Rich Venezuelans hunt luxury overseas homes to flee Chavez

Tue Mar 5, 2013 7:02pm EST
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By Tom Bill

LONDON (Reuters) - The number of Venezuelans hunting for luxury homes around the world jumped by a greater degree than any country last year as political uncertainty escalated in the South American state, a report from property consultant Knight Frank shows.

The 123 percent increase of searches from Venezuela was ahead of Brazil in second place with an 81 percent increase, according to the company's Wealth Report, which for the first time tracked users of its website, where homes can cost up to 100 million pounds ($150.7 million).

Knight Frank has 1.2 million visits to its website each month and the share of traffic from South America grew by 178 percent between 2011 and 2012 though the region still represents less than 10 percent of the total, the company said.

President Hugo Chavez's 14-year socialist rule has polarized Venezuela and he has not been seen in public for almost three months as he struggles to recover from cancer surgery after being re-elected for a six-year term last year.

While he is adored by many of the poor for his humble roots, earthy rhetoric and oil-financed welfare policies, he is a hate-figure for opponents who view him as a dictatorial leader who stamps on opponents and is ruining the economy, prompting thousands to leave the country.

"The statistics are no surprise at all," said Diego Moya-Ocampos, a Venezuela political risk analyst at IHS Global-Insight. "Venezuelans perceive there will be more of the same after Chavez as polls indicate vice president Nicolas Maduro will be his successor."

"The other reason is the country is now the single most murderous in South America and the kidnap rate is high," he said, naming Miami, the Dominican Republic and Spanish capital Madrid as popular destinations for Venezuelans buying abroad.

"Our experience is that whenever we see a spike in web traffic then actual sales follow with a three to six month lag," said Liam Bailey, head of residential research at Knight Frank.   Continued...