The Viceroy, a swanky condominium complex in downtown Miami, gives the impression that the United States is in another real estate boom. The sales office is strangely exuberant. Buyers gush about the glam condos — designed by hipster tastemaker Kelly Wearstler — and their hotel-like amenities: poolside libations, daily housekeeping and room service food stirred up by a celebrity chef.
Since January, 262 of the Viceroy’s 372 units have sold. But there’s a twist: Almost 90 percent of the buyers are foreigners. And they all paid cash.
The Viceroy’s story is playing out across Miami. Individual investors from as far as Argentina, Canada, Colombia, France, Israel, Italy, Norway and Venezuela are swarming the city’s sales offices to get in on what they see as one of the greatest real estate fire sales in the history of the United States.
At one time, these people would have invested in the U.S. stock market. Now they see the opportunity of a lifetime in America’s debilitated housing market. The idea is to rent out the properties and then sell them once the economy turns around.
The math is seductive: Prices at the Viceroy are roughly 52 percent off the 2007 peak. Units once sold for as much $670 a square foot. Today the average price is $319.
“I have never seen such a high concentration of foreign nationals acquiring real estate,” says Peter Zalewski, who has been in real estate for 15 years and founded Condo Vultures, a consulting and brokerage firm. “Eighty percent of the sales in downtown Miami are foreign-based. This is unprecedented.”
Miami is hardly the only hot spot for buyers from outside the United States. Real estate brokers say they’ve seen a surge in Washington, New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Seattle, Asians are buying property sight unseen, says Joe Brazen of Brazen Sotheby’s International. In New York, 25 percent of buyers at the Armani-designed 20 Pine building, near the World Trade Center site, are from overseas.
In October, agents from 11 Sotheby’s International branches will descend on Hong Kong’s convention center to regale wealthy buyers there with slick visuals on showcase properties. In Toronto, agents from Florida Home Finders play to crowds of 800 every other Sunday at a Holiday Inn banquet hall. Jenny Huertas, Condo Vultures’ international sales director, throws seminars for potential clients across South America.
“Their jaws drop. They can’t believe it,” Huertas says. “They think these deals are too good to be true.”
From the WSJ.com:
Sekisui House Ltd., one of Japan’s largest home builders and developers, is stepping into the U.S. housing market, an indication that land prices have fallen low enough to catch the attention of foreign investors.
Sekisui teamed up with Newland Real Estate Group LLC of San Diego to acquire nearly 500 acres outside Houston, which eventually could house more than 1,200 homes. Terms of the transaction weren’t disclosed, but local brokers said the price likely topped $10 million.
Newland Chief Executive Bob McLeod said a Sekisui representative contacted him last autumn to discuss a potential partnership.
“To have a company of that quality come in, track us down and say: ‘Now is the time to buy in the United States,’ we were pleased,” Mr. McLeod said. “Not only for ourselves, but also for the message it sent: ‘We believe in the United States, and we believe in the growth of the real-estate business.’ “
Mr. McLeod said Sekisui officials are touring housing markets nationwide with Newland, and more deals could be announced soon.
Sekisui isn’t the only foreign company circling bargain-priced land. Investor groups from Australia and Canada have visited the National Association of Home Builders’ Washington headquarters in recent months, asking about markets poised to recover first.
“For the first time since World War II, I think [foreign] people are more optimistic about the U.S. housing market than Americans,” said Stephen Melman, the trade group’s director of economic services. “Eventually, the glut will disappear and there will be a demand again.”