ICE steps up enforcement at businesses in California, targeting employers and workers

ICE steps up enforcement at businesses in California, targeting employers and workers
Homeland Security Investigations, an arm of ICE, is increasingly targeting employers suspected of hiring workers in the country illegally. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

 

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents put on their navy blue jackets and walked into a trucking company’s office in Carson this week, sending waves of anxiety rippling through the building.

In the lobby, a nervous office manager greeted the team from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, twisting a black pen in her hands like a wet towel. A second manager joined them.

 

“I see people with vests and cameras,” he said with an anxious chuckle. “That’s not good.”

The visit represents a renewed wave in ICE’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration in the Trump era. Federal authorities are stepping up audits of businesses, hoping to catch employers who hired those here illegally. The agency’s acting director wants to increase work-site enforcement 400%, part of a much larger effort to identify and deport those here without proper papers.

During a five-day operation in the Los Angeles area that ended Thursday, more than 120 businesses were issued audit notices.

 

Officials said the purpose of the audits is twofold: to punish employers and employees breaking the rules as well as to discourage people from coming into the U.S. illegally for work, which critics have long said takes away job opportunities from citizens and legal residents.

 

“It’s a deterrent to somebody who is thinking about crossing the border, paying a smuggler and taking that perilous journey,” said Dani Bennett, an ICE spokeswoman. “If there isn’t that pull factor or perceived easy employment on the other side, there isn’t that incentive to cross in the first place.”

 

The aggressive actions are the latest in the continued standoff between the Trump administration, which has vowed to crack down hard on illegal immigration, and California, which in October declared itself a “sanctuary state” for immigrants.

After Gov. Jerry Brown signed the sanctuary state bill into law, ICE’s acting director, Thomas Homan, warned that California “better hold on tight.”

 

But the audits are not new, and according to statistics provided by ICE, they hit their peak in 2013 under President Obama, with more than 3,100 such audits conducted that fiscal year. The Obama administration then shifted focus to deporting those convicted of serious crimes. In fiscal year 2017, ICE said it completed 1,360 audits in the U.S.

Homeland Security Investigations agents visit businesses, asking for proof that employees are living and working in the U.S. legally.
Homeland Security Investigations agents visit businesses, asking for proof that employees are living and working in the U.S. legally. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

 

The audits can lead to civil fines and even criminal prosecutions if they find employers knowingly violated the law, ICE officials said.

 

For years, federal law did not bar the hiring of people in the country illegally. That changed in 1986, when President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, commonly called IRCA. It granted residency to 3 million people in the country without legal status, bolstered border enforcement and for the first time established penalties for hiring people in the country illegally.

 

But experts said the employer sanctions were watered down to win the support of industry, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and agricultural delegations from the Midwest. IRCA set relatively low fines, and the law said that, to be convicted, employers had to have “knowingly employed” a person who was in the country without documentation.

 

When ICE descended on Bee Sweet Citrus in the town of Fowler as part of broader audits in the Central Valley, the business was told it was being audited for I-9 compliance, and dozens of employees reportedly lost their jobs. The I-9 forms, filled out when employees are first hired, attest to their status to work legally in the country.

 

As rumors spread in January about an ICE sweep across California, a new state law went into effect prohibiting employers from allowing ICE access to private areas of their businesses without a warrant. It also required businesses to notify employees within 72 hours if they have been given notice of an inspection.

 

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra warned businesses that not obeying the state law could result in a $10,000 fine.

 

Betty Jo Toccoli, president of the California Small Business Assn, said operations like recent sweeps of 7-Eleven stores unfairly target one type of business while giving others a pass. One of the group’s members, a tortilla factory, also received notice about an ICE visit, and 15 employees did not show up to work, she said.

 

“Why would you target a tortilla manufacturer? Because you think you’re going to find more people to deport,” Toccoli said.

 

The Times accompanied ICE agents on an audit operation around Los Angeles this week to see the process firsthand. The Times was allowed to ride along with ICE on the condition that the names of the businesses and employees would not be published.

At the Carson trucking company, an ICE auditor explained what was happening. ICE wanted to see the company’s I-9 forms, and the auditor showed company officials what the document looks like.

