Stronger dollar threatens home sales

If the value of America’s currency continues to climb, that panic could soon trickle down to Florida’s real estate industry.

Analysts say the dollar’s dramatic rise — its value is up nearly 15 percent during the past six months — already is putting a crimp in home deals in many of the state’s top markets.

The same is true in Southwest Florida, an historically popular home-buy destination for Canadians, Britons, Chinese and Western Europeans.

The dollar’s newfound strength comes as many rival currencies, including the euro, the Japanese yen and Canada’s own dollar are struggling. Coupled with a steady climb in home prices, less advantageous exchange rates have made it more expensive for foreigners to invest in Florida real estate.

Realtors fear the currency divide could erase $ 47 billion worth of foreign buying power, which has helped push the U.S. housing market out of recession and into recovery. They say the trend could also prompt a wave of new listings from foreigners looking to cash out.

“I’m already starting to see it,” said Roger Pettingell, a luxury specialist with Coldwell Banker on Longboat Key. “The idea that the U.S. is on sale because of the currency discount doesn’t exist anymore. We certainly don’t want to factor in such a significant dependence on foreign buyers.”

The ongoing economic recovery has boosted the U.S. dollar by about 10 percent against the euro and around 7 percent against other major currencies since mid-December.

That increase has propelled the dollar to an 11-year high versus other major currencies, according to the U.S. Dollar Index, a measure of the value of the dollar to a basket of foreign forms of money.

Meanwhile, the Canadian dollar has dipped, and the British pound’s exchange rate relative to the dollar is likewise sinking. Some Latin American currencies have experienced similar declines.

The U.S. dollar’s robust rise — and the subsequent fall of others — has sent shock waves through global financial markets, driving up costs for U.S. multinational companies that operate overseas, while dragging down the demand for exports.

In the Sunshine State, the trend is especially significant because the housing market relies heavily on foreign buyers who tend to purchase more expensive homes and often pay in cash.

Foreigners spent $ 7.97 billion snapping up Florida homes in 2014, a 24 percent jump over the previous year, according to a leading statewide trade group.

International sales now account for about one in 10 Florida home buys, a figure that is even higher in popular beach cities like Miami, according to the trade group, Florida Realtors.

“Not only is the dollar stronger, but for a lot of the feeder nations to Florida, their home currencies have devalued, so the price they’re paying is now substantially higher,” said Jack McCabe, a Florida real estate consultant. “Their finances have been decimated.”

McCabe said the trend could have widespread repercussions for Florida’s housing markets.

“We’re going to see a change in the amount of foreign nationals that come to Florida to buy property,” he said. “It’s already happening.”

When the U.S. dollar’s value slipped in 2001 and fell further throughout the Great Recession, Florida real estate was considered a bargain to foreign buyers.

At the same time, home values slipped roughly 40 percent from the mid-2000s to the trough in 2011.

In countries where the monetary system was less bruised by the financial crisis than in the U.S., Florida homes were even less expensive.

But no more.

As the dollar gains strength, some Realtors say they already are losing deals involving foreign buyers — and they predict more will be lost.

The impact has been especially significant with lower-end and median-priced homes, where an unfavorable currency exchange rate can make or break a deal, said Maurice Connaughton, a broker with Sarasota Signature Real Estate, which specializes in sales to foreigners.

Southwest Florida’s luxury market has to date been largely unaffected, agents say.

That is because affluent Europeans are still anxious to increase U.S. holdings, so they are willing to absorb the hit because they believe they will recover any currency-related losses within the next five to seven years, Connaughton said.

“It definitely has an impact, with the exchange rate hurting pretty bad right now,” he said. “It’s sure not helping.”

The threat of lost deals comes as Southwest Florida’s housing market has rebounded to record highs, with more homes changing hands in Sarasota and Manatee counties in 2014 than in any other year on record.

That demand lifted the median price of a single-family in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton region to $ 214,900 in the fourth quarter of last year, up 6.2 percent from the same time in 2013, records show.

The housing market is relying on foreigners more than ever.

Southwest Florida was among the top destinations for foreign buyers last year, according to a survey by the trade group Florida Realtors Canadians accounted for 35 percent of all foreign homebuying activity here last year, followed by Western Europeans at 30 percent; Asians at 16 percent; and Eastern Europeans at 14 percent, according to Florida Realtors.

Of those groups, buyers from China spent the most, with median home purchases of $ 355,800. Canadians spent the least per home: $ 260,800.

Realtors who specialize in international sales say they will keep a close eye on those going forward.

“For the ones who’re buying here, it will be a big distance, and we will probably see fewer buyers,” said Klaus Lang, an agent with brokerage firm Michael Saunders & Co. on Longboat Key.

“We have a lot of Europeans here, and in the price ranges where they are buying, this hurts.”

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