Monika Wilson is a successful Realtor in Cape Coral, Fla. In her 15-year career, she has shown and sold countless houses and condos around Southwest Florida. And because she's a German-speaker she's been a go-to person for visiting Germans and Austrians looking to buy property in the area.
Business from foreigners traditionally made up about 10% of her annual sales -- that is, until a few years ago.
"Now it's completely reversed," she says. "Only about 10 percent of my business this year is with Americans. The Europeans aren't just coming, they're already here, looking at open houses."
The National Association of Realtors recently released a report showing that more U.S. Realtors are dealing with foreign clients than ever before, and in the turmoil of the American economy and the falling dollar, it's not likely to change.
Is this trend good news for a U.S. homeowner struggling to sell a house? Depending on the property's location, it could.
"The term 'global marketplace' really does apply to real estate now," says Patrick Barber, a senior vice president with Sotheby's International Realty in San Francisco. "We're seeing a tremendous interest in upscale properties from our Asian clients. They understand they won't see prices like this forever."
There tend to be three types of foreign real estate buyers. The jet-setters want a Manhattan pied a terre or a Santa Barbara ranch and figure they're getting a bargain of a lifetime with their $5 million or $6 million cash purchase. The nouveau buyer may not even own a home in his own country, but he figures this is the best place for his nest egg. Then there are the Canadians. Nearly 24% of foreign buyers invade us from the North, bringing their freshly higher-valued Canadian dollars with them.
Marketing to overseas real-estate buyers has been ongoing for years. High-end condos being constructed within some newer Four Seasons, Ritz -Carlton and St. Regis Hotels around the U.S. have been advertised overseas as an ideal purchase for the individual who wants the pleasure of a hotel stay and the security and possible tax advantages of being a homeowner in another country.
The largest markets to find foreign real estate buyers are in Florida, California and Arizona -- a sign that the biggest attraction for many overseas buyers is a mild winter. "They want a nice area, and they want to be on the water, it doesn't matter whether they're buying a place for $100,000 or $1 million," says Wilson.
The European clients who have contact her lately about Florida property have ranged from high-powered executives to retired postal workers. "With all of the ups and downs, they're scared. They want to make sure they get into the market before all the bargains go away."
So if you have a house you can't seem to sell, is it the kind of place a foreign buyer would want? "Remember they want something special, a tract home in a Philly suburb just isn't going to do it," says Rob Smith, a New York City real estate agent. "But if it's a beach cottage, a little lake house somewhere, you've got a setting you can market."
Many Realtors specialize in selling to foreign nationals, but if they discourage you from seeking out overseas buyers you can always try finding them yourself. Web sites like Craigslist.org offer local sites in countries around the world where you can advertise your property for free with pictures.
"If you feel your home is special, someone else will likely feel it is too," says Smith. "Even if they're half-way around the world. It's worth a try."