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Originally published Friday, September 17, 2010 at 5:20 PM

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A quarter of foreign buyers in U.S. choose Florida property

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Palm Beach Post

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — International buyers have helped buttress Florida's real- estate market with 22 percent of all foreign clients nationally choosing property in the Sunshine State.

That makes Florida tops for attracting foreign interest, according to a summer report by the National Association of Realtors. California came in a far second with 12 percent of the international market followed by Arizona, Texas, Georgia, New York and Nevada.

While Florida's share of foreign clients has slipped from a recent high of more than 26 percent in 2008, bargain-basement prices and a weakened dollar have continued to lure Canadian and overseas buyers.

The study, which looked at sales between March 2009 and March 2010, found that buyers with permanent residences outside the United States spent an estimated $41 billion on residential property nationally during the period of the study — that's 4 percent of the total residential market during the same time.

"I had an open house in the mid-$500,000s and a man from Canada came and bought it the same day," said Palm Beach Gardens Realtor Jeff Lichtenstein, who has a page on his website dedicated to foreign buyers. "Once they're here, they tend to bring friends."

And family.

Amsterdam native Annette Aalberts bought two Jupiter homes for herself and her daughter over the past few years. Combined, the homes are worth about $4.5 million.

But most international buyers don't aim that high. According to the study, the median price paid by foreign buyers nationally is $219,400.

"International buyers are hugely important in absorbing inventory," said Jenny Huertas, international sales director for the Miami-based consultant firm Condo Vultures.

Huertas estimates 30 percent of sales in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties are to international buyers.

It's unclear how a recent dip in the euro may temper overseas purchases. It's now worth $1.28, compared with a high of $1.60 in 2008. That means to buy a $500,000 house, it would cost about 388,709 euros.

But the Canadian dollar, which has traditionally been weaker than U.S. currency, is now near parity at 95 cents.

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Toronto resident Domenic Triumbari bought two properties in the Palm Beach Grande condominium complex in March. The suburban West Palm Beach homes sold for $164,990 and $179,990 in 2006.

Triumbari picked them up for $60,000 each, paying in cash, and without ever seeing them in person.

"I know they're in West Palm Beach, but not exactly sure where," said Triumbari, who is renting out the homes. "The numbers make sense right now. You can make money on your investment."

Triumbari is also searching for a South Florida home for himself.

"I've seen a lot of the Caribbean, been all over the islands, but I like Florida," he said. "We speak the same language, eat the same foods."

While the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches does not keep statistics on international buyers in local markets, statewide statistics gathered by the national association showed 31 percent of Florida's international buyers are Canadian, compared with 24 percent nationally.

Nationally, about 55 percent of foreign buyers pay with cash, possibly because it can be harder for international clients to get financing here. In Florida, about 82 percent of international buyers paid in cash.

Realtor Craig Fialkowski, of Herman Group Real Estate in Palm Beach Gardens, said nearly all of his international clients buy with cash and sight unseen.

Typically, they're looking for deals on homes they can rent.

"Buyers want a decent return on investment," Fialkowski said. "The cash flow can be really good."

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