 

As the minutes ticked by and the managers realized this was not a raid, their moods relaxed. But they expressed ignorance of I-9 forms, and the operations manager said he had never seen any of his employees fill one out.

 

The ICE auditor said the agency wanted the most recent payroll and all employee I-9s in seven days. The law allows them to demand those documents within three days, the auditor explained, but the extra four days were being given as a courtesy.

 

Outside the building, the agents debated how bad a sign it was that the company’s managers had no idea what an I-9 form is. The auditor reasoned that it was not a big deal and that the company’s human resources manager — who was away from the office — probably was acquainted with the forms.

 

On the ride to the next business, Jennifer Reyes, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles, talked about how ICE is blamed for people losing their jobs as a result of the audits. She argued that it was the employers’ fault for hiring people in the country illegally in the first place.

 

ICE is trying to strike a balance with these audits, she said. The agency was levying fines on businesses that violate the law that are stiff enough to deprive them of some of the profits gained by hiring people in the country illegally, but not so harsh that the companies are put in danger of having to close.

 

At another trucking company in Compton, the owner invited the ICE squad into his office. The room was decorated in memorabilia, including a signed Kobe Bryant jersey and an Elvis cardboard cutout.

 

This time, the owner, who said he was happy to give them a whole box full of I-9 forms, was well-versed in what the agents were looking for.

“You have seven days,” the ICE auditor said.

 

@adamelmahrek

Courtesy: L A Times

California Home Prices End 2017 on High Note

California Home Prices End 2017 on High Note

According to the California Association of Realtors, amid the lowest housing inventory levels in more than 13 years, California existing home sales still eked out a year-over-year gain, while the median sales price posted a solid annual increase.

Closed escrow sales of existing, single-family detached homes in California totaled a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 420,960 units in December 2017, according to information collected by C.A.R. The statewide sales figure represents what would be the total number of homes sold during 2017 if sales maintained the December pace throughout the year. It is adjusted to account for seasonal factors that typically influence home sales.

The December 2017 sales figure was down 4.4 percent from the 440,340 level in November 2017 and up 1.4 percent compared with home sales in December 2016 of a revised 415,280.

For 2017 as a whole, a preliminary 423,760 homes closed escrow in California, up 1.4 percent from 2016’s pace of 417,720. After a strong first quarter start to 2017, sales momentum lost steam throughout the remainder of the year, and year-to-date sales growth declined steadily to hit the lowest level at the end of the year.

“A severe shortage of homes for sale continues to push up home prices and erode affordability, which in turn is subduing home sales,” said C.A.R. President Steve White. “What’s more, with the passage of the tax reform bill that makes homebuying less attractive, homeownership costs will increase for many, which could reduce the desire and demand for buying a home.”

The statewide median price continued to grow at a strong pace over last year and remained above the $500,000 mark for the tenth straight month. The $549,560 December median price was 0.5 percent higher than November’s $546,820 and 7.6 percent higher than the revised $510,560 recorded in December 2016. The year-over-year price gain has been growing at or above 7 percent for six of the past seven months.

“California’s housing market turned in a respectable performance throughout 2017, with home sales increasing 1.4 percent and the median price climbing 6.9 percent for the year as a whole to reach $537,860 in 2017,” said C.A.R. Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie-Appleton-Young. “Looking ahead, the market will remain solid but both sales and prices will be impacted by inventory shortages, impending interest rate hikes, and general economic factors including the effects of tax reform.”

Other key points from C.A.R.’s December 2017 resale housing report include:

