Tapping Florida Condo Market

Tapping Florida Condo Market HOLLYWOOD, FL - François Larocque is racing the clock to build up a business based on Quebec snowbirds' passion for sun, sea and bargain shopping in Florida. Larocque, 21, and his partner, Yannick Larue, also 21, buy discounted condos from recession-hit Americans and resell the properties to Quebecers for a fixed fee. "We usually charge $10,000 (U.S.) commission," Larocque says. "Or about half that amount if it's a very cheap property that we bought for, say, $35,000.

"The fee covers deeds, title searches and other paper work. We not only find the properties, but also offer to find tenants for the times our clients don't use the condos they buy from us. We do everything from A to Z for them."

This year, the two friends decided to sell what they owned in Montreal and start a business in south Florida after a vacation there. They set up shop in Hollywood, which Larocque describes as "Montreal by the sea."

"Many Quebecers holiday in Hollywood and feel at home. You can even eat poutine on the beach," he says. "The city is not far from Fort Lauderdale, less hectic than Miami and offers some great deals."

Larocque's company, Sun State Estate, has bought and sold seven properties during its first three months of operation. The first purchase was a two-bedroom, 1,200-square- foot townhouse.

"The owner paid $212,000 in 2005, but couldn't maintain the mortgage. We got the place for $52,000."

Larocque is now eyeing more expensive properties, but cautions that nailing a good deal in the current economy is not for the fainthearted.

"It's a buyer's market, but you're swimming with sharks," he says. "Everyone wants a bargain, so you need to have an edge over other investors. That edge is having cash in hand without the need for financing. You want the bank or owner to accept your offer first before they see any offer from another investor."

As a result, Sun State Estate filters potential customers to ensure they're serious buyers.

"Everything moves really fast," Larocque says. "A property can go in 48 hours. This is an opportunity that won't be there in two years. If the U.S. market rebounds to pre-recession levels, properties will become too expensive for Quebecers. And the game could also change a lot if the Canadian dollar drops against the greenback.

"Meanwhile, people are looking for different ways to invest money. Mutual funds are not that good and the stock market's a bit risky. We have two main types of customers: There's the investor who'll sit on a property to sell when the market comes back, and the retired snowbird who wants an investment property he can visit in winter."

In both cases, Larocque reminds Quebecers that there are tax implications when reselling a Florida property if the owner's primary residence is not in that state.

"It's important to consult a local lawyer," he says. "The tax system here is different to Canada's."

So how does a Montrealer, barely out of his teens, navigate the ''shark-infested'' waters of the U.S. housing slump, bank foreclosures and financial regulations?

"I grew up in the financial industry and learned a lot from my father, who's a retired financial adviser," Larocque says. ''He supports us behind the scenes and helps with contacts. We also work with Robert Mignacca, a licensed broker who checks our procedures and contracts. He's become our mentor."

In addition, Larocque draws on his own contacts and background. He quit school at 17 and started in business selling network communications. That experience taught him to focus on good customer service and keeping overheads low.

"Rather than paid advertising, we rely on our website, YouTube videos and word-of-mouth referrals to promote our services. It's obviously also an advantage to be a French-speaking Quebecer living in Florida. People can not only speak to you, but feel they're dealing with someone they can trust."

Although he's personable, outgoing and articulate, Larocque admits that being only 21 is sometimes a disadvantage in a venture where large amounts of money are involved. But he believes that in every business, "there are people who will judge you by your age."

"My mother is a teacher and even she was not happy at first that I stopped studying at 17. But now she's really proud of all that I've accomplished and very supportive."

Larocque traces his determination to succeed as an entrepreneur to his early job experience in a large store.

"I could see the other kids not working as hard as me yet getting the same pay. I asked for a raise and was refused. That was a turning point in my life.''
Source: MontrealGazette.com

More Stories

Get The Newsletter

Get The Newsletter

The latest multifamily industry news delivered to your inbox.