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Hawaii’s New Foreign Real Estate Buyers

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Wealthy Koreans and Chinese from three locations join Japanese and Canadian buyers in the local market

BY DENNIS HOLLIER

Honolulu is one of the top 10 real estate markets in the country for international buyers.

Maybe you’re not surprised, but, according to Inman News, a prominent national source of real estate intelligence, 3.6 percent of all homes sold on Oahu between May 2011 and January 2012 went to buyers with a foreign tax bill address. That’s roughly twice the national average.

On the one hand, this factoid seems to confirm the obvious. Resort towns have always gotten the biggest slice of the international market, which is comprised mostly of affluent people seeking second homes. In that sense, high-end communities like Kahala, Wailea and Hualalai look like the quintessential market for these wealthy foreigners. But if you look closely at the numbers, the story becomes more complicated.

Bigger Picture

That’s because Hawaii differs from other U.S. markets in important ways. First, Hawaii real estate doesn’t offer the bargains international investors can find elsewhere. According to the Inman report, we don’t have the high vacancy or foreclosure rates that have depressed prices in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Florida. For example, in 2010, Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., one of the top 10 markets for international buyers, had a vacancy rate of 37 percent, the highest in the country. The national figure is about 13 percent. In Hawaii, the vacancy rate is barely more than 8 percent.

That same divergence is reflected in the low number of foreclosure sales in the Islands. In Miami, during the fourth quarter of 2011, foreclosure sales accounted for 24 percent of all residential sales. In Phoenix, it was 39 percent. In Las Vegas, the country’s distressed property capital, an amazing 58.7 percent of all homes sold were foreclosures. In contrast, just 6.1 percent of Honolulu sales were foreclosures. The comparative health of Hawaii’s real estate market hasn’t yielded bargain-basement prices, so it’s not surprising that most foreign buyers have looked elsewhere.

Home Front

The biggest difference with the Hawaii market may simply be the mix of foreign buyers. Across the country, Canadians make up 23 percent of all international buyers, followed by the English and other Europeans. In Florida, which has six of the top 10 markets for foreign buyers, that trend is even more pronounced, with Canadians comprising more than 70 percent of the international market. In Hawaii, of course, Asian buyers predominate. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Japan-based buyers still account for more than 58 percent of all international sales in Hawaii. Canadians are also an important market, but they make up just over 16 percent of foreign buyers. The next largest group is the fabled Chinese, comprising nearly 6 percent of all international sales.

This is a familiar landscape to Hawaii Realtors who specialize in foreign buyers. But there are subtle changes obscured in that data. Those changes aren’t lost on Patricia Choi of Choi International, Hawaii Business’s Top Realtor for three out of the past five years, largely due to international sales.

“Now, we have two or three new sets of buyers,” Choi says. “The first is the Koreans. They don’t have to have a visa anymore, and they can stay up to 90 days. Because of that, we have more people from Korea who are looking to buy vacation homes here. And they come in all ages, from young ones who’ve been very successful to older retirees.

“The second group is the Chinese – and actually you have three groups of those. You have the ones from mainland China, those from Taiwan and those from Hong Kong.”

It’s the group from mainland China that has some Realtors on the edge of their seats. After all, the country’s booming economy has produced hundreds of thousands of new millionaires, and, according to Juwai.com, a popular Chinese real estate portal, as many as 85 percent of them would like to immigrate to the U.S. or send their children to school here. That’s why smart Realtors like Choi see so much potential in the China market. Although Choi says that 60 percent to 70 percent of her business last year was from Japan, she’s focusing more and more attention on China.

“I’ll be leaving on a flight to China next week,” she says. “This is my third year in a row that I’m going to China.” She’s also going to Seoul this year instead of Tokyo.

Understanding foreign buyers isn’t just important for Honolulu Realtors; foreign buyers also play an important, albeit diminished, role in the market for high-end property on the Neighbor Islands. “We currently have about 300 members (owners),” says Rob Kildow, principal broker and director of sales for Hualalai Realty, which handles sales for the Hualalai Resort on Hawaii Island. “It looks like about 3.5 percent of our members are Japan-based. We also have members from Australia, Canada, Holland, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore; but everybody is less than 1 percent except the Japan contingent.” Overall, though, he estimates nearly 20 percent of his sales are to foreign buyers. Given the amount of international money coming in, Kildow, like Choi, is keenly aware of what drives foreign buyers.