  • All of the major regions posted year-over-year sales declines, with sales in the Los Angeles metro region dropping 7.1 percent, the Inland Empire decreasing 3.5 percent, and sales in the San Francisco Bay Area dipping 0.3 percent from last year.
  • Sales dropped in five of six counties in the Southern California region, with both Ventura and Orange County decreasing by double digits. A supply shortage and affordability were likely factors in the decline. Sales in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside also dropped moderately when compared to last year, while sales in San Bernardino remained virtually unchanged.
  • Home prices across the state continued to grow in general in December. Forty-five of the 51 reported counties recorded a year-over-year price increase, with 19 of them growing at double-digit rates.
  • With housing inventory at the tightest level among all regions across the state, the Bay Area region continued to appreciate the most with a 14.1 percent growth rate from the previous year. Seven of the nine Bay Area counties recorded a year-over-year increase in median price of at least 10 percent. Santa Clara prices surged the most at 34.7 percent.
  • Statewide active listings continued to decline in December, dropping 12 percent from a year ago. Since the beginning of the year, active listings have declined by more than 10 percent every month, and the number of available listings for sale has trended downward for more than two years.
  • The available supply of homes hit the lowest level observed since June 2004, with the statewide unsold inventory index dropping to 2.5 months in December from 2.9 months in November. The index measures the number of months needed to sell the supply of homes on the market at the current sales rate. The index stood at 2.6 months in December 2016.
  • The median number of days it took to sell a single-family home remained low at 25 days in December, compared with 32 days in December 2016.
  • C.A.R.’s sales price-to-list price ratio was 98.7 percent statewide in December, 98.9 percent in November, and 98.1 percent in December 2016.
  • The average statewide price per square foot for an existing, single-family home statewide was $265 in December, up from $246 in December 2016.
  • Mortgage rates edged higher in December as 30-year, fixed-mortgage interest rates averaged 3.95 percent in December, up from 3.92 percent in November and from 4.2 percent in December 2016, according to Freddie Mac. The five-year, adjustable mortgage interest rate also ticked higher in December to an average of 3.39 percent from 3.24 percent in November and from 3.23 percent in December 2016.
  • COURTESY: WORLD PROPERTY JOURNAL

California parents deny torturing and starving 13 children

Prosecutors have revealed details about the “depraved conduct” of a couple who allegedly tortured their 13 children. The parents, who pleaded not guilty, face up to life in prison if convicted of multiple charges.

USA Kalifornien David Allen & Louise Anna Turpin | Angeklagt wegen Gefangenschaft und Folter von Kindern (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Los Angeles Times/G. Ferazzi)

David Allen Turpin, 57, and his wife Louise Anna Turpin, 49, pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of torture and other charges at their first court appearance on Thursday.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin (pictured) revealed new information about the couple’s “depraved conduct” against their 13 children that sounds like a script from a horror movie.

They face 12 counts of torture, 12 counts of false imprisonment, six counts of child abuse and six counts of abuse of a dependent adult. David Turpin also faces one count of committing a lewd act against a child.

If convicted of all charges they face up to life in prison.

The two were arrested on Sunday after their 17-year-old daughter escaped from their home and notified police. Another girl also escaped but returned out of fear.

Hestrin said the girl had been planning the escape for nearly two years.

When police arrived at the four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Perris, a town southeast of Los Angeles, they found the couple’s 12 malnourished children, aged 2 to 29 years old. Three of the children were found shackled with chains and locks.

The house was dirty and rancid.

Home of David and Louise Turpin. The inside of the house was filthy and had a horrible stench.

“Circumstantial evidence in the house suggests that the victims were often not released from their chains to go to the bathroom,” Hestrin told a press conference.

“If the children were found to wash their hands above the wrist area, they were accused of playing in the water and they would be chained up,” he said.

The children were only allowed to bathe once a year, he added.

Stunted growth

The children and adults were so malnourished that police initially thought they were younger than their true age. The oldest child, a 29-year-old woman, weighed only 82 pounds (37 kilograms). Officers initially thought the emaciated girl who escaped was about 10 years old.

“They were fed very little, on a schedule,” Hestrin said, adding that the two parents ate well and taunted the children with pies.

If they were not chained, the children were often locked in their rooms. They were also not allowed to play with toys, Hestrin said, although new toys in packaging were found in the house.

All thirteen children were sent to nearby hospitals for medical treatment.

David and Louise Turpin were allegedly home schooling the children, some of whom did not know what a police officer was.

Watch video01:37

Police rescue 13 siblings imprisoned by their parents

They had not been to a dentist. The last time one of them had been to a doctor was four years ago. The girl who escaped didn’t know what medication was.

