Perceptions of U.S. housing boosted by international investors

by Dan Krell ©2012

border signA June 11th report by the National Association of Realtors® discussed how international home buyers are an increasingly important segment of the U.S. housing market ( The NAR release, “International Sales Continue to Climb in U.S. Market, Realtors® Report,” indicated that the dollar volume of U.S. homes bought by foreign home buyers increased about $16.1 billion over the last year. As encouraging as this may sound, there’s more to the story than you might imagine.

Interestingly, the report stated that average price paid for a U.S. home by an international home buyer is $400,000; and 30% of the homes purchased were priced between $250,000 and $500,000. Because foreign home buyers typically find it difficult to obtain a mortgage, it was reported that 62% of the purchases were cash deals. The NAR report stated that although many of these home purchases were for primary residences, a majority of international home buyer purchases were for vacation and investment uses.

Would you believe that 55% of international home buyers originated from Canada, China, United Kingdom, Mexico, and India? Canada accounted for the largest number of foreign home buyers (24%), followed by China (11%), the U.K. and Mexico (6% each).

But before you decide to learn a new language, you should note that four states have received the most attention from these home buyers; Florida, Arizona, California, and Texas “accounted for 51% of the purchases.” Of these sales, Florida accounted for 26% of all foreign home purchases, and California coming in second with 11% of foreign purchaser sales.

This market segment is not a new phenomenon; international home buyers have participated in the U.S. housing market for a long time. It just seems as if this segment of home buyers has been stronger during economic turmoil (Are you old enough to remember the influx of Middle East investors during the 1970’s and Japanese investors during the 1980’s?). The increasing number of international home buyers investing in the housing market is a tribute to the perceived value of U.S. real estate.

By the way, the influence of international sales has not gone unnoticed by Congress either. In an effort to help stimulate this sector of the housing market, S. 1746: Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America Act was introduced in October 2011, by Senators Charles Schumer [D., N.Y.] and Mike Lee [R., Utah], and H.R. 3341: Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America Act, was introduced in November 2011 by Rep. Mazie Hirono [D-HI2] and Rep. David Dreier [R-CA26]). These bills offered resident visas to foreign investors who invested at least $500,000 in U.S. real estate. However, some have criticized such stimulus as an empty gesture because international home buyers may not need additional incentive to purchase homes in the U.S.

Will foreign home buyers save the housing market, as a U.S. News and Report piece suggested (October 28, 2011)? Unlike the clichéd climax of a dramatic film noire, when the foreign investor saves the day, the answer may be “yes” and “no”. Although housing is receiving an increased amount of attention from foreign investors, it is unlikely that the increased activity itself would save the U.S. housing market. However, the increased foreign investment in U.S. housing may boost the perceived value of housing and the perception of home ownership.

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of June 18, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

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