Foreign investors buying Bay Area homes

April 8, 2009 6:19:26 AM PDT
Selling a home is still tough during these rocky economic times. But, there are signs that the real estate market may have hit bottom, and from there the only way to go is up - those signs are coming from overseas. SIGN-UP: Get breaking news sent to you

This East Oakland home is in escrow -- it's one of two houses, on the same block, that Jackie Hu has sold recently -- to a buyer in Australia who has never seen them in person.

"He actually searched on our Web site and found a few homes and has been able to make the offer, get an inspection, negotiate down the price and close the escrow," said Hu.

This may sound unusual, but in reality it's something the Bay Area is seeing more and more of -- overseas buyers investing in Bay Area properties at fire sale prices.

"I think that it shows that the international buyers really have a strong optimism about the U.S. housing market, particularly in the Bay Area," said Pat Lashinsky, ZipRealty.

It may also show that foreign investors believe the sinking U.S. housing market is nearing the bottom and could begin to recover late this year or early 2010.

Emeryville-based ZipRealty says the evidence is contained in the growing number of foreign hits on its Bay Area home listings; visits from potential Mexican investors are up 83 percent in the 1st quarter of this year compared to 2008; hits from China are up 69 percent; from Germany, up 66 percent; even hits from Canada are up 25 percent from the year before.

"They believe that lots of people will want to live here, there will not be the addition of lots of new homes and ultimately as you get more demand, home prices will return to levels they've been before," said Lashinsky.

That's what the gentleman from Australia - who bought these homes for about $50,000 each - believes. In an e-mail conversation Zhong Ao told ABC7:

"I am buying a house in the U.S. right now, because I might move to the U.S. and I don't feel like the prices will drop. Even if they do it won't be a lot."

Ao also admits:

"I have never seen the houses, but I have seen pictures of the houses on the Internet and my sister helped me take a look around the houses and I trust her taste."

In the meantime, he will rent the homes out to make some extra money, because as home prices have gone down, rents continue to go up.

In contrast to the Australian investor who hasn't seen his homes in person, some overseas buyers actually organize tours of properties in different cities before making up their minds. One such group from China toured properties in California and Nevada just a few weeks ago.

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