“Without getting too complicated,” he says, “a lot of it has to do with currency valuations. With the weak dollar, that’s made us more attractive to international buyers.” Probably the best example is the yuan, which is up 34 percent against the dollar over the past three years. That amounts to a 34 percent discount on U.S. real estate for Chinese buyers. That same scenario is playing out with the yen, the Korean won and the Canadian dollar.

“Lift is also an important part if it,” Kildow says. “Now, for example, there’s a once- or twice-a-week flight out of Hong Kong. There was an almost immediate jump in buyers with that. That works whenever you get more lift; you always get a pick-up in interest from those areas. People are creatures of convenience.”
Probably the most important issue for foreign buyers is the difficulty in obtaining financing. Banks simply don’t want to offer a typical mortgage to foreign nationals, which means these transactions often involve large quantities of cash. This is particularly troubling for Chinese buyers, who, because of tight currency regulations, often have difficulty getting money out of China.

“You can get money out of Hong Kong or Taiwan,” says Pat Choi, “But out of mainland China, you’re restricted to something like $50,000 per person per year.”
This is a serious impediment to buying real estate, she notes. “Some are able to get 50 percent loans. And they have big families. But most of the people doing this are pretty affluent; they’re people who have a lot of cash saved up.”

According to Choi, if young Realtors want to get into the international market, they have to understand all these issues. “They need to educate themselves,” she says. “They need to go to the NAR meetings and be active in the international section.” Maybe most important, they need to understand the needs of the international buyer. Choi recommends traveling to foreign countries and learning what potential buyers are like in their own environment.

She offers one more piece of wisdom: “This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.”

Top 10 U.S. Markets for Foreign Buyers

Foreign buyers as a percentage of all buyers in each market

Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla. 9.2%
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla. 8.5%
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla. 6.9%
North Point-Bradenton-Sarasota, Fla. 6.5%
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Fla. 5.3%
Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz. 4.2%
New York County, N.Y. (Manhattan) 3.7%
Honolulu 3.6%
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla. 2.9%
Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev. 2.8%

Photo: Thinkstock

Source: Inman News, reporting on all homes sold between May 2011 and January 2012.

Photo: Thinkstock

Launch a Business, Get a Green Card

One way Chinese real estate buyers are getting around visa rules and currency restrictions is by investing in U.S. businesses. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, over the past four years there’s been a 35 percent up-tick in EB-5 applications, a program that awards permanent resident status to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in new U.S. business ventures that create a minimum of 10 jobs. Last year, 78 percent of all applicants for the program were Chinese nationals.

Hawaii Business

American Luxury Real Estate Popular With Chinese Buyers

American Luxury Real Estate Popular With Chinese Buyers

Buying overseas real estate is popular among affluent Chinese for a number of reasons. They may be buying property for a son or daughter studying overseas, as a tangible investment or the first step in a long term goal of emigrating to a new country. The following is a curated list of articles that provide insight into the growing trend of Chinese purchasing real estate for personal and investment reasons overseas.

Chinese Steer Billions Abroad in Quest for Safety

By Nadja Brandt, Oshrat Carmiel & Dan Levy – Nov 19, 2013 8:01 AM GMT-1000

Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg
The lot at 421 Kent Ave. in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Xinyuan Real Estate Co.’s acquisition of a two-acre parcel near Brooklyn, New York’s Williamsburg waterfront may be the first time a Chinese company took control of a U.S. residential development site of more than a few units, according to 12 years of data from Real Capital Analytics Inc.

More than a dozen Chinese developers gathered for breakfast at a Los Angeles hotel one Sunday earlier this month before taking off for meetings with property brokers, attorneys and potential business partners.

The visitors, none of whom have invested in U.S. real estate development before, would then catch an evening flight to San Jose, California, and meet with more property executives there and in nearby San Francisco. In all, they would stop in six cities over 14 days, including New York and Washington.

“We like the stable and mature investment market in the U.S. relative to the Chinese market,” Jianrong Qian, chairman of Shanghai-based Chiway Holding Group Co., said through an interpreter before heading off to eat with the rest of his group at the InterContinental hotel in Century City. “We were encouraged by the pace of the recovery here in the U.S. after the financial crisis. It shows the resilience of this market.”

Developers from China are committing billions of dollars to projects around the world, from apartment towers in Brooklyn, New York, and a new business district in the U.K. to a residential redevelopment in Sydney and mixed-use buildings in downtown Los Angeles. Regulatory restrictions at home and concerns that the Chinese property market is overheating are spurring companies to venture outside their country for the first time and look far afield for construction opportunities.

