Miami Housing Market Goes International—Literally

One real estate firm is bringing the Miami housing market to willing clients abroad.

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Rio de Janeiro
Thousands of tourists and locals in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Miami housing market has been booming in recent months, thanks in large part to a flood of interest from foreign nationals looking to scoop up real estate selling at deep discounts.

This year alone, foreigners accounted for 40 percent of all residential purchases in Miami, according to some estimates.

While a fair number of out-of-towners from abroad come to Miami specifically to look at potential real estate investments, one company has taken a further step to make things easier for foreigners scouting deals from overseas.

Florida-based real estate firm Related ISG recently set up satellite offices in various hubs across Brazil, bringing the Miami real estate market to its Brazilian clients instead of the other way around.

Over the course of several months, Related ISG's Brazilian division has expanded throughout Brazil, establishing offices in Rio de Janeiro, Mato Grosso, and São Paulo, to name a few. And the staff isn't just a bunch of gringos transplanted to Brazil's biggest cities to hock newfangled real estate developments.

[Read: Will Foreign Real Estate Buyers Push Out Domestic Ones?]

"We're all Brazilians and we understand their needs," says Gabriella Gonda, co-founder and sales executive at Related ISG's Brazilian Division of Real Estate. "When it comes to real estate, we help our clients before, during, and after the purchase. We are their local Miami consultants [and] our goal is to educate the Brazilian buyer about opportunities, process, benefits, and caveats."

The company has even teamed up with Brazil-based lending institutions and international lawyers to ensure that the process runs as smoothly as possible.

It's not hard to understand why the Miami market is such a draw for Brazilians, according to Gonda. With U.S. real estate prices at historic lows and Brazil's economy and currency thriving, affluent Brazilians see real estate investments in the U.S. as a "no-brainer," Gonda says.

"Today the new condo square-foot price in Miami goes for $400 compared to $900 in São Paulo and $1,000 in Rio de Janeiro," Gonda says, adding that real estate prices in Brazil are only going up as the economy strengthens.

[Read: The Housing Market's New Problem? Not Enough Homes to Sell.]

But just as much as falling prices were a boon for foreign interest, rising prices have been a turnoff. According to recent data from real-estate website Trulia, foreign searches as a share of all searches on Trulia fell by almost 10 percent in the last year, with the steepest declines in markets with the biggest price hikes.

The share of searches by international house hunters for properties in Miami fell almost 1 percentage point over the past year, in line with asking price increases in the neighborhood of 15 percent, according to the latest Trulia Price Monitor.

"So much of the foreign interest we see is because prices fell so much," says Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia. "If the interest is based on low prices, that interest goes away when prices start to rise."

Even so, foreign buyers still make up a substantial chunk of the housing markets in cities such as Miami, Phoenix, and New York City, Kolko says, and their influence isn't likely to drastically fade soon.

Meg Handley is a business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at mhandley@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter.