.”