Nevada Realtors see opportunity in foreign buyers
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Rose Manalo isn't a Las Vegas native and only got her real estate license in 2010, so she faced stiff competition when she stepped into southern Nevada's teeming pool of 10,000 or so other agents.
Then she met a Canadian couple hoping to buy an investment property during the downturn. She closed the deal and ended up with happy clients who are successfully renting out the property.
In the process, she also ended up with a new niche — international buyers.
"As a Realtor, it gives you an opportunity to tap into a different market," she said. "You're dealing with highly educated investors."
Manalo was among people from 17 states and several countries who attended the first-ever global real estate workshop co-hosted by the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors, the state association, and the National Association of Realtors. Agents at the event Thursday and Friday got training toward a certification in international sales and got tips on how to market to foreign buyers.
Organizers say they see big opportunities among foreigners and new immigrants, who spent more than $82 billion on U.S. residential property the 12 months ending in March 2012. That's up 24 percent in one year, according to the national association, and means international sales account for 9 percent of the market.
"People outside perceive the U.S. to be more affordable than the other places available to them," said Zachary Benjamin, global business development and outreach manager with the National Association of Realtors.
Data show foreigners or recent immigrants account for about 4 percent of buyers in the Las Vegas area, although it's difficult to track the numbers because buyers aren't required to disclose their country of origin on sales paperwork.
International buyers have watched U.S. home prices drop dramatically during the recession and are eager to take advantage of it, the workshop's organizers say. Some also face changes in tax policy in their home countries and are seeking financial shelter in American real estate.
"You get countries like Russia, China where they're clamping down even worse than we are on wealth, so people want to get their money out of those countries," said A. Ron Evangelista, a member of the Las Vegas Realtors association's global committee. "Where's a safe haven to buy real estate? The United States."
Las Vegas is well-positioned to welcome those buyers. It's already among the top 10 searches on Realtor.com International, a multilingual site recently launched by the National Association of Realtors to reach out to foreign buyers.
"Our brand is amazing. We're recognized on a global level," said Tamara Tyrbouslu, who's also on the Las Vegas association's global committee.
But while Las Vegas is a household name for entertainment, many foreigners don't see Nevada as a business mecca.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has sought to change that with initiatives to attract foreign business and boost the state's exports. Last year, he visited China and South Korea in the first-ever foreign trade mission headed by a Nevada governor.
"The governor recognizes that we are in a truly global economy and we need to be as aggressive as other states," said Kristopher Sanchez, Sandoval's director of international trade.
Through the missions, state officials are promoting Nevada as a global conventions hub with a good quality of life. When companies do seek to relocate, Sanchez said, they seek the expertise of real estate agents for office space and homes.
At the workshop, several attendees were recognized for earning the Certified International Property Specialist designation, which involves technical training and gives extra credit if applicants have completed international education or speak another language.
In the arena of international real estate, being a minority is an advantage, Manalo said.
As a Filipina who speaks Tagalog, she said she's been able to further carve out her international niche. Nevada saw nearly 2,000 people emigrate from the Philippines in 2012 alone, making it a close second to Mexico among immigrant-sending nations.
"They feel more comfortable when you can speak their language," she said.