Today’s International Luxury Buyers: Trends, Activity, Preferences and More
As much of the world opened in 2022 following two-plus years of pandemic restrictions, stories of wealthy overseas property buyers returning to prime property markets were noticeably absent from the headlines. We explore how exchange rate fluctuations, Covid travel restrictions, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has impacted the motivations and capabilities of potential buyers purchasing property abroad.
Are Foreign Buyers Back? The Post-pandemic Overseas Buyer Activity was Limited in 2022
Once a conspicuous force in many of the world’s major cities, foreign buyers mostly disappeared from global prime property markets when the Covid pandemic shut down international travel in 2020. As restrictions lifted and economies started to recover in 2021-2022, overseas buyers began to return to many property markets, but in smaller numbers and with different priorities and challenges than before the pandemic.
Returning international buyers are being met with headwinds in some markets, particularly from governments seeking to control speculation and demand from overseas buyers. For instance, the Singaporean government increased the Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty for foreign buyers from 20% to 30%, and the Australian government doubled the fees required to be paid by overseas property investors.
Canada introduced a two-year national ban on overseas residential property buyers beginning in 2023. And while not directly targeting foreign buyers, a new tax for property transactions over US $5 million in Los Angeles beginning in April 2023 will apply to overseas buyers.
International Buyer Sales Declined in Nearly Half of Luxury Markets
Based on a study of Forbes Global Properties members, nearly half (42%) of surveyed luxury property markets reported declines in the number of overseas buyers of luxury homes in 2022 compared to the same period five years ago. Some of the sharpest drops in the numbers of foreign buyers were recorded in coastal and suburban areas of California, due in part to local Covid travel restrictions in China and other parts of Asia, according to the National Association of Realtors “There are significantly fewer overseas buyers in coastal Orange County due to Covid and those potential buyers not being able to move around,” said Mike Shapiro of EQTY in Newport Beach, California, noting that in 2017 approximately 30% of luxury buyers in the area were from abroad.
“There are significantly fewer overseas buyers in coastal Orange County due to Covid and those potential buyers not being able to move around”
—Mike Shapiro of EQTY in California
Potential homebuyers from Asia purchasing in the U.S. have been negatively impacted by exchange rates, interest rates (both in their own countries and locally) and in some cases the ability to transfer funds to the United States, causing lower foreign investment in several regions across the globe than before Covid. “A much larger percentage of purchases were made by overseas buyers in 2017, especially those from China,” observed Jared Antin of Elegran Real Estate in New York City, where overseas buyers of luxury homes reached 20% in 2022, up from 10% in 2021, but still below the heights witnessed in the mid-late 2010s. Regulatory tightening in China and a strengthening US dollar has applied significant downward pressure on the overseas buyer segment of the market since 2017.
Second-home buying by overseas homebuyers reflected broader trends in tourism – travelers as well as luxury homebuyers were returning after the pandemic, albeit slowly. According to Tourism Economics, a research firm, global outbound leisure spending won’t fully bounce back until early 2024, exceeding 2019 levels by 21% in 2024 and then surging to 55% more than 2019 by 2026. Declines in travel during the pandemic had been a hindrance to cross- border real estate transactions, but perhaps more impactful in the behavior of overseas property buyers has been a shift away from globalization that began during the pandemic and came into full force with the advent of the first attack on a European sovereign nation in nearly 80 years. As BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink observed: “The world is undergoing a transformation… The Russian invasion of Ukraine has put an end to the globalization we have experienced over the last three decades.”
