MANATEE -- The Bradenton-Sarasota region is the fourth most popular U.S. market for foreign home buyers, trailing three other metro areas in Florida, a new report shows.
Cash-rich foreign buyers are flocking to tourism hot spots across the U.S. to purchase seasonal vacation homes while prices remain depressed, looking largely to areas like Florida that were hit hardest by the real estate bubble burst.
Six of the 10 most sought after housing markets among foreign buyers are in the Sunshine State, including Bradenton-Sarasota, where homes near the Gulf beaches have caught the eye of Europeans, Canadians and even Russians, according to sales information captured by the San Diego-based real estate research firm DataQuick.
"The whole reason foreigners buy here is they're looking for a wonderful spot in the sun, with appreciation on their property, in a safe, stable country," said Klaus Lang, a Realtor with Michael Saunders who works with many foreign clients. "We would have many more buyers if laws allowed them to stay longer."
The Lakeland-Winter Haven market was listed No. 1 among foreign buyers, followed by the Cape Coral-Fort Myers market at No. 2 and the Orlando-Kissimmee area at No. 3. Miami and Tampa were positioned behind Bradenton's No. 4 ranking.
The Bradenton-Sarasota market had 6.5 percent of all housing sales in the region purchased by buyers with a foreign mailing address as of January, the DataQuick report shows.
The top three countries of origin for foreign buyers locally were Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Foreign buyers are attracted to the Bradenton-Sarasota market for the golf opportunities, lighter crowds than other areas along Florida's east coast, and quick access to international flights, Lang said.
Of course, the beaches -- led by Siesta Key's recent No. 1 worldwide rating -- are the top sell, he said.
Most Canadians and Europeans buy vacation homes in the $200,000 to $500,000 price range, records show.
The foreign sales also were evenly split between Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Existing condo sales were especially popular in Manatee, where foreign buyers comprised 12.3 of all transactions in that category. In Sarasota, foreign buyers mostly were interested in new single-family homes, accounting for 13.1 percent of those sales, according to the report.
Realtors say most of their foreign clients flew into the Southwest Florida International Airport, looking for homes in the Fort Myers and Sanibel area first, before a trip up the coast brought them to Bradenton.
"It keeps the momentum going for our economy and housing market," said Lee Forbes, broker-owner of the Forbes Property Group in Bradenton. "We have definitely seen a big influx in the last year to year and a half -- especially with Canadian buyers. We also see a lot of Eastern Europeans."
The rankings were compiled by Inman News using DataQuick sales records based on the percentage of all housing units in a particular market from May 2011 through January, where a foreign address was listed on the property deed.
Only notable areas for foreign investment included in the top 10 were Las Vegas, Manhattan, Phoenix and Honolulu.
Across the country, foreign buyers accounted for 7.7 percent of all home sales last year, pouring $82 billion into the U.S. economy, according to the National Association of Realtors.
"We are starting to see more foreign buyers," said Leslie Wells, president of the Manatee Association of Realtors. "Our beaches are so outstanding here, I think a lot of them just see the beauty in the area. There's also some great deals."
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman