In recent years, Panama often makes the list as a country appealing to foreign buyers in the real estate market, especially from the U.S. Some benefits include the country’s climate, its varied landscape and a low cost of living — including “low taxes, low homeowner’s insurance and cheap monthly maintenance,” says Michael Flora, owner of World Panama Real Estate Marketing for over 10 years.
It’s no surprise a booming locale is Panama City, which offers luxurious high-rise properties or homes at significantly lower prices than most major cities. “Panama City attracts more international buyers’ attention for reasons of employment relocation, with some of the biggest corporate offices that reside in the city,” says Flora.
Yet, Flora finds that most American buyers are purchasing properties in beach areas — those of Nueva Gorgona and Coronado, rather than “busy, congested city life. There are also many that like cooler mountain living in such areas as Boquete or El Valle,” he says.
“An up and coming hot spot is the area of Pedasi or the surf town of Playa Venao, which attract many buyers looking for the more active lifestyle surrounded by nature,” says Flora.
“There is a big American presence in Nassau and the Abacos,” says Tim Rodland, broker for the MCR Bahamas Group. A 120-mile-long chain of popular paradisal islands, The Abacos has demonstrated to be one of the fastest growing economies in the Bahamas, most primarily driven by boating and trade, and one of the top locations to which Americans are drawn.
“The Bahamas has had a very rich history of attracting high-net-worth buyers. We have a lot of millionaires and billionaires. It’s been a playground for Hollywood,” says Rodland. “It’s easy to get here from New York City and the Northeast. We’re just a two and half hour flight away; we’re on eastern standard time and the U.S. dollar; and we’ve got sun, sand and the sea, boating, fishing and beautiful waters.”
Rodland sees a lot of South Floridians buying on Bimini, the closest point in the Bahamas to the U.S., and the Berry Islands. And the range of property is diverse — from $500,000 to $10 million-plus; it all depends on the lifestyle you’re looking for.
“A lot of people are coming here for investment purposes, in which case it’d be best to purchase near an international airport,” advises Rodland. “But we also have a lot of islands that are more remote, appealing to those who want to be on a Cay by yourself and just turn your phone off to relax.”
“As small as Costa Rica is, it really offers tremendous variety for U.S. buyers across the board,” says Todd Cutter, broker with 2Costa Rica Real Estate. “There are U.S. buyers who are ‘resort buyers,’ those who want to buy within a larger, gated community with a golf course and a marina. And then you have lifestyle buyers.”
“Costa Rica’s transition from a sleepy coastal retreat to a world-class destination of resorts and residential villas — combined with its rich natural attributes — are thrusting the country forward as a desirable destination for the most discerning travelers in the U.S.,” says Amy Davis, sales director for Rosewood Residences Puerto Papagayo, which will offer 45 exclusive residences ranging from $450,000 to $3.2 million. “Due to its location on the northern Guanacaste shoreline with the most sought-after beaches, and as the first Rosewood in the country, it’s the idyllic setting for all things luxury.”
“The biggest difference with the North Pacific and southern destinations is climate and activities. It’s typically more of a drier area of the country,” says Cutter. “You find gorgeous beaches there, but you don’t see as much of the quintessential rainforest meets beach, which some people envision when they come to Costa Rica.”
For U.S. buyers focused on the south, Cutter sees them going to three main areas — Manuel Antonio, Jaco and Dominical. “Manuel Antonio is the number one tourist destination, with multiple beaches, the number one national park in the country and a plethora of activities. A lot of buyers looking there are getting high returns from a rental perspective because of the finite supply and demand,” he says.
“Jaco is a surf destination, with a great nightlife and developed infrastructure. This is the only destination you will see high-rise beachfront condominiums and user-friendly restaurants and artisan places. Dominical is like the final frontier; for those looking to get off the beaten path. People are buying acreage and building jungle villas amongst the flora and fauna, with dramatic ocean views,” Cutter says.
“Although Italy is roughly the same size as Arizona, or significantly smaller than California, it offers an endless number of regions and cities that can cater for pretty much any sort of activity and lifestyle,” says Orlando McKenzie Meucci, broker at Lionard Luxury Real Estate.
“The appeal of Italy as a beacon for realty investments stems from the realization that Italy is considered a universal destination for worldwide investors,” says Meucci. “One can invest in a holiday chalet in Cortina for the winter and, just as easily, own a property on the white beaches of Porto Cervo’s Emerald Coast in Sardinia.”
Although Meucci reports that Italy is currently in a buyer’s market, main cities that Americans are buying in, such as Florence, Rome and Milan, demonstrate stable, if not rising prices. “Bear in mind, Italy is not cheap. Rather than saving money, U.S. citizens appreciate that Italy offers properties and living standards that will be worth investing in,” he says. Other areas in demand include Lake Como and Liguria.
“If it is a leisure investment, U.S. citizens tend to look for genuine Italian living. They want somewhere that can offer a taste of that dolce vita style of life, which is a combination of living in a country that is historically unique, and that can allow you to live in households that are centuries old, and at the same time enjoy all the comforts of modern life.”
Some of the most underrated and “unexploited areas for investment” are the border areas between Tuscany and Umbria — Cortona, Montepulciano and the Trasimeno Lake areas that lead on toward Perugia,” says Meucci.
“Because of a strong international demand for Swiss real estate, our country has historically restricted the sale of residential homes to foreigners,” says Quentin Epiney, founder of Comptoir Immobilier Exclusive Properties. “Only certain designated areas, such as ski resorts and the city of Montreux allow the sale of residential units to foreigners as secondary homes.”
While the restrictions do not extend to commercial real estate, residential restrictions have prompted Geneva and Zurich to be regarded as prime locations. Epiney brings to attention the Lake Geneva region as well as the “Valais” alpine region, as “some of the most beautiful and accessible regions, with breathtaking scenery and close to the Geneva International Airport.”
A particular ski resort that has gained significant property value in recent years is Grimentz (Val d’Anniviers, Valais), a village that has “not yet been over-developed like is the case of certain world-famous resorts,” says Epiney. Another location, Montreux, is “a truly international hub on the shores of Lake Geneva, with magic scenery and sunsets over the lake.”
“Swiss property value is among the most stable on the planet,” Epiney adds. “This is related to the fact that Swiss political stability has allowed the country and its currency to be perceived as a safe haven, more so in a global context of economic and political uncertainty.”
“Americans tend to prefer areas that are well known and ‘tried and tested,’ such as South Kensington, Chelsea and Notting Hill,” says Bernadette Teuma of Coldwell Banker Southbank Estate Agents. “According to figures from the Office of National Statistics (rounded to the nearest 1,000), Westminster tops the league for US citizens living in London, with roughly 7,000 of them residing in the borough. Southwark, which includes the cultural areas of Southbank, Bankside and London Bridge, as well as Kensington and Chelsea and Camden all come in joint second place with around 5,000 residents from the USA each.”
“Unlike European buyers, Americans seem to have more of an appreciation for our wonky, characterful period houses, even if they are shocked by the lack of space,” says Teuma, of these properties you can find mostly in Kensington, Nottinghill and Chelsea. Another appealing option for US buyers may be the “new, well-designed high-rise apartments that line the Southbank of the river” that may come with amenities Americans are used to, such as parking, air-conditioning, under-floor heating and extra storage.
As for investments, Teuma sees that properties from £1-1.5 million remain a popular investment choice. “Overseas buyers are paying around 15 percent less for a property in London than a year ago, meaning that no is the perfect time to invest. Following the fall in the pound due to the Brexit vote and the subsequent ‘flash crash,’ London property has never been cheaper for purchasers buying in US dollars,” she says. “We have received a 30 percent increase in sales from US buyers in the last 12 months. Exchanging US dollars to British pounds is saving US buyers thousands of pounds, and in many cases, cancels out the cost of stamp duty.”
Always a hotspot for international buyers, especially Americans, is central London. “London prices are high because people want to live here. Jobs, transport infrastructure, culture; the capital is a buzzing metropolis. A seemingly endless supply of skilled, upwardly mobile people flow there from all over the world. London is where most Americans wish to be, either because of their work or their studies…” says Teuma.
Yet, according to Teuma, there are underrated or potentially more valuable areas to purchase in, besides the popular, expensive spots. “Americans should look in Nine Elms where the new US embassy will be relocated, and the Southbank area for all its culture and close proximity to West End, shopping, the Financial District, and for the well universities namely London School of Economics, University College London and Kings College.”
“For undervalued areas and where to look for value, my suggestions for first-time buyers, families trading up and those who are new to the capital include the following: Canonbury, Finsbury Park, Marylebone, Bayswater, City Road, Earls Court, White City, Stratford, Honor Oak Park Woolwich, Acton, Maida Vale, Bloomsbury, Streatham and Camberwell.”
Michael Keating, of Michael Keating International a pioneer for the international high-end sales for Australia more than 20 years has done sales in some of the most sought-after expensive areas of Melbourne, from Toorak, to South Yarra, to East Melbourne and Brighton.
“Voted again and again the best city in the world in which to live, Melbourne is Australia’s most European city. It’s Paris meets London with the best food and coffee culture of Italy, Hong Kong and Bombay and the friendliness of Dublin,” says Keating.
Today, he specializes on properties on the Mornington Peninsula, one of the most promising areas for luxury real estate in the country. “This is Australia’s weekender and holiday home mecca for the well-to-do and the famous,” says Keating. “It is a unique and very condensed location where some of the luckiest and wealthiest property owners from around the USA and the world own very tightly held real estate.”
