Foreign buyers purchased $102.6 billion of residential property in the U.S. between April 2015 and March 2016, according to NAR's annual report on international activity in U.S. real estate. That is a 1.3 percent decline in dollar volume from the previous survey. The number of properties purchased, however, rose 2.8 percent to 214,885. The value of homes bought by foreigners was typically higher than the median price of all U.S. homes.
"The slight drop in dollar volume can probably be accounted for based on the types of properties purchased, and the locations of many of those properties. We've seen at least some evidence that foreign buyers — both investors and people just looking for a home — have begun looking beyond expensive markets like San Francisco, New York City and Washington D.C., and buying properties in smaller, less-expensive cities in the Southeast and Midwest," said Rick Sharga, executive vice president at Ten-X (formerly Auction.com), an online real estate marketplace .
Another major shift was in the makeup of international buyers. Chinese purchasers continued to outpace all others, with their dollar volume exceeding the total of the next four ranked countries combined. Their dollar volume of sales, at $27.3 billion, was a slight decrease from last year's survey but was still three times as much as Canadian buyers, who were ranked second. Chinese buyers also 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 five to 10 years ago, thereby making U.S. properties still appear reasonably affordable over a longer time span," wrote Yun in the report.
Given today's volatility in global financial markets, real estate is one of the safest investments available. U.S. real estate in particular is relatively inexpensive compared to properties in Asia.
"The explosive growth of the Chinese economy created a very large number of very wealthy people. As that country's economy has slowed down, those individuals are looking for better investment alternatives, and many have concluded that U.S. real estate is a smart bet," added Sharga.
London had been a favorite of foreign investors, but the impact of the Brexit vote is already hitting the housing market there. Buyers from the United Kingdom were the fourth-largest consumer of U.S. real estate in the data that was gathered before the Brexit vote.