Wealthy foreigners bought $100 billion in US real estate

Overseas buyers snapped up more than $100 billion in U.S. real estate over the past year, as the foreign wealthy sought safe shelter for their fortunes.

According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of U.S. residential real estate to overseas buyers between April 2014 and March 2015 reached a record $104 billion, or about 8 percent of total existing home sales. While the number of properties sold slowed to 209,000 from 232,600 last year, buyers acquired more expensive properties, which brought up the sales total.

Chinese were far and away the top foreign buyers of real estate last year, with buyers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan accounting for $28.6 billion in sales, according to the report. Canada ranked second, with $11.2 billion, followed by India with $7.9 billion. They mainly favored homes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York.

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Overall, Florida was the top state for overseas real estate buyers, accounting for 21 percent of all U.S. sales to foreign buyers. California ranked second, with 16 percent, followed by Texas with 8 percent and Arizona with 5 percent. The top four states accounted for half of overseas buying.

The Intercostal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
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The Intercostal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Overseas buyers accounted for only 3 percent of sales in New York state, though that share is far higher for New York City, where most of their buying is concentrated. The buyers were split almost evenly between resident and nonresident foreigners.

Europeans and Canadians were attracted to Florida and Arizona, while California and Texas were favored by buyers from Asia. Buyers from Latin America, including Mexico, favored Texas and Florida.

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Foreign buyers were focused on higher-end homes. The mean purchase price for overseas buyers was $499,600, nearly twice the national mean purchase price of $255,600. Foreigners are also paying more than they were last year: The mean price paid by overseas buyers jumped 26 percent over the previous year. Most favored the suburbs over the city and most favored single-family detached homes over apartments.

Most buyers—some 55 percent of overseas buyers—paid all-cash, according to the report.

The declining number of properties sold was primarily attributed to the stronger dollar, which makes U.S. real estate more expensive for overseas buyers.

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The report said that U.S. real estate remains a relative bargain compared to other global cities favored by the wealthy. For instance, a condo costing $1.6 million in New York would cost more than $4 million in Paris and $2 million in Moscow.

Fully 46 percent of foreign buyers planned to use their properties as a primary residence, while 20 percent plan to use as them for rentals and 15 percent plan to use it them as vacation homes.