US buyers look to Europe for cheaper homes and a laid-back lifestyle

  • Americans are considering crossing the Atlantic for many reasons, including more affordable housing.
  • Brokers in France, Portugal, Italy and Greece are seeing renewed interest from foreign buyers.
  • Cheaper homes attract, as does a strong dollar, a laid-back lifestyle and beautiful scenery.

More and more Americans are considering an escape to Europe.

Demand from international home buyers has increased across Europe, brokers said in an Aug. 3 market report from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

Thanks to the strong dollar, many European countries have become popular destinations for international travel this summer. But some people are looking for more than a vacation.

“This is no longer a COVID breakout,” Marcus Benussi, managing partner and general counsel for Berkshire Hathaway outposts in Rome and Lake Como, said in the report. “It turns into a more permanent pattern for life and family decisions. More and more people are choosing to move to Italy as they focus on quality of life above anything else.”

The US housing market has seen a wave of dramatic change over the past two years, marked by high prices and fierce competition for available homes. Today, relatively higher mortgage rates have hurt affordability and recession fears are looming, amplifying uncertainty. In interviews and market reports, brokers have said that Americans are more willing to uproot their lives in the United States for new ones in Europe. France, Italy, Greece and Portugal are attracting the most attention from American buyers, according to a 2022 report from Sotheby’s International Realty.

Brokers say Americans are considering Western Europe for its more laid-back lifestyle, beautiful views and cheaper homes. The rise of remote work allows for flexibility. Plus, for anyone earning a salary in US dollars, Europe has become even cheaper this summer. In July, the euro fell to parity with the US dollar; the last time this happened was in 2002.

Stephanie Synclair, a 40-year-old entrepreneur, told Bloomberg in July that she paid $3,000 a month for a four-bedroom house in Atlanta. She had saved $300,000 to buy a house, but had no luck in the fashionable market in the Georgian capital.

Instead, she decided to move to Italy, buying a 3,100 square foot house, the house next door, and an 800 square foot storefront in the small Sicilian town of Mussomeli – all for 60,000 euros, or about $62,000.

“I would never have looked to buy in Italy if the US market hadn’t been so crazy,” Synclair told Bloomberg.

Sotheby’s told Bloomberg that Americans were responsible for 12% of the brokerage firm’s Italian property purchases in the first quarter. In 2021, Americans were only 5%. Sotheby’s also told Bloomberg that applications from Americans to move to Greece jumped 40% between April and June 2022 from a year earlier.

Ugo Bagration, head of business expansion for Berkshire Hathway in Marbella – a coastal town in southern Spain – said in the brokerage’s summer report that he has seen an increase in buyers Americans and Canadians despite the fact that Spain levies higher taxes on luxury property owners than its EU neighbors.

In July, Knight Frank, a real estate agency, found that currency changes meant that US buyers effectively received a 16% discount in France. Knight Frank’s July report also noted that searches for French properties by US-based buyers were up 37% year-on-year in the first five months of 2022. Searches primarily targeted Paris , Provence, the Côte d’Azur and the south-west of France.

The number of website visits from international users to the Sotheby’s Paris site jumped 40% at the start of 2022 compared to the previous year, said Paulo Fernandes, owner manager of Paris Ouest Sotheby’s International Realty, in the Sotheby’s report.

Another attraction of Europe is the ease with which it is possible to immigrate to many countries. Greece and Portugal, for example, make it fairly easy for Americans – or residents of any country – to settle in the country through their “golden visa” programs.

In Portugal, a minimum investment of 350,000 euros, or $359,000, in real estate grants you a residency visa. Similarly, in Greece, a minimum purchase of 250,000 euros, or $256,000, grants you the same.

About Mary Moser

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