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Foreign buyers bid adieu to US homes market

Home purchases by international buyers have dropped by over one third since last year, according to an annual survey released by the National Association of Realtors. The average price of a home has also slipped during the same period of April, 2018 to March, 2019.

“A confluence of many factors – slower economic growth abroad, tighter capital controls in China, a stronger U.S. dollar and a low inventory of homes for sale – contributed to the pullback of foreign buyers,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “However, the magnitude of the decline is quite striking, implying less confidence in owning a property in the U.S.”

Lawrence Yun

Global economic growth, which increased in 2016 to 2017, slowed to 3.6 percent in 2018 and is on pace to taper to 3.3 percent in 2019.

A total of 11,812 realtors responded to the NAR survey, which was conducted this spring.

NAR’s research revealed that foreign buyers purchased $77.9 billion worth of U.S. existing homes from the 2019 survey reference period, a 36 percent decline from the level reached in the previous 12 months ($121 billion).

Non-resident foreign buyers accounted for $33.2 billion of U.S. existing-home sales, a 37 percent decline from the prior level of $53 billion. Resident foreign buyers (recent immigrants) purchased $44.7 billion of residential property, a 34 percent drop from the prior level ($67.9 billion). Foreign buyers were able to buy 183,100 properties (266,800 in the previous period) at an average price of $426,100.

While sales from Chinese buyers have slowed, they remained, for the seventh consecutive year, the top buyers in terms of dollar volume of purchases, buying an estimated $13.4 billion worth of residential property.

However this is a 56 percent decline from the previous 12 months. The Chinese economy is growing at a slower pace compared to past years, slowing to 6.3 percent in 2019 compared to 6.9 percent in 2017. The Chinese government has also tightened the monitoring of dollar outflows since 2016 to manage its foreign exchange reserves.

But American politics is also a factor. Carrie Law, CEO and director of Juwai.com, a website for Chinese property buyers, called it “The Trump Effect.”

“Trump is responsible for a big part of the drop in Chinese interest,” Law said. “His aggressive rhetoric and his visa restrictions and trade war scare some potential buyers and not just from China.”

CARRIE LAW

Still, she said the current adminstration won’t mean the end of investing from Chinese buyers.

“In fact, Chinese buyers are probably more likely to maintain strong levels of buying despite the Trump Effect than are buyers from India, Mexico, and the UK,” Law added.

“For many Chinese buyers, US real estate is not a luxury but a necessity. They are highly motivated to hedge the risks to their wealth by owning real estate in the world’s most developed economy. They are immigrating to the US or coming as expats at higher rates than the nationals of almost every other country. Chinese dominate US universities as the biggest group of foreign students, and these students’ families very often buy real estate.”

Education is the most common reason that Chinese immigrate, according to a survey by Hurun, and it is a factor for 83 percent of Chinese who move overseas. Environmental quality is a driver of Chinese buying for 69 of Chinese. Fifty-seven percent of buyers say food safety is a factor.

Real estate brokers and agents cited politics as well as other factors for the drop in business from foreigners.

A real estate agent from Warburg Realty said the trade war is a major factor.

MIHAL GARTENBERG

“The world economy is trying to find its footing during the current trade war between the US and China,” said Mihal Gartenberg. “A lot rides on which country will emerge ‘victorious’ and what that will do for each country’s local economy, stock, and currency valuation. Real estate, a well-known hedge against inflation, is also an illiquid asset. It is quite possible that international buyers need to keep their money liquid, even with the potential that the currency will lose value, in case it will be needed down the road.”

Additionally, normal market factors shouldn’t be ignored, another Warburg agent, Noemi Bitterman, said about the slowdown.

“Most sellers today are taking a loss, so buying is not as appealing to foreign buyers as it was in previous years,” Bitterman said. “My feeling is that now is definitely a time to buy because current prices reflect fair market value and not inflated prices as we saw 6-12 months ago. The market has adjusted and prices are where they should be.”
Agents from Compass reported seeing luxury buyers that have become more conservative in their investments.

“Foreign buyers are still active on the Manhattan buying scene. I’m just not seeing as many uber-wealthy buyers flaunting their cash as I used to, and when I do meet them for lunch at the Modern or PerSe we’re not discussing the 8,000 square foot luxury condominiums anymore. Now the well-heeled foreigner wants a seek a deal! Or deals!” said Leah Rubin.

“Since the Chinese now can’t take more than $50,000 out of the country, officially, their buying spree has certainly halted … but those that already have their Yen converted and cash in hand are still buying.”

As for buyers from other countries, Rubin has observed, “The Saudis are quite clever, they prefer to rent out all the luxury condominiums in prime locations, Manhattan and elsewhere, at a premium. And the Russians, well they’re vertically closing deals. The Israelis sold and cashed out last year already. They are certainly not buying. The Italians are cashing out.”

Compass agent Justin Martinez said he is now working with fewer Chinese, but believes this is due to banking regulations in that country.

JUSTIN MARTINEZ

“Since 2017 the Chinese government has limited withdrawals to $15,400. With that said it’s been very tough for Chinese people to transfer funds to US banks accounts to purchase real estate,” he said.

Additional findings from the NAR survey:

Following China, the next top foreign buyer for 2019 was Canada at $8.0 billion. While Chinese investors and Canadian investors tied concerning the number of purchases, on average, Chinese buyers bought properties at a higher price point. The third top international buyer was India at $6.9 billion, the United Kingdom was fourth at $3.8 billion and in fifth was Mexico at $2.3 billion. Each of the top five buyers experienced a decline in the dollar volume of purchases.The median purchase price for foreign buyers was $280,600, slightly higher than the $259,600 average for all U.S. existing homes sold.

Florida meanwhile attracted 20 percent of foreign buyers. Forty-two percent of Canadians purchased property there. California followed Florida, accounting for 12 percent of international purchases. Thirty four percent of

Chinese buyers purchased in California. The third most popular destination among international buyers was Texas (10 percent), particularly among Indians and Mexicans.

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