Journals to reveal more information

Hestrin said that some of the children knew how to read and write and were allowed to keep journals.

Investigators are now looking through the journals, which will likely reveal more details and be used as evidence.

The abuse apparently started when the family lived in the Fort Worth area of Texas, but “intensified over time and worsened” when they moved to California in 2014, Hestrin said.

There is no known motive for the abuse.

It is unclear how the couple was able to maintain the abuse for so long.

The children were rarely seen outside the home. However, the parents posted photos of the family smiling together at Disneyland and in Las Vegas.

Hestrin said that the family appeared to have stayed up at nights and slept during the day to avoid being noticed by other families in the neighborhood.

cw/rc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

COURTESY: DW

An emaciated 17-year-old girl led police to a California home full of disturbing horrors

An emaciated 17-year-old girl led police to a California home full of disturbing horrors

A California couple is being charged with suspicion of torture and child endangerment after authorities discovered their 13 children were emaciated and some were shackled to beds. (Image Source: Twitter video screenshot)

Here’s what they found at the house

According to local California law enforcement officials, they discovered 13 children who were malnourished to the point that some appeared much younger than their actual age. Others were chained to their beds.

The girl was so malnourished that police believed she was 10 years old when they first encountered her.

Police say they found “several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings.”

The statement also said that the parents “were unable to immediately provide a logical reason why their children were restrained in that manner.”

Of the other children, police say they believed they were all underage, but discovered that some were above 18 years old, but were emaciated to the point that they looked much younger.

Arrested for torture and child endangerment

The couple were identified as David Turpin, 57, and Louise Turpin, 49. They were arrested on suspicion of torture and child endangerment. They are each being held on $9 million bail in Riverside county.

The children told police they were “starving.” They have been sent to local hospitals for treatment.

Random shootings in California has community on edge

A series of random shootings targeting vehicles in central California has drivers on edge and authorities scrambling to catch the perpetrator before someone gets seriously hurt.

Since Nov. 27, there have been six separate reports of vehicles being struck by gunfire, with four incidents taking place in Fresno County and two in neighboring Madera County, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.

All of the shootings have taken place in the same general area, and around the same time of day – early morning or late afternoon, police said.

“You’re going about your business, driving to and from work and next thing you know you’re under siege, bullets are flying through your window,” Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti told FOX 26 Fresno.

New Shooting MAp

A map showing the location of the shootings in California since the end of November.  (Fresno County Sheriff’s Office)

So far, there has only been one reported injury when a woman was hit by gunfire on Dec. 1. Sheriff’s officials say the woman, who suffered non-life threatening injuries, is going to be OK but was shaken up by the shooting.

LAS VEGAS MASSACRE SEARCH WARRANTS REVEAL MASSIVE SCALE OF INVESTIGATION

Authorities do not have a clear description of a possible suspect or a vehicle, but have said the victims told officers they heard loud bangs as another vehicle passed them, going the opposite direction on the roadway.

“You’re going about your business, driving to and from work and next thing you know you’re under siege, bullets are flying through your window.”

– Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Tony Botti

“With the exception of the woman who was hurt, they all later checked their vehicles and found bullet holes,” the sheriff’s office said.

Botti told FOX 26 detectives have recovered different caliber bullets from each vehicle that’s been shot at. Detectives say the shootings appear to be random and likely not targeted.

INDIANA OFFICER SHOT IN THE HEAD DURING PURSUIT EXPECTED TO LIVE, POLICE SAY

“We knew this could go one of two ways. Either we put this message out there and it makes the person back off and not want to do it anymore, or maybe [it] makes them want to up their game and instill fear in even more people,” Botti said. “Unfortunately, it looks like that’s the route they might be taking.”

Authorities plan to increase patrols in the area until an arrest is made, and are asking drivers to look for any drivers who may seem to be swerving or driving with an arm out the window.

Anyone with additional information on the shootings is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at (559) 498-7867, and may be eligible for a cash reward of $2,000.

“The longer we let this go on, the higher the likelihood someone gets hurt or killed and of course that’s the last thing we want,” Botti said.

