Foreign Investors Flock to U.S. Housing Market

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There is certainly one demographic group that is growing increasingly bullish about the U.S. housing market — and they don’t even live here. Yep, it’s foreign investors and their appetite for buying American homes is on the rise. The biggest players? How about our neighbors to the north and south?

The data rolls in from the National Association of Realtors, which reports that homebuyers outside of the U.S. snapped up $66 billion worth of U.S. real estate from March 2009 through March 2010 (commercial property excluded). That’s 7.27% of the overall U.S. residential property market.

What’s more, 28% of U.S. realtors report working with at least one foreign real estate buyer during the past year — up from 23% in 2009. 18% of those realtors report completing a deal with an overseas buyer — that’s up from 12% in 2009, the NAR reports.

Cash is king, too, outside the U.S. While 92% of U.S. homebuyers relied on mortgage loans to finance their home purchases, 55% of international buyers paid cash.

NAR President Vicki Cox Golder cites a few key factors as to why foreign buyers are so active in the U.S. residential real estate market. Apparently, foreign investors still view the U.S. as a highly desirable real estate market, and now one that comes with lower prices, lower mortgage rates and a stronger U.S. dollar attached to it. Furthermore, the NAR data indicates that overseas investors believe that an economic recovery is underway, and that their investments in U.S. homes and properties should pay off down the road.

“While all real estate in the U.S. is local, the same is not true for property owners,” said Golder, owner of Vicki L. Cox Real Estate in Tucson, Ariz. “The U.S. continues to be a top destination for international buyers from all over the world. Foreign buyers understand the value of owning a home in this country.”

“A large majority of realtors report the changes in value to the U.S. dollar have had a strong impact on the international real estate,” she adds. “In addition, perceptions abroad about trends in the U.S. real estate market have led many international clients to believe purchasing a home in the U.S. is more affordable than in their country and holds more value.”

Geographically, the stronger investors come from countries closest to the U.S. — especially Canada and Mexico. While the NAR reports that the total number of overseas investors comes from 53 countries, Canada represents 23% of all buyers and Mexico accounted for 10% of all U.S. home purchases, while 9% of buyers came from the U.K. and 8% came from China and Hong Kong.

The NAR also reports that certain countries have favorite landing spots in the U.S. For example, U.K. buyers prefer the East Coast and Florida, while Canadians focus seems to be primarily on warm weather, income tax-free states like Florida.

In the end, price would appear to be the biggest factor in the increase in foreign buyers. The NAR reports that the median price paid for a U.S. home by overseas buyers in 2009 was $247,100. But in 2010, that median price dropped to $219,400. As Warren Buffett says about the stock market, value is the ultimate driver (or should be) in buyer activity.

For cash-flush real estate buyers from Toronto to Taipei, the U.S. real estate market is an irresistible siren song. The only question is when — or if — those investments will pay off.

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