Since 2020, global travel restrictions have proven to be the primary factor impeding cross-border real estate transactions among Russian-speaking investors, according to Tranio’s latest annual survey. Despite the development of remote investment tools, physical presence remains a non-negotiable for the majority of Russian-speaking investors, a fact that rings especially true as these investors seek new properties to add to their portfolios. Our 2021 survey – the ninth such poll we have conducted in as many years – elicited responses from 414 real estate professionals across 35 countries in Europe, Asia and America, that are popular among Russian-speaking investors. Respondents include both Russian and non-Russian speaking real estate agents, brokers, developers and consultants.
Key takeaways from the report:
- The key driver for Russian-speaking property buyers abroad is to become a resident of a foreign country.
- Half of respondents from Georgia said the key investors’ driver was “Protection from political and economic risks back home”. While rare in other countries, this factor proved to be a second-place driver for Germany (43%) and the USA (33%).
- 38% of respondents in Georgia believe that investors buy property in Georgia aiming for capital increase.
- The average transaction budget for Russian-speaking buyers in Georgia was €300k.
- Overall, the average transaction budget in 2020 across all countries doubled to €620k since 2019.
- The activity of Russian-speaking investors in Georgia declined less significantly to that seen among other foreign buyers in other countries in 2020.
- International travel restrictions were the top reason for transactions having fallen through in 2020, according to 66% of respondents. This fell into the top two causes for such transaction failures in all countries we considered, having received especially high response rates in Georgia (100%), Slovenia (83%), Croatia (80%), Greece (76%), Spain and France (75% each).
- Issues with obtaining a bank loan were not noted at all in the countries targeted for capital increase (the UK, Hungary, Georgia).
- Demand for housing abroad among investors from Russia and the CIS fell by more than 20%.
- Investors from CIS have lowered expectations of yields from core rental business to 5% p.a. (compared to 6.7% in 2018).
Since 2020, global travel restrictions have proven to be the primary factor impeding cross-border real estate transactions among Russian-speaking investors.
This finding represents a marked shift in trends we had observed in previous years. In 2021, two-thirds of the respondents (66%) said that border closures were the top impediment to the international real estate investments. In previous years, excessively high yield expectations had been the largest impediment among our demographic, as indicated by 44% of respondents in 2019 and 56% in 2018. In 2021, excessively high yield expectations were specified as the second-place deterrent, named as an impediment by 27% of respondents – far fewer than the number who pointed to travel restrictions.
The opportunity to acquire foreign residency proved to be the key driver encouraging Russian-speaking investors to scoop up properties abroad, according to our latest poll. Toward this end, these investors have exhibited a preference for purchasing residential properties, followed by hotels, retail properties and land plots. The average transaction budget among our respondents was €620,000 – a figure that has doubled since our 2019 survey – although particular budgets vary from €180,000 to €3,000,000 by country. On average, Russian-speaking investors expect a net ROI of about 5% per annum from their core rental business.
Key drivers: residency, capital preservation, and capital increase
Nearly half of our respondents (48%) said their clients from Russia and the CIS countries were primarily interested in the acquisition of residency or citizenship when purchasing income properties in 2020. None of the other drivers on the list was chosen by more than one-third of the respondents.
Surprisingly, many respondents cited residency as a driver even in the countries where residency is not an immediate option in connection with the investments. Residency is a more obvious driver for investments in countries with residency- or citizenship-by-investment programs (i.e. Greece, Spain, Portugal); but this was also a key motivator in countries offering golden visas for investment in assets other than real estate (specified by 71% respondents in Bulgaria and 36% of respondents in Italy), or even in countries that do not offer residency by investment (named by 67% of respondents in Slovenia and 50% in France).
George Kachmazov, Managing Partner at Tranio, believes these conclusions reflect a long-game approach to property investments. “These findings can be interpreted as identifying not only the investors that immediately acquire their golden visas, but also those that purchase properties as part of their wider investment activities ultimately targeting naturalisation in a foreign country. To illustrate, many wealthy Russians plan to spend their retirement years on the Côte d’Azur or other luxury locations in France, so they are now building up their business and personal presence there to facilitate acquisition of residency in the future,” Kachmazov said.
The acquisition of residency or citizenship is a key driver for international real estate investors in this demographic.
Portugal and Malta attract investors by residency, while Finland and the USA – by capital preservation
Buyers targeting the most popular countries choose one or two of the three key drivers: acquisition of residency, capital preservation, or capital increase.
“The predominance of one driver – such as golden visas – in a particular country does not imply that such a country would be an inappropriate choice for other types of investments,” Kachmazov said. “There are quality projects geared toward capital preservation as well as capital increase in all the 64 countries where we work.”