Travis Fedschun is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @travfed

Courtesy: Fox News

California fires: ‘Firefighters taking a beating’ as Santa Ana winds rage

Story highlights

  • Three National Guardsmen helping fight the wildfires have lost their homes
  •  New fire near San Diego grows quickly to between 100 and 150 acres

Carpinteria, California (CNN)The four major wildfires wreaking devastation across Southern California are wearing on the firefighters and military personnel who have been laboring nonstop to douse the blazes, one of which is now the size of Denver.

On top of exhaustion from the long hours, they’re also trying to stave off the effects of smoke inhalation and the airborne embers irritating their eyes.
“Honestly, the firefighters are taking a beating, but we have to acknowledge the residents because they’re taking a beating, too, but they’re cooperating with our orders,” said Thomas Kruschke, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.
The state National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing out of Oxnard has also joined the fight, even though roughly 50 of the National Guardsmen involved had to be evacuated themselves, said spokeswoman Maj. Kimberly Holman. Three lost their homes in the blazes, she said.

GOOGLE EARTH/AL SEIB/LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY IMAGES

“We have folks who lost their homes and many who were evacuated and still they did their duty and worked to help their community,” Holman said.
The unit was grounded late Thursday morning because of turbulent winds. On Wednesday, two C-130s were able to drop about 18,000 gallons of retardant during runs in the Ojai area in Ventura County, she said.
Grounding planes is sure to complicate the arduous battle against fires that have pushed 110,000 Californians from their homes. Compounding problems Thursday were dry weather and merciless winds, with gusts predicted to reach the strength of a Category 1 hurricane in mountainous areas.
About 5,000 firefighters — half of them assigned to the massive Thomas Fire alone — have been fighting the blazes as they race across hillsides and through neighborhoods, officials said. Almost 9,000 homes are without power. Officials have shut down hundreds of schools spanning at least 15 districts.
At 96,000 acres, the Thomas Fire is roughly the size of Colorado’s capital. The blaze was 5% contained as of early Thursday.
It could go down as one of the most destructive fires in state history, and at one point, spread over 31,000 acres in the span of about nine hours — roughly an acre a second. At that rate, it would have consumed New York’s Central Park in about 15 minutes. The plume from the fire stretches 1,000 miles into the Pacific Ocean.
Together, four fires — the Thomas, Creek, Rye and Skirball — have consumed about 116,000 acres, according to the state fire summary.

AL SEIB/LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY IMAGES/WALLY SKALIJ/LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY IMAGES

Despite a brief respite, winds began picking up again Wednesday evening. A gust of 85 mph was detected in Ventura County. Forecasters say Thursday will bring gusts of 80 mph in the higher altitudes, while winds of 50 to 70 mph will make firefighters’ mission difficult in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
The humidity won’t help. It will still be low Thursday, meaning the trees and brush fueling the fires will continue to be tinder.

Latest developments

• Another fire: A blaze in San Diego prompted officials to evacuate a middle school and a high school. The fire went from about 10 acres to between 100 and 150 acres in less than an hour, fire authorities said. Two structures were destroyed, according to Cal Fire.
• New measures: Fire officials said Thursday brought a historic fire danger score and prompted them to upgrade their color-coding system to include purple for the first time.
• More evacuations: Several cities in the Ojai Valley are under mandatory evacuation. Satellite images by the National Weather Service showed the city of Ojai surrounded by fires. Nestled in the Topatopa mountains, Ojai — a bohemian village of 7,600 that prides itself on boutique hotels, mom-and-pop shops, hiking and local food — is a popular tourist draw.
• Areas of concern: Firefighters said they are keeping the Skirball Fire at bay but worry it will jump west of Interstate 405.
• School closures: More than 260 Los Angeles public and charter schools will be closed Thursday and Friday.

