In the age of globalization, the world's markets are becoming ever more available to foreign investors, and while real estate has traditionally been one of the tougher markets to enter and navigate in foreign countries, it is getting ever easier. Nearly 50 percent of all countries improved their real estate transparency, according to the Jones Lang LaSalle Index from 2006 to 2008, with eight of those countries moving up a full tier. The only country to fall in the index was Venezuela. The Jones Lang LaSalle index ranks the transparency of countries based on five items: performance measurement, market fundamentals, listed vehicles, legal and regulatory environment and the transaction process.
While many countries still have a ways to go before investors can truly feel confident about investing there, this is a great sign that the world is recognizing the need for foreign investment. For investors, it is also great to see the number of investment opportunities continue to rise. Many people are fearful about investing in foreign markets, so out of fear they neglect them. Investors who take this stance are missing out on literally a world of opportunity. Know that while there are additional risks involved with foreign investment, there is also a significant reward variable to consider in addition to the main factor which should compel investors: diversification. Those investors who have 100 percent of their investments in U.S. funds, companies and other U.S. vehicles should seriously re-evaluate their portfolio.
Buying physical property in a foreign country can be rewarding, but it is not for everyone. That being said, if foreign real estate isn’t your cup of tea, then consider at minimum investing into some foreign funds, which could even include a foreign REIT (real estate investment trust). For the more adventurous, though, buying property in an emerging market, or even a developed foreign market, can be exciting and profitable.
If you are considering buying property abroad, the best piece of advice I can give you is to do your homework. Fully evaluate all the potential risk factors and then weigh them against the potential rewards; if an investment makes sense, then do it. Depending on the market you are entering you may also need to take additional precautions. If you are investing in an emerging market, I would recommend that you don’t invest more money than you can lose. Emerging markets and their governments and markets are not always stable, so things can go south quickly--but they also can get better quickly as well. To be safe, though, take extra precaution, especially if you are a new investor. Also, I always recommend seeking trusted local legal counsel (make sure to get referrals from other investors who have been successful), regardless of whether or not your agent tells you that you need one. Things don’t work in other countries like they do in the U.S., so be open-minded and patient (especially in Latin American countries), but that doesn’t mean let people walk all over you. Just realize that things are going to work differently and take a little longer in most places compared to the U.S.
Lastly, I want to point out that, especially in emerging markets, it is easy to get excited by promises of incredible returns and other such things, but there is a reason the developers are offering these returns: There is a lot of risk. Many developments that start never see completion for various reasons. Until you fully understand the market and how things work there, it is wise to only buy what you can see and touch.