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Waning economic growth in many countries and higher home prices further enhanced by a strengthening U.S. dollar resulted in a slight decline in international sales dollar volume of U.S. property over the past year and a significant retreat in buying from non-resident foreigners.

This is according to an annual survey of residential purchases from international buyers released by the National Association of REALTORS®. The survey also amazingly revealed that the dollar volume of sales from Chinese buyers exceeded the total dollar sales figure of the next top-four ranked countries combined.

NAR’s 2016 Profile of International Activity in U.S. Residential Real Estate, covering U.S. residential real estate sales to international clients between April 2015 and March 2016, found that foreign buyers purchased $102.6 billion of residential property, a 1.3 percent decline from the $103.9 billion of property purchased in last year’s survey. Overall, a total of 214,885 U.S. residential properties were bought by foreign buyers (up 2.8 percent), and properties were typically valued higher ($277,380) compared to the median price of all U.S. existing home sales ($223,058).

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says this year’s findings highlight the tremendous appeal U.S. real estate still has on many foreign nationals despite the price of property becoming less affordable. “Weaker economic growth throughout the world, devalued foreign currencies and financial market turbulence combined to present significant challenges for foreign buyers over the past year,” he says. “While these obstacles led to a cool down in sales from non-resident foreign buyers, the purchases by recent immigrant foreigners rose, resulting in the overall sales dollar volume still being the second highest since 2009.”

Adds Yun, “Foreigners – especially those from China – continue to see the U.S. as a solid investment opportunity and an attractive place to visit and live.”

According to the survey, sales to non-resident foreign buyers pulled back by approximately $10 billion to the lowest dollar volume since 2013 ($35 billion). The decline was largely caused by the decrease in the share of non-resident foreign buyers to foreign residential buyers to 41 percent – down from the almost even split between the two in previous years (48 percent in 2015).

“Both the increase in U.S. home prices – up 6 percent in March 2016 compared to one year ago – and the depreciating value of foreign currencies against the U.S. dollar made buying property a lot pricier last year,” says Yun. “Led by Venezuela (45 percent) and Brazil (24 percent), at least eight countries, including China and Canada, saw double-digit percent increases in the median sales price of a U.S. existing-home when measured in their country’s currency.”

For the fourth year in a row, buyers from China exceeded all countries by dollar volume of sales at $27.3 billion, which was a slight decrease from last year’s survey ($28.6 billion) but over triple the total dollar volume of sales from Canadian buyers (ranked second at $8.9 billion). Chinese buyers purchased the most housing units for the second consecutive year (29,195; down from 34,327 in 2015), and also typically bought the most expensive homes at a median price of $542,084.

“Although China’s currency modestly weakened versus the U.S. dollar in the past year, it’s much stronger than it was 5 to 10 years ago, thereby making U.S. properties still appear reasonably affordable over a longer time span,” notes Yun.

In addition to the slightly diminished sales activity from Chinese buyers, the total number of sales and the sales dollar volume from buyers from Canada, India ($6.1 billion) and Mexico ($4.8 billion) also retracted from their levels one year ago. Only buyers from the United Kingdom – after a decrease in the 2015 survey – saw an uptick in total sales and dollar volume ($5.5 billion).

“Sales activity from U.K. buyers could very well subside over the next year depending on how severe the economic fallout is from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union,” adds Yun. “However, with economic instability and political turmoil outside of the U.S. likely to persist, the world view of American real estate as a safe investment should keep demand firm even as pressures from a stronger dollar continue to weigh down on affordability.”

Five states account for half of foreign-buyer purchases, prices and all-cash sales decline
Slightly over half of all foreign buyers purchased property in Florida (22 percent), California (15 percent), Texas (10 percent), Arizona or New York (each at 4 percent). Latin Americans, Europeans and Canadians – who tend to buy in warm climates for vacation purposes – mostly sought properties in Florida and Arizona. California and New York drew the most Asian buyers, while Texas mostly saw sales activity from Latin American, Caribbean and Asian buyers.

The median purchase price over the survey period was a tad lower ($277,380) compared to the 2015 survey ($284,900) as a result of the fewer non-resident foreign buyers. Overall, foreign buyers most commonly purchased a home priced between $250,001 and $500,000, while 10 percent paid over $1 million or more.

Exactly half of all international transactions were all-cash purchases, which was slightly down from a year ago (55 percent) but still roughly double the overall share of existing sales. All-cash purchases were more common by non-resident foreign buyers (73 percent) and those from Canada, China and the United Kingdom.

A majority of foreign buyers over the past year purchased a single-family home, and nearly half bought in a suburban area. Two–thirds or more of buyers from each China, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom purchased detached single-family homes, while Canadian buyers were the most likely to buy a multi-family home.

REALTORS® representing international clients slightly down, growing interest in purchasing abroad
Thirty-one percent of REALTORS® surveyed said they worked with international clients, a decrease from the 34 percent share in last year’s survey but up from two years ago (27 percent). Seventeen percent had one to two foreign clients; 5 percent of respondents had six or more.

This year’s survey asked seller’s agents for the first time about their international clients who sold residential property. With Florida and California leading the way, the list of states where foreign buyers sold or bought their U.S. property was very similar. The median price of a sold U.S. home was $245,331, and respondents reported several cases of Canadians selling their U.S. home to take advantage of the stronger U.S. dollar.

Approximately 14 percent of responding REALTORS® reported that they had a client who was seeking to purchase property in another country, which is over double the amount in last year’s survey (6 percent). Mexico – at almost triple the amount (13 percent) – generated the most inquiries about purchasing abroad, followed by Costa Rica, Philippines, Colombia and Canada (each at 4 percent). Most U.S. clients interested in buying in another country (87 percent) were looking to use the property as a vacation home or residential rental unit.

“Especially in the local markets attracting a hefty share of international buyers and sellers such as those in California, Florida and Texas, it’s advantageous for REALTORS® to consider earning the Certified International Property Specialist, or CIPS, designation,” says NAR President Tom Salomone. “The specialized training on critical aspects of an international transaction such as exchange rate and tax issues and regional market conditions best prepare REALTORS® for the increasingly globally connected world of real estate.”

For more information, visit www.realtor.org.

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