The dream of buying a condo in downtown Manhattan or a getaway in Europe has become that much more affordable as the global financial crisis hammers property values around the world.
There are bargains to be had for the cashed-up Aussie buyer.
The median house price in the US has fallen 11.3 per cent over the past year to October – tumbling from $US206,700 to $US183,300. Some cities have fared even worse. Over the past year, prices are down some 20% in Tampa and Orlando and 17% in Miama.
British house prices, likewise, have dumped by a record 15 per cent in the year to October, wiping £30,000 ($69,000) off the value of the average UK home. The average house today costs £168,176 ($391,371), down from £197,698 ($460,073) in October last year.
Property prices in Hong Kong and China have also plunged with the benchmark property index down almost 60 per cent this year. Singapore’s benchmark real estate index is similarly down some 60 per cent.
Unfortunately, those with their eye on a rustic château in France or an apartment in Paris, bargains are more difficult to find. Unlike the UK and the US, property prices in France have been reasonably stable thanks to stricter bank lending in the region and the practice of viewing property as a “roof over one’s head” rather than an avenue to get rich quick. Nevertheless, a fall in the number of wealthy US residents buying property in France – and a rise in unemployment in the region – could see prices taper off over the coming year.
Buying international property has its difficulties. One of the biggest is a lack of knowledge of areas, prices, rental yields and possible returns. These problems are compounded in a country where you don’t speak the language. How do you know that a sewerage plant isn’t planned for a location close by your Italian villa?
The other major hurdle with buying international property is getting the currency right. Basically, it’s a good time to buy when the Aussie dollar is strong, relative to the currency in which you’re buying the property. So if you’re looking to buy a condo in Manhattan, a good time to buy is when the AUD/USD is high.
So yes, when the AUD/USD reached 0.97 back in July, that would have been an ideal time to buy US stock. Back then, a house worth $US170,000 would have cost you $175,000. Now, based solely on currency movements, that same house would cost you $265,000.
When you come to sell the property, ideally you want the Aussie dollar to be as low as possible. This means that when you convert the international currency into Aussie dollars you’re receiving more bang for each buck.
So in summary, on the currency front, you’d want to buy a property in a currency that is likely to fall against the Aussie dollar over a period of time. Getting this right is unfortunately easier said than done. Currencies are volatile and notoriously difficult to predict.
Finding a property that will rise in value is also fairly tricky. The US, Japan and Europe are quickly sliding into recession. Businesses are closing, workers are losing their jobs and buying property isn’t high on most people’s agenda.
It’s probable that property prices will get worse before they get better in many regions of the world – so take your time. If you are serious about buying international property, you have oodles of time to do your homework. Property prices are unlikely to go soaring up any time soon.
Foreclosure bus tours in the United States are one of the more eerie examples of the extent of the property collapse. Cash-up buyers take tours around deserted suburbs in search of bargains. While it’s possible to score real bargains on a foreclosed property, be warned that depressed areas can remain so for a long period of time.
So which areas should you be targeting?
Forbes recently compiled a list of the best and worst areas to invest in the US based on interviews with 700 real-estate professionals. While the survey related particularly to commercial property, property buyers often use the outlook for commercial property as a guide for likely residential returns (basically, a healthy outlook for commercial property is a good guide for strong jobs growth, wages and healthy demand for homes).
Best places for property in the US
2. San Francisco
4. New York
5. Los Angeles
3. New Orleans
The second list, also compiled by Forbes, is a ranking of the best places for real estate in the world. This list is based on the results of the Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate survey.
Top 10 places in the world for real estate
1. New York (the long-term strength of New York will present lucrative opportunities for the bargain hunter)
2. London (always one of the most attractive markets for international real estate investment)
3. Washington (Government bailouts guarantee healthy jobs market)
4. Paris (international investors continue to pump money into Paris)
5. Shanghai (still cheaper than Hong Kong but with a brighter future for growth)
6. Tokyo (Japan hasn’t been as exposed to the sub prime lending debacle as Western economies)
7. Singapore (medical tourism has made medical properties some of the fastest-appreciating real estate in the country)
8. Munich (strong office sector)
9. Sydney (strong macro economic fundamentals but affordability risks)
10. Hong Kong (the critical market for real estate investment in Hong Kong is in the office-space sector)