“When you take all of the natural beauty and amenities away, you come back again to the peninsula’s location, so close to Austral Asia’s world city. Voted again and again the best city in the world in which to live, Melbourne is Australia’s most European city. It is Paris meets London with the best food and coffee culture of Italy, Hong Kong and Bombay and the friendliness of Dublin. Built on a block system, it is simple to navigate and all year around Melbourne is immersed in nightlife from casino to opera and everything in-between.”
“The clincher for overseas buyers is always safety… Australia is a very stable western democracy which offers transparency, accountability and an educated English-speaking populace with first-class educational and health facilities at all levels, in the heart of Asia,” says Keating. “It is the gateway to Indonesia, Malaysia, India and China,” he adds.
Price-wise, Keating often handles homes ranging from AU$3 million to AU$40 million for a Portsea Cliff Top vacation home or a Toorack Mansion; AU$10 million for a vineyard property on the Mornington Peninsula; or AU$4 million to AU$15 million for waterways properties on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
“In the past 2 years we have seen an increasing number of Americans purchasing in Spain,” says Francois Carriere, CEO of Coldwell Banker Spain. “They are mainly attracted to the climate, lifestyle, gastronomy and the still reasonable prices due to the big crisis our country suffered from 1998 to 2012, where we have seen a turning point in the market falling price.”
A major draw for buyers is Costa del Sol and the coastal towns Malaga and Marabella as well as the surrounding villages. “This resort destination is one of the few locations in Spain where you can find new, big residential projects offering the same kind of service and amenities that American clientele are expecting, such as large, residential condominiums,” says Carriere.
Unsurprisingly, other attractive locales are Barcelona and Costa Brava, which is a short drive north of the country’s capital, offering a rural destination with plenty of outdoor activities. “This is a fantastic family or destination for countryside lovers or beach lovers,” says Carriere. “People call it the little Tuscany by the sea.” Carriere sees the authenticity of Barcelona as a major draw to buyers: “…the architecture, enormous choices of any type of restaurant, leisure activities, exciting nightlife, cosmopolitan city, offering a unique setting including beach, mountain and city interest. Mix of modernity, sophistication and authenticity; with Old Town, central Barcelona or a location by the sea such as Barceloneta.”
Yet for those looking for nightlife and an unbeatable club scene, buy on Ibiza, which “is becoming the new Saint Tropez,” say Carriere. “It’s more affordable even if prices are increasing very fast especially in the luxury segment. It’s not rare to see properties above 5 and 10 million euros today on the island.”
“In France, we see American buyers on the French Riviera, like Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, getting beautiful waterfront villas. You also see Americans in the Loire region, in central France which is a countrified setting that offers charm and authentic properties with wide open spaces for relaxing,” says Vanda Demeure of Coldwell Banker Demeure Prestige of France and Monaco. “And, of course [Americans] go to Paris, the city of lights, always much-esteemed by foreigners.”
Demeure believes that Americans, when purchasing in France, are most seeking an authentic French lifestyle. “[They] like the possibility to get a baguette and croissant by just walking across the street, to enjoy a good glass of wine around a cheese board,” she says. “They are also attracted by the rentability; France is a good place to invest. A property will always be more expensive on resale.”
A “pied à terre” with around 2 bedrooms in a nice district of Paris will go for around 1 million euro, while a bigger luxury flat will cost anywhere between 3 to 5 million euros. On the French Riviera, the price of a comfortable unit in St. Tropez will be around two-thirds of a million euros, yet bigger houses with sea views will be more. The peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat sees much more expensive prices. “We find a targeted clientele, really selective, because the price by square meeter is the highest of the French Riviera. A villa is worth 20, 30, 50 million, even more…”
Demeure notes that Americans are buying both in the city and in rural locations. “It totally depends on the taste and age of buyers. Some of them prefer tranquility of rural locations and buy a property with a country setting, land and calm. Others prefer a nice flat in the center of the city, with shops nearby — the French bistro, bars, theatre and cinema. They prefer a lively and vibrant neighborhood.”
Unsurprisingly, the most desired city to reside in is Paris and Demeure has advice regarding where US buyers should look. “They should look at the oldest districts of Paris, like 1st and 2nd (Louve, Rivoli) with beautiful Hausmannian building and a lot of historic monuments. The Marrais, 3rd/4th district with typical “medieval” buildings. The 8th district, Triangle d’Or: The Champs-Élysées, Montaigne avenue with all luxury shops, five stars hotel, and wealthy foreigners.”
“In the 18th district, Montmartre, the artistic district of Pairs has a small paved street, village spirit, lot of musicians, painters… really touristic! They should also look at the 6th district, Saint Germain Des Prés, renowned for its cafés like Les Deux Magots and Café Procop or for le Bon Marché: a big french store. And to finish, île Saint-Louis, with nobles buildings of 17/18th century with high ceilings, moldings, wood beams with marquetry. Each building as his own story, that’s Paris magic.”