Half of respondents from Georgia said the key investors’ driver was “Protection from political and economic risks back home”. While rare in other countries, this factor proved to be a second-place driver for Germany (43%) and the USA (33%).
Investment portfolio diversification was important for Russian-speaking investors in Slovenia (33%), Latvia (29%), Austria (22%), and the Czech Republic (22%).
The driver “Ease of international travel” did not factor among the top three drivers for any of the countries but received notable scores for investors in France and Montenegro (chosen by 25% respondents for each of these countries) and Greece (19%).
The UK is the only country surveyed where Russian-speaking investors were more active in 2020 than they had been previously
In 2020, Russian-speaking investors abroad were sluggish compared to previous years, but were no less active than investors from other countries, according to 42% of respondents. However, another 31% of respondents said that activity had declined much more.
The survey findings produced tentative estimates of rates of increase or decrease in activity by Russian-speaking investors as compared with general international dynamics:
- Their activity declined by 15-20% compared with the other foreign investors in countries for which the predominant driver was residency. Major declines were seen in Italy and Spain (by about 30% each), Austria (by 40%) and Bulgaria (by over 50%).
- The activity of Russian-speaking investors declined at a similar rate to that seen among other foreign buyers in countries targeted mostly for capital preservation.
- In countries that tend to attract investors driven by the goal of increasing capital, investment activities fell by 10-15% as compared to other foreign investors. The decline in Turkey was only about half as pronounced as that seen among others, and the UK is the only country named by the respondents where Russian-speaking investors showed more activity in 2020 than before.
The UK is the only country named by the respondents where Russian-speaking investors were more active in 2020 than before.
In comments accompanying their responses, respondents suggested that much of the decline in activity in 2020 was attributable to investors with low budgets, whereas high-budget investors continued to channel their funds much as they had previously. The respondents observed highly pent-up demand in some countries (e.g. Germany) and expect the market to rebound powerfully as borders reopen.
Demand for housing fell by more than 20%
44% of respondents believe that demand for residential properties among Russian-speaking buyers fell by more than 20% in 2020, compared with 2019. This is characteristic for most of the countries, with a few notable exceptions:
- Demand in Austria, Czech Republic, Greece and Montenegro fell less harshly by 10-20%.
- On the contrary, demand for residential housing increased by about 2.5% in the UK and by 4% in the USA.
Demand for residential properties among Russian-speaking buyers fell precipitously.
Demand in countries primarily targeted for residency fell most markedly by 21% on average. By comparison, countries that typically attract investors motivated by capital preservation or increase only saw activity fall by some 15%.
This decrease in demand for residential real estate abroad is corroborated by Tranio sales statistics: Tranio closed 30% fewer deals in the residential segment in 2020 as compared with 2019.
The average investment budget in 2020 doubled
The average transaction budget among Russian-speaking investors in 2020 was €620,000, more than twice as much as that of 2019 (€300,000). Some 73% of respondents specified a budget of up to €1,000,000.
The budget is especially high in countries for which the key driver is capital preservation, in which case average transaction amounts reach €830,000. In countries where investors are focused on capital increases, the situation is the opposite: the average budget was as low as 300,000 euros.
The average budget in the countries chosen for the purposes of residency is €520,000.
Austria stands out clearly against the general backdrop with an average budget of €3,000,000, and Bulgaria and Thailand turned out to be the cheapest countries with budgets of €180,000 and €200,000, respectively.
Investors reduced their yield expectations for core rental businesses to 5% per annum – down from 6.7%
In 2020, Russian-speaking investors expected an average net ROI of 5% in core rental projects, whereas the average expected net ROI was 6.7% just two years ago (based on Tranio 2018 survey findings).
Generally, investors did not expect a net ROI of less than 4% in any of the countries surveyed. Investors’ appetites were most modest in Portugal, where the standard expectation was 4.25%, as well as in the UK and France (4.5% in each). Expected ROIs remained highest at 5.5% and up in Hungary, Cyprus, Latvia, Slovenia, the USA, Thailand, Croatia, and Montenegro.
In 2020, Russian-speaking investors expected an average net ROI of 5% in core rental projects.
It is fair to assume that investors expect higher yields in countries delivering capital increases, but the survey findings speak to the opposite: the expected net ROI is 4.74% in countries sought out for capital increase compared with 4.88% in the countries sought out for capital preservation, and 4.95% in countries targeted for residency. As Kachmazov explains, “The investors serious about pursuing capital increase are usually more experienced; as such, their expectations are comparatively moderate and accurate.”
