International clients are an important niche market for residential and commercial REALTORS® alike. In the latest 2019 Commercial Real Estate International Business Trends, NAR reported that foreign buyers purchased $4.8 billion of U.S. commercial real estate in 2018. The median value for a buyer-side transaction was $600,000, while the median value for a seller-side transaction was $1 million. The dollar volume of foreign buyer purchases of U.S. commercial property declined in 2018 compared to the $6.7 billion in 2017 and $7.9 billion in 2016 as the economic expansion slowed in Asia (e.g., China, Japan), Canada, Europe (e.g. United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain), and Latin America.
Major Buyers of Commercial Property
Asia was the largest source of U.S. commercial property buyers, accounting for about a third (34 percent; 28 percent in 2017) followed by the Canada and Latin America (29 percent; 25 percent in 2017), Europe (20 percent; 29 percent in 2017), Middle East (10 percent; 12 percent in 2017), Oceania (2 percent; 1 percent in 2017), and from other countries that were not identified by respondents (3 percent; 6 percent in 2017).
The top foreign buyers of commercial property were China (21 percent), Canada (7 percent), Mexico (6 percent), Germany (5 percent), India (5 percent), Israel (5 percent), United Kingdom (5 percent), Venezuela (5 percent), Vietnam (5 percent), and Italy (4 percent).
Major Destinations of Buyers of Commercial Property
Florida was top choice among foreign buyers of U.S. commercial property (20 percent) followed by Illinois (13 percent), Texas (11 percent), and California (9 percent). Other top destinations were Georgia, New York, Virginia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oklahoma.
Financing and Types of Property Purchased
About half of commercial foreign buyers, 52 percent, made an all-cash purchase (70 percent in 2017), and 25 percent obtained financing from a U.S. source.
International commercial buyers purchased across a variety of property types, but apartment was the most preferred, at apartment (19 percent), followed by retail (16 percent), land (12 percent), industrial (11 percent), office (9 percent), hotel (9 percent), and other types.
The bulk of foreign buyers of commercial property purchased the property as an investment to be rented out (39 percent in 2017), and 33 percent purchased the property for a business they participate in (34 percent in 2017). The Other category, which accounted for 22 percent (16 percent in 2017), includes a purchase of the property for residential and business-related uses.
Reasons Foreign Client Decided Not to Purchase U.S. Commercial Real Estate
One in five international clients decided not to purchase U.S. commercial properties in 2018 (17 percent in 2017). Understandably, the primary reason deterring a purchase is cost and exchange rate changes (36 percent of clients who decided not to purchase; 30 percent in 2017).Other major reasons are the buyer “could not find a property” (31 percent of clients who decided not to purchase), difficulty moving money out of the country (22 percent; 17 percent in 2017), tax-related issues (22 percent; 17 percent in 2017), immigration/visa (9 percent), and difficulty obtaining financing (9 percent).
 NAR also estimates foreign buyer purchases of U.S. residential property. According to the 2018 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of International Activity in U.S. Residential Real Estate, foreign buyers purchased $121 billion of residential property during April 2017—March 2018, or eight percent of the $1.6 trillion of total existing home sales during the same period.
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