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If you live in an urban area of the Northeast United States or along the southeast coast of Florida, it may not be uncommon to hear people conversing in Portuguese. Chances are they came from Brazil either to permanently settle here or to buy vacation property. According to the 2010 census data, there are over 350,000 Brazilians living in the United States.

Large inflows of Brazilians into the U.S. are a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to the 1980s, roughly 1,500 to 3,000 Brazilians entered the U.S. each year, mostly coming from the middle- and upper-middle-classes of Brazilian society.

When Brazil’s economy deteriorated in the mid-1980s, inflation exceeded 1,000 percent and incomes fell an average 30 percent. During that time Brazilians, many of them poor, began to leave their country for better opportunities in the U.S., Japan, Europe and other South American countries. In the U.S. they were drawn to existing Brazilian and Portuguese communities in New York City, northern New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Brazilian Immigrants

The highest concentration of Brazilians in the U.S. is in Massachusetts, where they made up 6.7 percent of foreign-born residents in 2011. About half live on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. More recent Brazilian immigrants tend to live in the western suburbs of Boston, most notably Framingham. The average age of the population is 31, a prime time for buying a first home.

Portuguese-speaking communities existed around the southeastern coast of Massachusetts for over 100 years. Immigrants from Cape Verde and the Azores came at a time when whaling and fishing were major industries of the area. The most recent wave of Brazilians has made Portuguese the second largest linguistic group in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts brokerages have responded to the demographic change by adding Portuguese-speaking agents and actively recruiting and training Brazilian immigrants, many of whom have gone on to start their own Brazilian-focused brokerages. Small mortgage lenders and community banks have added Brazilian professionals for community outreach programs to first-time home buyers. Though Massachusetts has the largest immigrant Brazilian population, other states have notable communities. (See sidebar.)

The Luxury Market

In the last three years Brazilians have provided a much-needed boost to the economies of New York City and Miami. They are among the biggest-ticket foreign buyers of luxury real estate and high-end goods. With the boom in their economy, the strength of the Brazilian real and a flurry of IPOs on the Bovespa, wealthy Brazilians have had their pick of the best of Manhattan and southern Florida properties.

Miami

When Miami’s luxury condominium market became oversaturated in 2008, many buyers walked away from commitments and large deposits. As a gateway to Latin America, Miami was already a favorite vacation and shopping destination for wealthy Brazilians. As prices fell, Brazilians soaked up much of the excess inventory of high-end condos. In some towers they now account for the majority of owners. In 2011, Brazilians made up 12 percent of all buyers in Miami, making them the second most active foreign group behind Venezuelans.

 Agents in other parts of Florida are also making efforts to tap the tide of Brazilian wealth. For example, at the 2012 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Orlando, agents from Sarasota met with Brazilian attendees to profile their area. Orlando agents gave special tours to fifty Brazilian attendees. The Naples area is now successfully marketing its luxury gated communities to Brazilians looking for a quieter lifestyle than they’d find in Miami.

The Big Apple

New York City has always been a favorite international destination for upper-class Brazilians. With the hot economy in Brazil and a weak one in the U.S., Brazilians are snapping up high-end properties in Midtown, the Upper East Side and Chelsea. Deals in the $5 million to $15 million range are not uncommon. Brazilians working in São Paulo’s banking sector have a special affinity for this U.S. financial hub and enjoy spending a few months a year in a safe environment with their families.

Brazilian-born agents working in Manhattan understand their clients’ love of luxury. They cater to the high-end market by providing special amenities like concierge service, Ferrari rentals, and contacts with Brazilian interior designers and advisors for legal and visa questions.

New Arrivals in Florida

With its new wealth, Brazil’s upper-middle class is spreading its wings internationally. Shopping trips to Miami have become part of the middle-class traveler’s lifestyle, and, at over $5,000 per capita, Brazilians have become the highest spenders of any foreign visitors.

Vacation and second homes in Florida were a logical next step. In 2010, Brazilian buyers accounted for half the properties sold for over $500,000 in downtown Miami. The middle class has found that condos in Miami are a bargain compared to similar properties in Brazil.

For a modest price, a family can get a safe and secure slice of the Miami lifestyle, with frequent daily flights to Brazil and easy access to Orlando attractions for the kids. “We have a way of life they enjoy, and they want to own a piece of it,” says Jonathan Asbell, CIPS, of Keller Williams Realty Services in Boca Raton and NAR’s President’s Liaison to Brazil.

Commercial and Investment Properties

Brazilians are doing more than just buying homes for personal use. They are also investors in commercial space and residential income property, much of it at the high end. Prices for comparable properties have risen astronomically in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, making Miami a wiser investment. “Professional investors are seeking low prices to make profits in resale. Everyone believes in the recovery of the American real estate sector,” says Heitor Kuser Jr., CEO of Redimob, a comprehensive portal focused on Brazilian listings and its real estate community, and soon to be connected to REALTOR.com® International.

Other International Destinations

While popular, the United States does not get the lion’s share of Brazilian travel. Western Europe receives 52 percent of all Brazilians who travel abroad as opposed to 29 percent for the U.S. Paris in particular has rolled out the red carpet for Brazilians, who are now the second largest group of visitors to the Louvre after Americans. Buenos Aires is another favorite destination. Getting a visa for the U.S. can take 50 days, on average. But in the last year the American consulate in Brazil added personnel to speed processing to two weeks.

Courting Brazilian Buyers

Agents in U.S. areas heavy with Brazilian buyers are making significant efforts to reach out to their counterparts in Brazil, including COFECI, SECOVI, and other professionals in Brazil. Examples:

  • Greater Fort Lauderdale is NAR’s Ambassador Association to COFECI.
  • The Miami Association of REALTORS® is NAR’s Ambassador Association to SECOVI.
  • The Miami Association of REALTORS® has a reciprocal agreement with the COFECI association in Balneario Camboriu.
  • Agents in the luxury market make frequent trips to major Brazilian cities to make contact with financial advisors to the wealthy and organize presentations on their properties.
  • Massachusetts’ Cape Cod and the Islands Association of REALTORS® has recruited agents from the Brazilian community.

Jonathan Asbell has spent years creating a network of Brazilian partners and has also lived in Brazil where he taught himself Portuguese and learned about the culture. He advises agents interested in Brazil to work on developing and constantly expanding their network of Brazilian contacts:

  • Connect with Brazilian agents at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo, taking place in San Francisco in November.
  • Travel to Brazil. Make the effort to go there and get to know the people and culture firsthand.
  • Show cultural sensitivity. Learn about social and business customs so you’ll have appropriate responses in different situations.
  • Try to learn some Portuguese. It’s possible to do business through a translator, but “Americans who speak Portuguese are very well received.”
  • Keep expanding your network and always ask about what kinds of opportunities they are looking for.
  • Know the current opportunities in your local market so you’re ready to facilitate deals.

Working with Brazilian clients can be profitable and rewarding. It will expand your cultural horizons and you’ll visit some nice places. Try it!