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Latin Americans Are Key To Miami Condo Market. Will Surfside Tragedy Make Them Balk?

 Local residents view the wreckage of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside hours after it collapsed last Thursday.
David Santiago
Miami Herald
Local residents view the wreckage of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside hours after it collapsed last Thursday.

Latin Americans are major buyers of South Florida condominiums and many feared lost in Surfside are from that region. Realtors and experts say it likely won't affect future interest.

Almost a fourth of the dead and missing in last week's Surfside condo collapse are from Latin America. That reflects the fact that, before the pandemic, almost half of Miami-Dade’s residential property buyers were from that region. Most bought condominiums.

One of the big reasons is that a Miami condo is a safe investment when Latin American economies and currencies are so often in turmoil. And with its climate and Latin culture, Miami is also a safer, more developed version of Latin America for those condo buyers.

“A big part of it is security," said Uiane Lim, a Brazil native and realtor in Aventura who works with Brazilian and South American clients.

"For example, when you walk here on the streets or on the beach and you want to take a picture with your iPhone, you can freely do that. In Brazil, it's too dangerous because of the rampant violent street crime," she said. "When I'm there, my friends tell me, ‘Don’t [take out] your iPhone — hide it!’”

Since Latin Americans are so important to the Miami condo market — and since that market is such a linchpin of the local economy — many understandably wonder if the horrific Surfside disaster will steer them away.

Realtors like Lim say: Not likely – because, again, in comparison with Latin America, they consider the disaster a rare exception for the United States.

“Unfortunately we’ve had worse tragedies in [countries like] Brazil," Lim said, citing examples of residential buildings falling, not just because of faulty construction or age but, in "mudslides and things like that, which are much worse.”

Lim says there is also an expectation among Latin Americans that when something like Surfside occurs, the U.S. government will fix the problem more quickly and confidently than their governments do.

In the past decade, critics of Miami's reliance on the condo market have complained that Latin Americans buying up units were driving up local real estate prices and helping diminish the affordable housing stock.

Lim said that's not a fair charge and insisted the South Florida economy has benefited from those purchases, especially during the last U.S. recession.
Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.