Foreigners are big players in many U.S. housing markets. Looking across all the search traffic on Trulia from the past year (April 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013), searches from outside the U.S. accounted for 4.3 percent of all searches -- and more than 25 percent of searches in a handful of truly global neighborhoods.
Foreign search share is down a bit from the previous year (April 1, 2011, to March 31, 2012), when foreigners accounted for 4.4 percent of searches. However, foreign searches are now more diverse: the share of searches coming from lower- and middle-income countries has grown. Also, although foreigners make up a declining share of home searches in Phoenix, Miami, and other Sunbelt metros, they're gaining share in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
As Canadians Retreat, More Searches Come from Asia and Africa
The top countries where U.S. home searches originate are Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany, but those countries represent a declining share of all foreign searches. In fact, those three countries now account for 34 percent of all foreign searches on Trulia in the past year, compared with 38 percent in the previous year. So which countries are gaining at their expense? The search share from India, Nigeria, Russia, and the Philippines all leapt by 20 percent or more in the past year, and by 17 percent from China.
|#||Country||Share of all Foreign Searches on Trulia||Y-o-Y Change in Search Share|
|Note: Share of all foreign searches is the percent of all foreign searches (excluding domestic searches) on Trulia from each country.|
At the same time, the foreign share of search traffic to U.S. metros is also shifting. In Miami, foreign house hunters account for 14 percent of home searches -- the highest share among the 100 largest metros. It's followed by Los Angeles (13 percent) and Fort Lauderdale (12 percent). But among the 10 metros with the highest share of foreign searches, eight are on the decline. Only in Los Angeles and San Francisco did the foreign share of search traffic rise in the past year.
|#||U.S. Metro||Share of searches from outside the U.S.||Y-o-Y change in foreign search share|
|2||Los Angeles, CA||13%||4%|
|3||Fort Lauderdale, FL||12%||-9%|
|4||West Palm Beach, FL||10%||-12%|
|7||San Francisco, CA||9%||2%|
|8||Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL||9%||-13%|
|9||Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL||9%||-18%|
|10||Las Vegas, NV||8%||-4%|
|Note: Share of home searches from outside the U.S. is the percent of all searches on Trulia in each metro area that come from outside the United States.|
Some searches from a particular country to a specific metro have had especially big swings. Search share jumped more than 33 percent year-over-year for searches from India to New York; from the Netherlands to Los Angeles; and from Nigeria to Chicago, for instance. On the flip side, searches dropped by more than 20 percent from Canada to Phoenix; from Italy to New York; and from Mexico to San Antonio.
What's driving these shifts? Two key things. First: economic growth boosts a country's spending power, so countries with bigger increases in GDP per capita (like Russia) have bigger increases in searches for U.S. homes. Second: home-price growth in the U.S. turns off foreigners, so housing markets with bigger price increases (like Phoenix) tended to have bigger drop-offs in the share of foreign search traffic.
That means that as U.S. home prices continue to rise, foreign searches are likely to drop as a share of all searches for U.S. homes -- except for searches from countries rapidly getting wealthier.
The Global Neighborhoods
International house hunters focus their searches not just on specific metros but on particular neighborhoods. Even in markets like Los Angeles that get lots of foreign search traffic, those searches are highly concentrated in a few parts of town. For instance, 41 percent of searches in Bel Air (ZIP code 90077) are international, compared with 13 percent of searches in the Los Angeles metro area and 4.3 percent of searches nationally. Of the top 20 ZIP codes ranked by their share of foreign searches, nine are on the west side of Los Angeles, four are in Manhattan, four are in Miami plus one in neighboring Fort Lauderdale, and two are in the Lakeland-Winter Haven metro in Central Florida.
|#||ZIP code||Neighborhood||U.S. Metro||Share of searches from outside the U.S.|
|1||90077||Bel Air||Los Angeles, CA||41%|
|2||90210||Beverly Hills||Los Angeles, CA||38%|
|3||90069||West Hollywood / Sunset Blvd||Los Angeles, CA||34%|
|4||33131||Brickell Ave / Brickell Key||Miami, FL||29%|
|5||10013||Tribeca / Little Italy||New York, NY-NJ||28%|
|6||10007||World Trade Center / City Hall||New York, NY-NJ||28%|
|7||33897||Davenport||Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL||28%|
|8||90265||Malibu||Los Angeles, CA||28%|
|9||33896||Davenport||Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL||28%|
|10||10019||Midtown / West 50's||New York, NY-NJ||27%|
|11||10065||Lenox Hill / East 60's||New York, NY-NJ||26%|
|12||33132||Biscayne Blvd||Miami, FL||26%|
|13||90046||West Hollywood / Laurel Cyn||Los Angeles, CA||26%|
|14||90211||Beverly Hills / Wilshire Blvd||Los Angeles, CA||26%|
|15||90049||Brentwood||Los Angeles, CA||26%|
|16||33139||Miami Beach / South Beach||Miami, FL||26%|
|17||90068||Hollywood Hills||Los Angeles, CA||26%|
|18||33009||Hallandale Beach||Fort Lauderdale, FL||25%|
|19||33140||Miami Beach / Mid-Beach||Miami, FL||24%|
|20||90024||Westwood||Los Angeles, CA||24%|
|Note: Share of home searches from outside the U.S. is the percent of all the searches on Trulia in the ZIP code that come from outside the United States.|
What do these neighborhoods have in common? All of the global Los Angeles, New York and Miami neighborhoods are pricey: foreigners search in some of the most expensive neighborhoods in each of these cities. While foreign buyers might drive up prices to some extent, these expensive neighborhoods get more international searches because they are better known and sometimes downright famous (Fresh Prince of Bel Air; Beverly Hills 90210). Many of these neighborhoods also have more foreign-born residents. According to the Census, more than one third of the adults living in the Beverly Hills, Brickell, and NYC Tribeca/Little Italy ZIP codes were born outside the U.S. But check out the maps of foreign search by ZIP code: plenty of neighborhoods even in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami get few searches from other countries.
What impact will foreigners continue to have on the U.S. housing recovery? It depends on U.S. home prices: many foreigners are investors, and rising prices turn off both domestic and foreign investors. It also depends, of course, on the international economy: slow economic growth globally means foreigners are less able to afford U.S. real estate, but a global economy recovery in the future could boost foreign interest. Finally, the impact of foreigners on U.S. housing is incredibly localized: while foreigners account for more than 25 percent of the home searches in a handful of global neighborhoods, most Americans live in neighborhoods where foreigners make up less than 3 percent of the home-search traffic. There's plenty of room for foreigners to branch out more.