In a testament to Chinese oligarchs, criminals, money launderers and pretty much anyone who is desperate to park their cash as far away from the mainland as possible, purchases of US real estate by foreign buyers surged to an all-time high in 2016, according to data from the National Association of Realtors via CNBC.
Foreign purchases of US residential real estate surged to the highest level ever in terms of number of homes sold and dollar volume last year, with Chinese buyers leading the pack, followed by buyers from Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico and India. Meanwhile, Russian buyers made up barely 1 percent of the purchases.
Foreign buyers closed on $153 billion worth of US residential properties between April 2016 and March 2017, a 49 percent jump from the period a year earlier, according to the NAR. That surpasses the previous high, set in 2015. Foreign sales accounted for 10 percent of all existing home sales by dollar volume and 5 percent by number of properties. In total, foreign buyers purchased 284,455 homes, up 32 percent from the previous year.
According to CNBC, the increase in home sales comes as a surprise, given the dollar’s relatively expensive valuation versus both developed and emerging-market currencies. Half of all foreign sales were in just three states: Florida, California and Texas.
Aging Canadians buying property in Florida and other warmer climates were responsible for the largest increase of buying activity from any one country.
“But the biggest overall surge in sales in the last year came from Canadian buyers, who scooped up $19 billion worth of properties, mostly in Florida. They are also spending more, with the average price of a Canadian-bought home nearly doubling to $561,000.
‘There are more [baby] boomers now than ever before. It's the demographic,’ said Elli Davis, a real estate agent in Toronto who said she is seeing more older buyers downsize their primary home and purchase a second or third home in Florida. ‘The real estate here is worth so much more money. They all have more money. They're selling the big city houses that are now $2 million-plus, where they went up so much in the last 10 to 15 years, so they're cashing in.’”
Mexican buyers nearly doubled their purchases by dollar volume from a year earlier, coming in third behind China and Canada. Though Adam DeSanctis, economic issues media manager at the National Association of Realtors, said "you could easily make the point that perhaps their uptick was wanting to buy now before new immigration policy was in place.”
In general, though, Mexicans have been buying less expensive homes.
“The average purchase price of buyers from Mexico came in at about $327,000, compared with the $782,000 average among Chinese buyers and $522,000 for Indian buyers. Mexicans overwhelmingly favored homes in Texas, while Chinese buyers opted more for California and, increasingly, Texas.
‘The environment is much more Asian-friendly than it used to be with churches, grocery stores and schools that cater to their tastes,’ said Laura Barnett, a Dallas-Fort Worth area Re/Max agent. ‘I have been told they target good schools and newer homes. Yards are not a high priority, but rather community parks.’”
In a sign that home valuations in America’s most populous state might be nearing a peak, some Chinese are being priced out of California, forcing them to buy property in...Texas.
“It's also possible that Chinese buyers are being priced out of California. The average price of a home purchased by a buyer from China fell from about $937,000 to $782,000, even as the number of properties purchased jumped to nearly 41,000 from 29,000. The drop in purchasing power likely stems from tightened regulations in China with regards to capital outflow.”
As we’ve reported, Chinese authorities trying to stem the capital flooding out of their country adopted new currency controls specifically aimed at stopping Chinese nationals from illegally repurposing money to buy real estate. Those took effect early this year. Because of the new restrictions, CNBC says Chinese demand is beginning to wane – which could be catastrophic for home prices. Luxury markets in cities like New York City are already struggling with high vacancy rates. The recovery in home prices since the crisis has been uneven, but expensive coastal markets like New York and San Francisco experienced massive home-price inflation as younger Americans flocked to urban areas. However, if foreign demand weakens, these markets could be poised for a crash as fewer residents can afford to own their homes.
And of course, there’s the Trump factor…
"Stricter foreign government regulations and the current uncertainty on policy surrounding U.S. immigration and international trade policy could very well lead to a slowdown in foreign investment," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the NAR.
But if Chinese oligarchs are now out of the US real-estate game, who’s going to pay $150 million for this 14-acre parcel of beachfront property in the Hamptons?