Foreign investment in Chicago real estate reaches record high

Chicago was an appealing city for international real estate investors in 2015:

Chicago’s continuing rise to prominence on the world stage was further boosted by the latest figures indicating that 2015 will not only be a banner year for new construction and hotel occupancy, but a record-breaking period for foreign real estate investment as well. 2015 saw $3.27 billion of new overseas capital flow into the Windy City, according to recently published report by Crain’s Chicago Business, a figure that shatters the previous record of $2.18 billion set in 2013. Citing data from New York-based Real Capital Analytics, Crain’s reports that foreign buyers accounted for roughly 16 percent of Chicago’s total $20.2 billion of real estate sales this year. Chicago now ranks as the fourth largest market in the nation for foreign investment — up from last year’s eighth place — and trails behind only New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.

These positive figures are attributed to several factors. Oversaturation of traditionally stronger coastal markets has driven up prices to the point where commercial investors are often finding more lucrative opportunities in Chicago. Chicago is seen as a somewhat riskier choice for firms taking on commercial properties due to the relative ease at which new buildings can be added and tenants relocated — similar to CNA’s announcement earlier this week — but foreign buyers willing to take on this risk have enjoyed greater returns. In 2015, investment in Chicago saw first-year rates of return (“capitalization rates” for you finance-minded folks) averaging 5.1 percent, outperforming the 4.1 and 4.7 percent yearly yields of Manhattan and San Francisco, respectively.

While this sounds like good news (more capital flowing into the city and the potential for these investments to lead to other deals), I could imagine two downsides:

  1. This recently happened in Chicago, but it wasn’t the first city of choice for international investors. It is suggested here that investors are now turning to Chicago because the more desirable markets – NYC, LA – are oversaturated. So, this may confirm that Chicago is still the third city – or maybe even the fourth city if you include Washington, D.C. This may just feed the anxiety some in Chicago have of their place on the world stage.
  2. Even as investment from outsiders is viewed as good, would investment from foreigners be viewed as positive by all in Chicago? Americans occasionally have periods of fear that people from other countries are taking over and Chicago is a more parochial/less cosmopolitan market than some on the coasts. Foreign investment may be good but do Chicagoans like the idea that others are benefiting greatly off the Midwest?

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