Led By China, Foreign Investment in U.S. Commercial Real Estate on the Rise

Led By China, Foreign Investment in U.S. Commercial Real Estate on the Rise

Led By China, Foreign Investment in U.S. Commercial Real Estate on the Rise

The FINANCIAL -- One-fifth of surveyed Realtors practicing in commercial real estate closed a sale with an international client in 2016, and as foreign investors flock to smaller-sized commercial properties in secondary and tertiary markets, many Realtors are confident that increased sales and leasing activity will occur in 2017.  

This is according to the 2017 Commercial Real Estate International Business Trends survey released today by the National Association of Realtors®, which analyzed cross-border commercial real estate transactions made by Realtors during 2016. Most Realtors® who specialize in commercial real estate reside in smaller commercial markets where the typical deal is less than $2.5 million.   

Similar to NAR survey findings on foreign purchases of residential real estate in recent years, China was the top country of origin in both buying and selling commercial real estate in 2016, and Florida was the top destination of choice for international clients. NAR's 2017 Profile of International Activity in U.S. Residential Real Estate is scheduled for release this summer.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the appetite for U.S. commercial real estate property was strong from foreigners last year and shows little signs of slowing in 2017.

"Multiple years of steady job growth and the strengthening U.S. economy – albeit at a modest pace – makes commercial property a safe bet for global investors looking to diversify their portfolios and generate returns outside their country of origin," he said. "While Class A asset prices in many large markets have surpassed pre-crisis levels, Realtors in many middle-tier and smaller markets stand to benefit from the increased interest from foreign and domestic commercial property investors."

Added Yun, "Forty percent of Realtors expect an increase in foreign buying clients this year. The healthy labor markets and lower property prices in smaller markets are poised to make up a larger share of activity."   

Of the 69 percent of Realtors who indicated they completed a commercial real estate transaction last year, 20 percent reported closing a deal for an international client. Realtors completed a median of one buyer-side international deal and two seller-side international transactions. The typical buyer-side sales price was $1,000,000, and the median seller-side price was $550,000. 

Additionally, 22 percent of Realtors said they completed a lease agreement on behalf of a foreign client. The median gross lease value for international lease transactions was $105,000, with most space typically under 2,500-square-feet.

Nearly two-thirds of commercial foreign buyer and seller clients were non-resident foreigners. The top countries of origin for buyers were China (17 percent), Mexico (14 percent) and the United Kingdom and Venezuela (both at 7 percent), while sellers were typically from China (17 percent) or Brazil, Canada, France and Mexico (all at 10 percent). 

Florida and Texas were the top two states where foreigners purchased and sold commercial property last year, with California being the third most popular buyer destination and Michigan ranking as the third top state where foreigners sold real estate.

The survey also found that foreign buyers of commercial property typically bring more cash to the table than those purchasing residential real estate. Sixty percent of international transactions were closed with cash, while NAR's 2016 residential survey found that exactly half of buyers paid in cash. For those not using all cash, 34 percent of commercial deals involved debt financing from U.S. sources. An overwhelming majority of buyers either purchased commercial space for investment purposes or acquired it for business use.

"Nearly half of Realtors reported that they experienced a greater number of international clients looking to buy commercial space over the past five years," said Yun. "Economic expansion has slowly chugged along since the downturn, but in comparison to the rest of the world, the U.S. remains one of the most attractive and safest bets for investors. There's little evidence this will change anytime soon."

NAR's second quarter Commercial Real Estate Outlook, released last month, offers overall projections for four major commercial sectors and analyzes quarterly data in the office, industrial, retail and multifamily markets.

The NAR commercial community includes commercial members, real estate boards, committees, subcommittees and forums; and NAR commercial affiliate organizations – CCIM Institute, Institute of Real Estate Management, Realtors Land Institute, Society of Industrial and Office Realtors®, and Counselors of Real Estate.

Approximately 70,000 NAR members specialize in commercial real estate brokerage and related services including property management, counseling and appraisal. In addition, more than 200,000 members are involved in commercial transactions as a secondary business.