NEW YORK - After a year most investors would like to forget, foreign real estate buyers are being swayed to spend again in New York City by a weak U.S. dollar and property prices at levels not seen for years, say experts.
Real estate brokers and analysts say they have noticed more foreign investors looking to purchase in New York -- boosting the market's recovery hopes just a year after the city's Lehman Brothers bank collapsed and a financial crisis spread globally, plunging the United States and other countries into recession.
Russian investors are among those leading the way with the country's richest man, Mikhail Prokhorov, recently reaching a $200 million deal to buy an 80 percent share in the New Jersey Nets basketball team and a 45 percent stake the Atlantic Yards, a real estate development in New York's Brooklyn borough where the team will play if the project is completed.
Irina Levieva, a broker at the Ostrov Realty Group, said a year ago foreign buyers had disappeared but that now they were expressing interest and buying properties again.
I've been contacted by one of the largest Russian real estate investment funds. They don't want to build, they want to invest, Levieva said.
Earlier this month a penthouse on Manhattan's Central Park West sold for $37 million to a Russian investment fund, the New York Observer reported. And in June, billionaire Russian financier Andrei Vavilov bought an apartment in Manhattan's Time Warner Center for $37.5 million.
(Russians) buy high-profile properties and yes, I am seeing a lot of them, said Dolly Lenz, a broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman.
Although New York City's real-estate prices could continue to fall, analysts say Russian and other foreigner buyers view the city's property as a long-term and lower risk investment with promise of U.S. dollar earnings.
Russians are seeking out U.S. dollars for safety, specifically by buying property, said Steven Schrage at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as the Russian economy contracts.
But Wilbur Gonzalez, an agent at Brown Harris Stevens, said the Russians quick return to New York property was unexpected.
I expected the Russians to sit out 2009 and 2010, licking their wounds, Gonzalez said.
Recently Gonzalez said he has shown a $45 million property to three potential Russian buyers and signed an almost $20 million deal with an unnamed Russian buyer for another property.
The average price per square foot of Manhattan residential real estate fell 16.5 percent in the third quarter compared to the last year, according to Miller Samuel appraisers.
The city's key real estate brokerage firms said that in the third quarter the average apartment price declined between 10 percent and 15 percent from the same period a year ago.
Analysts say lower prices and a sustained weakness of the U.S. dollar against certain currencies helps explain a growth in foreigners investing in New York property despite the backdrop of a still struggling global economy.
On the back of a strong native currency, Brazilians have also been buying in New York.
I've been dealing recently especially with Brazilians, said Jacky Teplitsky, a broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman.
New York's commercial real-estate also has seen more foreign investment activity.
We are seeing a huge uptick in activity since mid September, said Edward Mermelstein, a lawyer who specializes in real estate transactions for foreigners.
Office towers that once belonged to insurance giant AIG were sold to a Korean developer earlier this year for about $140 million dollars.
Israeli investment fund DB Holding Corp reached a deal this month to buy HSBC bank's headquarters in Manhattan for $330 million.
Government systems designed to back commercial property have helped allay foreign investor fears, Mermelstein said.
These systems are allowing liquidity back into the market, said Mermelstein, whose clients are all very much interested in the United States as a new frontier, compared to where it was a year and a half ago.
The opportunities my clients are seeing now are equivalent to those a decade ago.
Marisa Di Natale, an economist at Moody's Economy.com, agreed that the conditions were good for foreign investors.
It could be a good deal right now, said Di Natale. But it'll be even better down the line when prices bottom out.
(Editing by Michelle Nichols and Bill Trott)