“Chinese companies are getting bigger, so they want to diversify beyond their home base,” said Goodwin Gaw, co-founder and chairman of Hong Kong-based Gaw Capital Partners, which is raising as much as $500 million for its first U.S.-focused fund, to be used for real estate development and management. “They feel like it’s their time.”

Relative Stability

Major U.S. cities and parts of Europe and Australia are appealing to developers for their relative stability and predictable population growth, as well as their popularity among wealthy Chinese individual buyers that may be attracted to the properties. The safety offered is enough of a draw that the companies are tackling cultural differences and unfamiliar approval processes, and at times accepting lower returns.

In the U.S., the six biggest metropolitan areas have attracted $2.88 billion in commercial real estate investment by Chinese companies this year, up from $321 million in all of 2012, according to New York-based research firm Real Capital Analytics Inc. The data include both completed and pending transactions. Manhattan and other New York City boroughs were the two biggest areas for deals, with Los Angeles third.

Lower Return

The Chinese are adding to a wave of investment in top markets by buyers including sovereign wealth funds, real estate investment trusts and private-equity firms. In the six major U.S. metro areas, commercial-property prices reached a five-year high in August, the latest month for which figures are available, and are up 6.2 percent this year, according to Moody’s Investors Service and Real Capital Analytics.

Wealthy Chinese seeking overseas residency

There is one Chinese export product that is seemingly unstoppable at the moment – millionaires. Porsche-driving Louie Huang lives in Shanghai, having made his money – a lot of money – in property.
He is having a 200-room villa built here and owns properties in at least five other cities around the world. But while his business interests remain in China, he has also stumped up the sizeable investment needed to buy himself residency rights in Singapore. He says it is for a number of reasons, in particular the opportunity it might bring his future family. But he admits that for many of his wealthy friends it is a sense of insecurity which is leading them to ponder a life outside China.
“Most of them think I’ve got so much money here but one day maybe the government will change the policies and take it all back,” he says.  There is mounting evidence to show that China’s super-rich are heading for the exit.
At a seminar in a plush office suite with a spectacular view of Shanghai, Chinese entrepreneurs with at least half a million dollars to spare are being encouraged to invest in the US economy.
The EB-5 visa scheme is an investment-for-residency programme, handing out green cards as long as the investment can be shown to have created at least 10 jobs.
In 2006 Chinese nationals were granted just 63 visas under the scheme. Last year the figure had leapt to more than 2,408 and this year it is already above the 3,700 mark. It means a tidal wave of Chinese money is currently pouring into US infrastructure projects.
The scheme is open to any nationality but Chinese investors now make up 75% of the total.
China’s rigid and opaque political system is perhaps one reason for the wealth-drain, particularly in a year in which there is due to be a changing of the guard at the very top of the Communist Party.
There are certainly lifestyle concerns too. Like Louie Huang the wealthy are often seeking cleaner air and a better education for their children. Enjoying the best things in life also matters. According to the Shanghai Travelers’ Club, a luxury travel club for the Chinese Elite, traveling abroad is a strong sign of social status, and acquiring a property in cities like New York, Las Vegas or London is the ultimate symbol of success in life for the wealthy Chinese.
Add to that the fears that China’s decade-long economic boom may be losing steam and it is perhaps not surprising that China’s rich are on the run. The EB-5 data is not the only evidence. A survey last year of almost 1,000 Chinese dollar millionaires found 60% considering moving overseas.
China is now one of Australia’s biggest sources of migrants with figures released for 2011 showing that it had overtaken the UK for the first time.
And American estate agents have been reporting a big jump this year in the number of high-value home buyers from mainland China and Hong Kong.
The party is far from over for China’s wealthy, including Louie Huang – who has just opened a brand new nightclub. As his patrons sit around tables containing a dozen or more bottles of champagne it is abundantly clear that many people are still making money here.
But in these economically uncertain times, there is a growing temptation for those with money to take it, and themselves, somewhere a little safer.
Source: BBC News

Hawaii’s Mark As Favorite Cities Of The Super Rich

Multi-millionaires have their pick of the litter. They can live in the world’s most expensive cities, like Monte Carlo, and have a second home in Hawaii. It’s almost too easy. For real estate investors looking to tap into the hottest real estate markets in the world, luxury real estate consultancy Brilliant Space Hawaii says Hawaii are the cities of choice of the super rich.

 

CHINA HAS EMERGED AS A MAJOR GLOBAL CONSUMER OF LUXURY GOODS