While housing demand sputters among Americans, foreign buyers are flocking here for cheap deals.
For the 12 months ending in March, sales to foreign buyers totaled $82 billion, up from $66 billion in 2010, according to the National Association of Realtors. And while international buyers are unlikely to turn the US housing market around, they are making a big difference in states such as Florida.
Today, thanks to foreign buyers, home sales are so good in Miami that more houses and condos could sell this year than during the boom year of 2005.
"All of the buildings that everybody thought would never fill up, they're all full," Oliver Ruiz, a managing broker of Fortune International Realty in Florida, tells Sullivan.
"We sold a home the other day on Key Biscayne to an Argentinian fellow for about $13 million. We also sold a home to a Russian there for about $4 million," Ruiz says, "If you want to name a nation, I can tell you they're here."
He adds that the local economy has been buoyed by foreign buyers who frequent restaurants and shops, in addition to paying property taxes.
The downside, he says, is that more homes sold to international buyers means fewer available to locals.
"[Locals] can't sit on the fence anymore," Ruiz says. "They just can't sit back and say, 'I'm going to wait a little bit more to see if I can get a better deal.' "
LAURA SULLIVAN, host: Now while a lot of Americans can't afford a home right now, there are plenty of foreigners who can, and they want a piece of the American dream too - at least the dream with the oceanfront view, the pool and the nightlife of Miami. Thanks to foreign buyers, home sales are so good there that more houses and condos could sell this year than during the boom year of 2005, a time when...
OLIVER RUIZ: You put up a sign, and by the end of the day, you had three contracts.
SULLIVAN: That's Oliver Ruiz. He's a managing broker of Fortune International Realty in Florida. He says when the housing crisis hit in 2008, Miami almost crumbled. Foreclosure after foreclosure, high rises full of empty condos that no one could sell.
RUIZ: Everybody began to scramble because you got used to a lot of activity and then all of a sudden it just - the bottom fell off.
SULLIVAN: And you had just no buyers coming in the door. Would you put up an open house sign and just wait all day for someone to come?
RUIZ: Yeah. Yes. Yeah. As a matter of fact, if you looked at the local newspaper, which advertises all of the local sales, that page went away. There was nothing happening.
SULLIVAN: And so now here we are, 2011, what's business like now?
RUIZ: Nonstop. It's like it was back in the boom.
SULLIVAN: Take like a condo in 2005. How much would it have sold for, and then how much would it have sold for now?
RUIZ: In 2005, it probably would be about 450, and now you could probably get it between two and 225.
SULLIVAN: Wow. So now, I mean, it's basically half off.
RUIZ: Yeah. Exactly. Fifty percent.
SULLIVAN: So right now, if you were to describe your clientele, what does it look like?
RUIZ: Well, if you want to name a nation, I can tell you they're here. Miami is the playground of the world right now. We sold a home the other day on Key Biscayne to an Argentinean fellow for about $13 million.
RUIZ: We also sold a home to a Russian there for about $4 million.
SULLIVAN: I bet those homes have pools.
RUIZ: They have pools, and they have the water in the back, matter of fact. And you can park your yacht back there.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
RUIZ: You know, one interesting sale that we made the other day were to three Norwegians who import all of the farm fed Norwegian salmon into the United States and they wanted a little piece of the action here in Miami so they bought two penthouse apartments on a building on Brickell Avenue.
SULLIVAN: What does this mean for locals in Miami who need a place to live?
RUIZ: Well, aside from all the premium real estate, the local buyers have the confidence again to buy and sell. However, they can't sit on the fence anymore because it's beginning to bounce back, and they just can't sit back and say I'm going to wait a little more to see if I can get a better deal.
SULLIVAN: There's some competition out there.
RUIZ: Yes, there is competition.
SULLIVAN: Overall, how have this foreigners buying up so many of these properties affected the local economy?
RUIZ: Well, it's helped tremendously. They come in, and they spend money. They buy - they go into a store and they don't just buy one bottle. They buy boxes. They go into restaurants, and they spend a lot of money. So the economy of Miami has been helped tremendously by the foreign buyers.
SULLIVAN: Is there any downside to this?
RUIZ: The only downside that I can tell you is that unfortunately, some of the - I was talking to someone the other day - it cost you $35 to park your car in South Beach.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SULLIVAN: That's Oliver Ruiz. He's managing broker of Fortune International Realty in Florida. Thank you so much for talking to us today.
RUIZ: Oh, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.