GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: I'm Greg Allen, in Miami. To gauge the impact of Brazilians here, you only need to go downtown and look up.
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ALLEN: Just a few years after the housing downturn, in Miami, once again, cranes and construction crews are hard at work building high-rise condominiums. Thousands of units are going up all over town, and many are being built for Brazilians.
SORAH DAIHA: For the same price of something that you buy here, you're going to have to pay three times more to get in the best neighborhood in Sao Paulo or Rio. And you're going to get a better quality.
ALLEN: Real estate broker Sorah Daiha is a Brazilian who moved to Miami nearly 15 years ago. Back then, she says Brazilians mostly came to Florida to visit the theme parks or to buy electronics.
DAIHA: They used to have a little bit of an idea of Miami as a tacky place. It's not United States. And now it's the opposite. It's an international destination. They feel comfortable and they see people from everywhere.
ALLEN: In Miami, strong interest from foreign buyers has created a new building boom. And Brazilians have led the way. In 2011, they were the top foreign buyers, though they were passed last year by Argentineans, after the Brazilian economy began to cool. More than 20 residential condo projects are currently underway in South Florida - all with Brazilians and other foreign buyers in mind.
CARLOS ROSSO: This is SLS hotel and residences. It's a 132 room hotel, boutique hotel. It's a whole city block length. And then 450 condos on the top. Everything sold out.
ALLEN: Carlos Rosso is in the sales office for one of the new projects. Rosso directs the condo division of one of Miami's biggest developers, the Related Group.
Related went through some tough times after Miami's last condo boom went bust. That's when Rosso says he saw the importance of the Brazilian market. Brazilians, he says, bought half of the units in some of his buildings at cut-rate prices.
Brazilians still see Miami real estate as a bargain. And for many, Rosso says, it's more than just an investment.
ROSSO: They really buy to use the unit. So they want it, finished, built, they want it now. It's very funny when we talk with some Brazilian suppliers here, for example, of furniture and they tell us, well, you know, all the Brazilians come and they all want to be here in Christmas, and they all order the same sofa.
ALLEN: Another Miami developer, Edgardo Defortuna, opened a branch office in Sao Paolo a few years ago to better understand and serve the Brazilian market. He says one thing he's learned, is that Brazilians like to live with other Brazilians. And selling to the right families can make a big difference.
EDGARDO DEFORTUNA: A great example is Trump Hollywood. Here, a few families from Belo Horizonte bought and they were well-recognized. And all of a sudden we had eight or 10 families that bought in the same building.
ALLEN: Realtor Sorah Daiha says her fellow Brazilians love Miami for the weather, for the beaches, for the easy lifestyle and perhaps, most of all - the shopping.
DAIHA: If you go - I don't know - to Bal Harbour, Niemen Marcus and all this, I'm walking and everybody is talking Portuguese. I'm like, this is insane. And, it's so comfortable for them in the stores and the restaurants, everywhere you go, you're going to find a salesperson that speaks Portuguese.
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ALLEN: No store may cater more to Brazilians in Miami than Artefacto - a boutique furniture and interior design gallery. Manager Willman Ramos says his store defines Brazilian design.
WILLMAN RAMOS: It's very inviting. I will say it's contemporary with a little bit of caipirinha.
ALLEN: Caipirinha is Brazil's national cocktail. Like the drink, Artefacto's style makes Brazilians feel at home in Miami. Ramos says he finds wealthy Brazilians and other Latin Americans are attracted here for another reason - it's a safe place to enjoy luxury and to flaunt your wealth.
In South America, for some security reasons, you have to live in a certain way even if you have the money to do it. But then, they come to Miami and they can just drive the convertible car, they can just have a fabulous apartment, and they kind of enjoy the lifestyle.
It's a lifestyle that keeps drawing Brazilians and other foreign buyers and is fueling South Florida's new condo building boom.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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