‘My little fire baby’

Wednesday was bittersweet for Eric Rosenberg, with his sadness at seeing his neighbors’ homes destroyed punctuated by a moment of pure joy: His wife gave birth to a healthy daughter, Mila.
As he filmed the “heartbreaking” scene in his Ventura neighborhood, where six neighbors’ homes had been reduced to rubble, he explained he had to rush back to the hospital to see his wife and newborn.
“My little fire baby decided today was the day,” he said.
On Thursday, he said his wife and child were doing well, and his home had survived the fire.
A neighbor knocked on his door early Tuesday morning and told him the fire was getting close.
“I walked out the front door, and it looked like a war zone,” Rosenberg said.
Police drove through the neighborhood announcing a mandatory evacuation around 4:30 a.m., he said. The family’s car was already packed with hospital bags, changes of clothes, laptops, photos, passports, dog food and important financial documents.
“Last trip back inside I grabbed my ketubah off the wall and headed out,” he said, using the Hebrew word for a wedding contract.
On Thursday, Rosenberg and his wife were staying with his in-laws in Carpinteria, about 25 minutes from Ventura, and “We can see the billowing smoke clouds in the distance,” he said.

Purple is the new red

The battle to contain the blaze is especially difficult on the Santa Barbara-Ventura County line, where the terrain is steep and rugged, he said. Fire officials hope to get as many as a dozen helicopters in the air Thursday, but the winds have been playing havoc on the choppers and fixed-wing aircraft, said Kruschke, the Ventura County fire official.
Officials say they will see a “recipe for explosive fire growth” and an unprecedented fire danger score. According to the Los Angeles Fire Department, experts grade fire danger by measuring the moisture in dead vegetation, the temperature, wind speed and direction, and then assessing historical weather information.
A value of 48 is considered high danger, while 162 is extreme. Thursday’s score: 296, a record.
It’s not the only first that firefighters have experienced with the Southern California blazes. The scale used to measure the potency of the Santa Ana winds typically runs from gray, for little or no danger, to red, for high danger.
“The forecast for (Thursday) is purple,” said Ken Pimlott, director at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, according to CNN affiliate KCBS. “We’ve never used purple before.”

Stretching 150 square miles

The Thomas Fire in Ventura County, which sits just north and west of Los Angeles, grew significantly Wednesday to about 150 square miles. The Creek Fire in Los Angeles County has spread to more than 12,600 acres and is about 10% contained. The Rye Fire in Santa Clarita is holding at 7,000, with 15% containment, while the Skirball Fire has burned about 475 acres and is 20% contained.
“There are still a few people still in their homes in the evacuation areas, and they should come out. There are still embers that can move and catch as we have wind conditions,” Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz said of the Skirball blaze.
As of midday Thursday, the Thomas Fire had destroyed 73 residences, three commercial structures and 15 outbuildings, Cal Fire said, emphasizing that the numbers are likely to rise once officials are in a better position to assess the damage.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared an emergency for the county, freeing state resources such as the National Guard to support response efforts.

Smoky hazards

Fighting the wildfires from the air 00:45
Los Angeles authorities ordered parts of the Bel-Air district near the fire to leave, but those are just a fraction of the evacuations that have been ordered in Southern California since Monday night.
Smoke collected even in areas that weren’t burning. Health officials warned people in the heavily populated San Fernando Valley and other parts of the northern Los Angeles area to limit their time outdoors.
A video posted to Instagram shows a Los Angeles County Fire helicopter maneuvering around heavy smoke to make a water drop on the Skirball Fire.
The smoke from the fires could be seen from the International Space Station. Astronaut Randy Bresnik wrote in one tweet: “I was asked this evening if we can see the SoCal fires from space. Yes Faith, unfortunately we can. May the Santa Ana’s die down soon. #Californiawildfire.”

Courtesy: CNN

Foreign Buyers Drive Record $153 Billion of U.S. Residential Sales, Miami Top Market

Foreign Buyers Drive Record $153 Billion of U.S. Residential Sales, Miami Top Market

Dollar Volume Surges 49 Percent Annually, Florida, California, Texas Top Target States 

The National Association of Realtors is reporting that a substantial increase in sales dollar volume from Canadian buyers, foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate skyrocketed to a new record-high, as property transactions grew in each of the top five countries where buyers originated.

This is according to an annual survey of residential purchases from international buyers released this week by the National Association of Realtors, which also revealed that nearly half of all foreign sales were in three states: Florida, California and Texas.