“We are seeing a return of the international buyer, with travel restrictions having eased from Covid and despite the strong dollar, buyers looking to diversify and purchase New York City real estate because it has a reputation of being incredibly stable and a hedge against inflation and geopolitical issues”
—Jared Antin of Elegran Real Estate in New York
International Home Buyers Have Returned in Nearly One-Third of Luxury Markets
Despite lower overall numbers of overseas buyers compared to five years ago, markets like New York City and Miami that have traditionally been hubs for international buyers saw a year- on-year uptick in foreign buyer interest in 2022 as compared to 2021 as the world began to reopen. Property in these markets have long- term appeal for risk-averse overseas buyers. “We are seeing a return of the international buyer, with travel restrictions having eased from Covid and despite the strong dollar, buyers looking to diversify and purchase New York City real estate because it has a reputation of being incredibly stable and a hedge against inflation and geopolitical issues,” added Antin in New York City. “Miami is no longer just a gateway to Latin America — it’s a gateway to the global community,” said Adam Kaufman of Legacy Development Sales & Marketing in Miami. “We’re seeing a surge in foreign buying activity from affluent individuals from diverse geographies who see South Florida luxury property as a safe and stable investment,” added Mark Pordes of Legacy Development Sales & Marketing.
Nearly a third of surveyed markets reported that the number of foreign buyers had exceeded 2017 levels. In Dubai, foreigners grew to about 30% of luxury home buyers in 2022, due in part to the UAE’s new infrastructure, tax and investment opportunities, economic growth, as well as its dynamic approach to adapting immigration regulations to attract private wealth, capital, and talent. According to the latest Henley Global Citizens Report, which monitors private wealth and investment migration trends worldwide, the UAE was on track to record the highest net influx of HNWIs of any country in 2022. Regional instability and the war in Ukraine also played a key role in Dubai’s resurgent property market. “Russian buyers have always been present in Dubai. However, in 2022, we witnessed an increased number of them,” said Abdullah Alajaji of Driven Properties. The Henley Global Citizens Report supports this observation: Russia suffered the biggest emigration of millionaires, with forecast net outflows of 15,000 by the end of 2022 — a massive 15% of its HNWI population and 9,500 more than in 2019, pre-pandemic.
“We’re seeing a surge in foreign buying activity from affluent individuals from diverse geographies who see South Florida luxury property as a safe and stable investment.”
—Mark Pordes of Legacy Development Sales & Marketing in Florida
Twenty-six percent of our studied markets reported that the numbers of international buyers had almost returned to 2017 figures. In Australia’s most populous cities, Sydney and Melbourne, international buyers began to trickle back to the market in the latter part of 2022, representing approximately 10% of buyers at the top end of the market compared to 5% in 2021. Ken Jacobs of Private Property Global in Australia provides a snapshot of current market dynamics: “We have experienced a short pause during the pandemic years of the normal volumes of new buyers from overseas — particularly, China, the USA and UK. This has undoubtedly changed in the second half of 2022 with noticeable new levels of interest from families seeking a luxury property in the Sydney and Melbourne marketplaces.”
American Buyers Benefited From Exchange Rates
Extensive fluctuations in global exchange rates—the US dollar peaked at a 20-year high in mid-2022 and the euro fell below parity—have presented exceptional opportunities, as well as challenges, for buyers seeking to acquire prime property outside their resident country. This meant that for luxury homebuyers purchasing European property in US dollars, properties were discounted due to the strength of the greenback. Resort destinations like the northeast coast of Sardinia, particularly Costa Smeralda, became an increasingly popular destination for these currency-buoyed U.S. buyers who were “considering purchasing a second home, with steady price growth also linked to scarcity of supply and availability of stock,” noted Fernando Velez of RAREX. Similarly in Australia, “the weakened position of the AUD against the USD has seen Australian property getting some additional attention from the U.S. — both from returning ex-pats and U.S. investors,” said Jacobs of Private Property Global.
Consistent with the new American purchase power and traveling trends in 2022, American investors abroad shifted from renting to buying since the pandemic. According to Cinzia Romanelli of Building Heritage in Florence, the mix of nationalities and motivation of buyers purchasing luxury property in Italy has undergone a significant change since before the pandemic. “We saw a shift. Five years ago most of the buyers were coming focused on rentals; nowadays, after Covid, buyers are recognizing the fiscal and lifestyle benefits, and we have seen an increasing number of sales.”
Despite economic volatility, geopolitical instability, and lingering Covid concerns, many continued to invest in luxury residential property outside their home countries. It is seen as a secure investment option due to the long-term benefits it can offer — including tax incentives, hedges against inflation, diversification of assets—in addition to the lifestyle appeal.