Hotels, land plots, and retail properties proved to be the most popular types of commercial property.
Survey respondents believe that in 2020, apart from residential properties Russian-speaking buyers invested abroad primarily in hotels, retail properties (shops, supermarkets, shopping centres, etc.), and developable land.
Other types of income property with less than 5% response rate comprise warehouses, industrial real estate, hospitals and senior care facilities, gas stations and car parks.
In 2020, Russian-speaking buyers invested abroad primarily in such commercial property types as hotels, retail, and developable land plots..
It might seem strange that hotels have proven popular amid the radical travel reduction, yet Kachmazov explains, “Hotels have become more affordable amid the lockdowns, and that might be the point. Russian investors are taking advantage of the situation to invest in such assets.”
The respondents commented that the buyers were especially interested in tenant-occupied properties, preferably with guaranteed long-term lease contracts.
Russian-speaking investors have become more active in selling properties they previously acquired in the countries with favourable conditions for capital increase
During the market crisis, Russian-speaking investors did not sell more actively the foreign properties they had previously acquired, according to 80% of respondents. However, re-sales in the countries for which the key driver is capital increase rose by 122% compared with 2019.
Investors expect significantly below-market prices
Respondents to Tranio’s previous surveys noted that Russian-speaking investors often failed to find or select suitable properties. More than half – 55% – of respondents named property selection as the most difficult step when purchasing properties in 2017, and the same search and selection issues were the main reasons for transactions having fallen through in 2018 and 2019, according to 26% and 29% respondents respectively.
Tranio asked respondents to clarify in the 2021 survey what particular difficulties were encountered when looking for and selecting the property. According to the majority of respondents (55%), the key reason for failure was that investors expected significantly below-market prices for their properties. This is the most common answer for almost all countries.
Price issues proved to be relatively uncommon in countries where investors are driven by capital preservation than elsewhere (50% of respondents specified this issue, on average). A lack of clear understanding of what investors wanted was less topical for countries sought out for capital preservation or capital increase, and remarkably, no respondents chose the phenomenon of being spoilt for choice as a problem in such locations.
Investors fail to find or select appropriate properties primarily because they expect significantly below-market prices.
On the contrary, expectations far from the market realities (other than the price) are more common in countries targeted for capital preservation or capital increase (28% of respondents) and less common in countries targeted for residency (21%).
International travel restrictions were a key cause of transaction failures, but they were not the only factor
International travel restrictions were the top reason for transactions having fallen through in 2020, according to 66% of respondents. This fell into the top two causes for such transaction failures in all countries we considered, having received especially high response rates in Georgia (100%), Slovenia (83%), Croatia (80%), Greece (76%), Spain and France (75% each). It bears noting that border closures proved to be an issue for real estate professionals in countries where investors were primarily driven to obtain residency or citizenship through their investments.
Financial control and banking compliance, rather than travel turned out to be the top issue in some countries, such as Latvia (67% of respondents), Austria (57%), Cyprus (50%), and Portugal (36%). It is noteworthy that most of the respondents in all of these countries also mentioned excessive yield expectations.
Generally, inflated yield expectations are the most common problem for countries where investors target capital preservation or capital increase. It is the top issue in the UK (75%) and the Czech Republic (57%).
Border closures have proven especially problematic for real estate professionals in countries where investors expect to obtain residency or citizenship.
The reason that investors were hesitant and dragged out transactions was especially marked in Slovenia (33% of respondents), Germany (32%), and Italy (22%). The fact that the buyers were not prepared to follow established transaction procedures proved the top one reason for transaction failures in Malta (67%) and the second leading reason in the USA (25%). The answer “Their purchasing power declined due to the pandemic” was especially pertinent for Bulgaria (57%) and Montenegro (38%).
Issues with obtaining a bank loan had a high response rate in countries people targeted for capital preservation (e.g. 21% of respondents in Germany) and were not noted at all in the countries targeted for capital increase (the UK, Hungary, Georgia).
The survey findings unveil a paradoxical trend: the lower the average transaction budget is in a particular country, the more topical the reason “Their purchasing power declined.” To illustrate, this reason was noted by maximum respondents in Bulgaria (57%) where the average budget is the lowest (€180,000). On the contrary, in Austria which is in the opposite pricing category (with an average budget of €3,000,000), no respondent selected that reason.
A paradoxical trend: the cheaper a particular country is, the more topical the reason that purchasing power of buyers declined is in it.
During the history of Tranio annual surveys (since 2012), we have observed the same typical issues encountered by Russian-speaking investors. However, two struggles have been and remain major during all these years: Russian-speaking investors expect significantly below-market prices and net ROI materially above the real yield.