Houston Agent (HA): What factors are influencing international clients to buy U.S. property?
Dan Conn (DC): The desire to move equity out of turbulent markets to stable locations continues to prompt wealthy foreigners to buy luxury property in the United States. The country’s political and economic stability, business and lifestyle opportunities, as well as its transparent and safe legal system, are among the primary draws. Although the strong dollar has raised the initial cost of a luxury property in U.S., it also offers a currency hedge for overseas buyers.
Despite a decline in the Chinese economy, Chinese buyers continue to purchase in significant numbers in many major urban markets. In a recent survey of more than 250 real estate agents from our network, 47 percent of agents in the U.S. reported an increase in Chinese luxury homebuyers, and only 6 percent noted a decline. In addition to wealth protection and geographic diversification aspects, many affluent Chinese buyers are driven to purchase homes abroad by educational opportunities for their children.
Some urban “comeback” markets that may have been previously overshadowed by other bigger markets are attracting increasing numbers of international buyers due to strong economic growth. An example would be Portland, Oregon, which was up in $1 million-plus home sales by 45 percent in 2015, thanks in part to its burgeoning tech industry.
HA: How can real estate agents work with those factors, given that they deal with global issues?
DC: Global equity markets are beset with uncertainty, and buyers of luxury homes are accordingly searching for security and value in a real estate purchase. Correctly pricing a home is a major factor in today’s market. We see that as being key toward attracting the right buyers – and at the right time.
HA: There have been reports that international real estate is slowing in 2016. Is that consistent with your perspective, and where do you see business heading the rest of the year?
DC: Luxury home sales have slowed down in some major markets, and the reasons in each case differ. Some of it is geopolitical, some currency related, some due to specific buyer demographic trends, and some due to a natural pause as new inventory comes to market, presenting buyers with more options to consider. Though we are still seeing some very high prices for high-end real estate, we would say that the overall the bigger economic hubs are having a return to realism. Average growth in large markets has returned to single digits, which is a more normal level than the last few years, though some individual markets are outperforming and some are underperforming.
Looking ahead to the remainder of the year, we believe that we’ll continue to see more moderate growth overall than what we’ve seen in the past, particularly in the larger markets. You’ll continue to see that smart investors will be more focused on the comeback markets, like Atlanta – as well as the opportunity markets as they will have greater return.
Dan Conn is the CEO of Christie’s International Real Estate.