NAR’s 2017 Profile of International Activity in U.S. Residential Real Estate, found that between April 2016 and March 2017, foreign buyers and recent immigrants purchased $153.0 billion of residential property, which is a 49 percent jump from 2016 ($102.6 billion) and surpasses 2015 ($103.9 billion) as the new survey high. Overall, 284,455 U.S. properties were bought by foreign buyers (up 32 percent from 2016), and purchases accounted for 10 percent of the dollar volume of existing-home sales (7 percent in 2016).

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Lawrence Yun

“The political and economic uncertainty both here and abroad did not deter foreigners from exponentially ramping up their purchases of U.S. property over the past year,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “While the strengthening of the U.S. dollar in relation to other currencies and steadfast home-price growth made buying a home more expensive in many areas, foreigners increasingly acted on their beliefs that the U.S. is a safe and secure place to live, work and invest.”

Although China maintained its top position in sales dollar volume for the fourth straight year, the significant rise in foreign investment in the survey came from a massive hike in activity from Canadian buyers. After dipping in the 2016 survey to $8.9 billion in sales ($11.2 billion in 2015), transactions from Canadians this year totaled $19.0 billion – a new high for Canada.

Yun attributes this notable rise in activity to Canadians opting to buy property in U.S. markets that are expensive but still more affordable than in their native land. While much of the U.S. continues to see fast price growth, home price gains in many cities in Canada have been steeper, especially in Vancouver and Toronto.

“Inventory shortages continue to drive up U.S. home values, but prices in five countries, including Canada, experienced even quicker appreciation,” said Yun. “Some of the acceleration in foreign purchases over the past year appears to come from the combination of more affordable property choices in the U.S. and foreigners deciding to buy now knowing that any further weakening of their local currency against the dollar will make buying more expensive in the future.”

Foreign buyers typically paid $302,290, which was a 9.0 percent increase from the median sales price in the 2016 survey ($277,380) and above the sales price of all existing homes sold during the same period ($235,792). Approximately10 percent of foreign buyers paid over $1 million, and 44 percent of transactions were all-cash purchases (50 percent in 2016).

Foreign sales rise in top five countries; three states account for nearly half of all purchases

Buyers from China exceeded all countries by dollar volume of sales at $31.7 billion, which was up from last year’s survey ($27.3 billion) and topped 2015 ($28.6 billion) as the new survey high. Chinese buyers also purchased the most housing units for the third consecutive year (40,572; up from 29,195 in 2016).

Rounding out the top five, the sales dollar volume from buyers in Canada ($19.0 billion), the United Kingdom ($9.5 billion), Mexico ($9.3 billion) and India ($7.8 billion) all increased from their levels one year ago.

This year’s survey once again revealed that foreign buying activity is mostly confined to three states, as Florida (22 percent), California (12 percent) and Texas (12 percent) maintained their position as the top destinations for foreigners, followed by New Jersey and Arizona (each at 4 percent). Florida was the most popular state for Canadian buyers, Chinese buyers mostly chose California, and Texas was the preferred state for Mexican buyers.

Sales to resident foreigners and non-residents each reach new peak

The upswing in foreign investment came from both recent immigrants and non-resident foreign buyers as each increased substantially to new highs. Sales to foreigners residing in the U.S. reached $78.1 billion (up 32 percent from 2016) and non-resident foreign sales spiked to $74.9 billion (up 72 percent from 2016).

“Although non-resident foreign purchases climbed over the past year, it appears much of the activity occurred during the second half of 2016,” said Yun. “Realtors in some markets are reporting that the effect of tighter regulations on capital outflows in China and weaker currencies in Canada and the U.K. have somewhat cooled non-resident foreign buyer interest in early 2017.”

Looking ahead, Yun believes the gradually expanding U.S. and global economies should keep foreign buyer demand at a robust level. However, it remains to be seen if both the shortage of homes for sale and economic and political headwinds end up curbing sales activity to foreigners.

“Stricter foreign government regulations and the current uncertainty on policy surrounding U.S. immigration and international trade policy could very well lead to a slowdown in foreign investment,” said Yun.

NAR-2017-International-Profile-Infographic.jpg

COURTESY: WORLD PROPERTY JOURNAL

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