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Foreign Investment in National and Local Real Estate Declined in 2020

Anthony Quintano

When it comes to Hawaiʻi home purchases, foreign investors make up a tiny number of buyers. And the pandemic has lowered the number of buyers from other states and abroad.

The National Association of Realtors last week released its report on international investors purchasing existing homes in the U.S.

Nationally, foreign buyers purchased $54 billion worth of existing homes in the last year — which is down 27%. The top destinations for buyers last year were: Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, New Jersey and New York.

According to the report, a majority of foreign investors in the U.S. housing market came from China and Canada, followed by India, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Locally, Hawaiʻi isn't the most popular state for foreign investment.

"I think there's a lot of discussion about the negative aspects of foreign investors, or foreign buyers, in the Hawaiʻi market," said Derek Lau, president of Hawaiʻi Realtors.

Lau says before the pandemic, foreign investors made up 3% of total home sales. That declined to 1% in the last year.

"Some of that discussion has been directed at the low inventory, and perhaps making it harder for local people to buy a home," he said. "But the reality is that we just have an inventory problem in general. And that's not just in Hawaiʻi, that's nationwide in general. And that's mainly due to under-building for decades."

Lau says that doesn't mean there are no investors from outside of Hawaiʻi purchasing homes.

"States that made up the most amount of sales in Hawaiʻi, in terms of volume, that's typically the West Coast — California, Washington. California by a large margin," Lau said.

Lau estimates roughly 20% of home sales in the state before 2020 can be attributed to buyers from California. He notes that during the pandemic, domestic buyers continued to purchase homes in Hawaiʻi — which was likely caused by low-interest rates, remote working options, and the state's low case numbers.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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