We’ve all seen the headlines: “Foreign Buyers Drive the Housing Recovery in Florida,” “Foreigners Scoop Up Florida Property” and dozens more. It’s true that over the past few years, foreign investment in Florida real estate has captured the media’s attention. The National Association of Realtors 2013 Profile of International Home Buying Activity reports that in terms of the number of international buyers, Florida represents 23 percent of the U.S. total, more than Arizona, California or Texas.

But international buyers aren’t the only ones flocking to Florida, and to Naples.  Neapolitans, as Naples residents aptly call themselves, hail from all over the United States as well as the rest of the world. Midwesterners, those from the West Coast, East Coast, Canadians, Europeans and even other Floridians are drifting to this city I once called home.

A Trulia Metro Movers Report from 2012 revealed that seven out of 10 of the most popular real estate markets perused by out-of-towners were in Florida. The report analyzed house-hunting activity between people living in one metro area and homes located in another. Patrick Dearborn of John R. Wood realtors confirms this data still holds true, especially in Naples: “I’m seeing the busiest market since 2005-2006.  The Naples real estate market is on fire.”

What’s the draw?

From a purely financial standpoint, part of the appeal is value. Home prices took a dive in the housing crash, offering buyers both near and far a golden opportunity for homeownership in a luxury, upscale market. And foreign buyers were able to cash in even more given the weak value of the dollar against other major currencies.

But there are many more conditions that influence a buyer’s decision to buy real estate besides a good value, which is why the charm of Naples has really made it a hotbed of activity over the past couple of years.

Long known for its peaceful lifestyle, glorious weather and white sandy beaches, Naples is a thriving city where life is easy. Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island and Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau, comments on the obvious attractions of Naples: “The appeal for this area to any potential visitor and potential homebuyer is the year-round great weather, the small-town atmosphere, the laid-back lifestyle, the cleanliness and lush landscaping of our streets and neighborhoods, great dining, and abundant arts and culture opportunities.”

Darrell and Sue Chaisson of Nova Scotia, Canada, credit the mellow character of the city with their decision to purchase a second home. “Naples has everything going for it,” says Darrell. “It’s an easy flight for us from Canada, and Canadians of a certain age are now legally able to spend eight months of the year in the United States. So it’s convenient. We looked in other parts of Florida and didn’t see any town or city nearly as beautiful and full of activity as Naples.”

The Chaisson’s purchased a home in Andalucia, a Mediterranean inspired gated community located in the heart of Naples. Buyers in Andalucia are drawn to the community because of its close proximity to the beaches, shopping and dining at Fifth Avenue South, and the abundance of cultural activities. Indeed, Naples has plenty to offer the arts and culture buffs. The Naples Museum of Art, the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts and the slew of galleries along Gallery Row, which boasts more galleries than any place else in southwest Florida, are big attractions.

Kalin Kurtev and his wife moved to Naples from Bulgaria 12 years ago. “When I first came to Naples, there were maybe five of us from Bulgaria,” Kalin said. “Today, there are thousands of foreign residents.” Part of the draw, he said, is the overall feel of the city. “Naples is different than the rest of Florida. It’s clean, organized, safe, well-maintained and full of friendly people.”

Tourism figures are a powerful indicator of the lure of this area long hailed as “Paradise Coast,” and Collier County experienced a surge of visitors in 2012, according to Tourism Impact Facts put out by the Naples, Marco Island and Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau. Tourism figures in 2012 were up 5.6 percent over 2011.  Initial 2013 figures indicate the area is on track for another stellar year. People like what they see, and decide to either move, or buy a second or third home.

“We’re seeing an increase in the number of buyers coming from other parts of the state because of our safe neighborhoods, top-ranked schools and the fact that we’re away from the congestion of Interstate 95,” said Dearborn.

The Kinghorns have lived on Florida’s east coast since the 1970s, but just recently moved to Naples to enjoy the slower pace of life.  “We just fell in love with the beaches and the way the area was expanding, which was slower and more attractive than in the part of the state where we used to live,” Jane Kinghorn said.

According to Dearborn, Florida is also enticing to out-of-towners because of the lack of state income tax. In addition, sales tax is only six percent, so more young families are moving to the area looking to take advantage of the significant cost savings.

Sure, Naples has one of the highest concentrations of millionaires in the country – and two Ritz-Carlton’s. But it doesn’t feel that way.  For residents and visitors alike, Naples feels comfortable, clean, safe and offers a serenity and way of life unlike anywhere else in Florida.

by Mike Langella, President – FrontDoor Communities


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