FOREIGNERS INVESTING IN THE U.S.
The six-year slide in U.S. home prices and the dollar's weakness against some currencies are driving a property-buying binge by Asians, Canadians, Europeans and Latin Americans eager to own a piece of America.
Plowing money into real estate may sound like a risky venture to many Americans. But to growing numbers of foreigners, U.S. housing has never seemed a smarter investment.
International buyers accounted for $82.5 billion, or 8.9%, of the $928 billion spent on residential real estate in the 12-month period that ended in March, according a survey released Monday by the National Association of Realtors. That was up 24% from $66.4 billion in the previous-year period.
The survey showed that about 55% of all international buyers came from five countries: Canada, China, Mexico, India and the United Kingdom. Five states, meanwhile, accounted for around 55% of all sales to international buyers: Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, and New York. The survey found that 62% of international buyers paid in cash.
While the euro crisis has weakened the currency-exchange advantage that prevailed in recent years for European buyers, real-estate agents say demand is still strong thanks to America's perceived safe-haven status amid the slow-boiling debt woes.
In Manhattan, foreign buyers, led by Russians and Ukrainians, are setting records by buying apartments at some of the city's high-end addresses. In Miami, Brazilians and Venezuelans have helped soak up a glut of condos in glass towers overlooking Biscayne Bay, while in Arizona, Canadians are snapping up foreclosed properties they hope to rent out at a profit.
Economists say the flow of global capital into the U.S. housing market reflects several forces. Some Canadians, along with Brazilians and Chinese, worry that prices in their home market have gotten frothy. They are pulling some money out of that real estate market and investing in the U.S., where prices have already crashed. Some investors also believe they can earn higher returns by buying U.S. real estate, holding it as a rental, and then reselling it in the future for a profit.
Buyers from Venezuela, Russia, and Mexico are looking at trophy properties as a safe place to stash money amid perceptions of political uncertainty at home.
The Realtors' survey said international purchases were equally split between foreign nonresidents and those who have recently immigrated or are temporary visa holders. Around four in 10 buyers plan to use houses here as their primary residence, while a similar share plan to use the homes as either vacation properties, income-generating rentals, or both, according to the Realtor survey. Many opt against living here for more than six months a year because of tax consequences, according to real-estate agents who specialize in sales to international buyers.
Foreign buyers "are either looking for safe havens or bargains, so we're seeing it at both ends of the spectrum," said Kenneth Rosen, chairman of the Fisher Center for Real Estate Research at the University of California at Berkeley.
The value of the U.S. dollar plays a big role in these decisions. Yves Gougoux, a 61-year-old advertising executive who lives in Montreal, plans to close Tuesday on an oceanfront home in Vero Beach, Fla. "I look around and see more and more French Canadians down here," said Mr. Gougoux, who plans to raze the $1.5 million property and build a home with a pool and gym. With the U.S. dollar and the Canadian dollar near parity, the price of the house comes to around 1.46 million Canadian dollars. Ten years ago, when one U.S. dollar bought 1.53 Canadian dollars, a $1.5 million home in the U.S. would have cost 2.29 million Canadian dollars.
Home prices in Miami, down by half from their 2006 peak, turned up in recent months, rising 2.5% above their year-earlier level in March, according to the Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller home-price index.
"When they see the prices that we're selling at and they compare it to their home marketplace, they're like, 'This is a gift