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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

Top US & Foreign Buyers of Property in Hawaii 美国夏威夷房地产物业的外国买家报告

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HonoluluRealestate

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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.

Foreclosures dog even wealthiest home buyers

By AnnaMaria Andriotis


Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

Jumbo borrowers who went into foreclosure a few years ago are learning the hard way: You can’t go home again.

Affluent home buyers attempting to get back into real estate after defaulting on their home loan are finding that few lenders are willing to work with them. Those that do often impose long waiting periods, higher down payments and higher interest rates.

Since spring, lenders say they have increasingly been hearing from would-be buyers who went through foreclosure. “We get the calls routinely,” says Al Engel, executive vice president at Valley National Bank, based in Wayne, N.J.

Callers include self-employed borrowers whose income dropped during the recession, causing them to fall behind on their mortgages, but who have since financially recovered. Also affected are borrowers who walked away from their homes after their values plummeted and owed more on their mortgage than the house was worth. Now that home values have stopped falling in most housing markets, they want back in.

Terri Conrad and her husband saw their 4,500-square-foot, five-bedroom home in Carbondale, Colo., foreclosed on last year. They purchased the home for $1.25 million in 2007, but its value had dropped to roughly $700,000 by 2012. Ms. Conrad, who manages finances of affluent families, says the couple tried refinancing but was denied. Although they could afford the payments, they decided to walk away because they didn’t want to keep paying for a home that was worth significantly less than the loan. They are now renting in Houston and plan to wait at least a couple of years before applying for a home loan again. “I’m worried about who’s going to give me a mortgage,” she says.

Most lenders who offer private jumbo mortgages, which start after $417,000 in most parts of the country and at $625,501 in pricier housing markets, remain very selective and limit themselves to borrowers with the strongest credit profiles.

Foreclosures stay on credit reports for seven years from the time homeowners default on their mortgage. What’s more, a foreclosure can lower a borrower’s credit score by 100 points, says John Ulzheimer, a former manager at FICO, the credit score used by most lenders. Borrowers who were previously always on time with payments would see a bigger drop. For instance, someone with an 820 FICO score (FICO scores range from 300 to 850) could drop to 580 following foreclosure, he says. That borrower could need more time to work his or her way back to a top score before getting a mortgage.

Separately, many affluent borrowers went into foreclosure later largely because they were able to tap their savings to pay their mortgage. Foreclosures on homes worth over $1 million peaked in 2011, while foreclosures on homes worth less than $1 million peaked in 2009, according to RealtyTrac, which tracks real-estate data. By delaying foreclosure, they will likely have to wait—possibly until after housing has fully rebounded—to get a home loan.

Borrowers who intentionally default—the ones who walked away from their homes—are less likely to be approved for another mortgage soon after. Lenders that originate private jumbos often follow guidelines set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which require strategic defaulters to have re-established their credit profile for at least seven years after foreclosure in order to get a mortgage.

But experts say more flexibility among lenders could emerge in the next year. A recent change allows certain borrowers to become eligible for mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration in as little as one year after their foreclosure. Previously the waiting period was at least three years. “This may be an influence on the private lenders to loosen a little bit on their waiting period,” says Daren Blomquist vice president at RealtyTrac.

Borrowers who overcame a financial hardship that was out of their control and improved their credit profile and are shopping for a mortgage should consider smaller lenders. Valley National Bank and Fremont Bank, which is based in the San Francisco Bay area, say they are open to working with some private jumbo applicants in as little as 2&GBP 189; to three years, respectively, after the date of foreclosure.

Chinese immigration to US still rising

The number of foreign-born Chinese Americans in the US doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to a UN report, and experts attribute the increase in large part to China’s growing middle class, who have left in droves to pursue education or business opportunities abroad.

Among approximately 3.79 million Chinese now living in the United States, 2.2 million were born in China, according to the report by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA).

Chinese immigration to US still rising

“There has been an astronomical increase in Chinese students coming to US, driven by economic growth in China, improved educational infrastructure and a continued uncertainty about China’s trajectory,” said Madeleine Sumption, a senior policy analyst and assistant director for research in the international program at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “Having an education outside China is viewed as being an insurance policy, and more and more parents are able to afford to take advantage of that.”

In 2000, 22,000 visas were issued to Chinese nationals in the US; in 2012, that number jumped to 189,000. Increased government investment in China’s education system has also contributed to a larger portion of the Chinese population being able to apply for study abroad, she said.

Zai Liang, a professor in the sociology department at the University of Albany with a focus on immigration and Chinese demography, said he believes that the UN figures are slightly misleading. A significant portion of the 2.2 million Chinese-born immigrants currently in the US are in the country on temporary visas for school or short-term business and will not stay, he said. Some of the students may have been counted twice as a result of exiting the country for holiday trips or other short vacations, he said.

Other factors possibly contributing to increased immigration from China include lenient US immigration policies that encourage high-skill workers from China to take jobs in the US, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside. Ramakrishna directs the National Asian-American Survey, and is working on a book on immigration legislation.

The US is working to make its policies more competitive in drawing higher-educated immigrants equipped to work in high-skill industries, he said.

Although immigration from China has increased steadily over the last decade, various push and pull factors play a role in how it plays out in developing countries. Increased wealth provides the means for people to leave, but increased opportunity can also attract many to return home upon graduation, Sumption said.

Immigration reform in the US will likely continue to prioritize visas for educated, high-skill workers from China, but will make it more difficult for Chinese families to bring extended family members with them when they relocate. Adult siblings will no longer be eligible.

The UN-DESA report, which was released ahead of a summit on migration and development held by the General Assembly in early October, noted that 232 million people now live abroad worldwide. In 2000, that number was 175 million. The US remains the world’s most preferred destination for immigration: between 1990 and 2013, nearly 23 million immigrants arrived in the country.

“Even though many people think of immigration as being most important to the Latino community, it’s also incredibly important to the Asian community as the US’ fastest-growing racial group,” Ramakrishnan said.

kdawson@chinadailyusa.com