Washington’s Booming Foreign Investment: What’s Their Secret?


Washington is home to America’s most iconic coffee company, champion sports teams, beautiful landscape, and such legendary landmarks as the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. Did you know it’s also home to one of the most popular cities in the U.S. for foreign investment?

While foreign investment isn’t the first thing we think about when we think about Washington State, recent data shows that the foreign investment economy is booming in Washington. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that foreign born citizens in Washington State have risen significantly in the last twenty years. In 1990 foreign born citizens only accounted for 6.6 percent of Washington’s population and rose to 10.4 percent in 2000, 12.7 percent in 2010 and accounted for 13.3 percent in 2014. The U.S. Census also reports that 40 percent of foreigners were from Asian countries in 2014.

NAR’s 2015 International Profile of Home Buying Activity of International Clients also reports that Seattle, Washington is the 15th most searched U.S. city on realtor.com/international from April 2014-March 2015 and is one of the top three city searches among buyers in China. Seattle isn’t the only draw, Bellingham has topped the realtor.com/international charts for several months. In the recent May 2016 report, Bellingham was the number one top search at 1227 percent International Traffic Propensity, with Urban Honolulu, Hawaii trailing at second with 526 percent. What exactly is drawing these buyers to Washington, and how is the state addressing global buyers to foster a truly international community?

What attracts global buyers to Washington:

  • Geographical Setting: Washington directly borders Canada, with Vancouver just a 3-hour drive from the border. Washington also offers up great options for luxury buyers along the pacific coast, without the California price tag.
  • History: Washington has long been a melting pot of Americans, Europeans, and Asians. Many Chinese and Japanese moved to Washington during the construction of the railroads. In the early 20th century many Norwegians immigrated to the towns along the Puget Sound due to their similarities to Norway’s fjords. The roots laid down by these groups have resulted in the continuous migration of global buyers looking to join their family members in Washington.
  • Business & Trade: Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon are all headquartered in Washington. Not only do these companies often hire skilled foreign workers on H1-B and H2-B visas, they also engage in a good amount of international trade. China is Washington’s largest trading partner, exporting $11 billion of goods to China in 2011 and buying $31 billion worth of imports. This would explain why the Choose Washington website is easily translated into Mandarin. Choose Washington also estimates that at least 40% of all jobs in the state are tied to international trade.
  • Education: Washington is home to over twenty universities and colleges including major institutions such as the University of Washington, Washington State University, Seattle University and Gonzaga University. According to the Washington Council on International Trade, international students account for an estimated $450 million worth of revenue for the state annually.

To help usher in the masses of global buyers, community leaders from the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle and the Washington State Chamber of Commerce have created the Choose Washington campaign. The campaign website, which can easily be translated to Mandarin, guides buyers through the reasons to invest in Washington, EB-5 rules, school searches and other legalities and daily issues that need to be explained before a international buyer can purchase their U.S. home. The Choose Washington campaign streamlines the information that global buyers need, making the move to Washington much easier.

Now, let’s zero in on Bellingham, Washington. There are a handful of U.S. cities we have come to expect on the top list places foreign investors buy homes such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami, etc., but Bellingham, Washington doesn’t exactly strike that chord. However, data released from realtor.com/international places Bellingham among the top 3 places that received the most international web traffic in the U.S. for the past several months. Out of those searching for homes in Bellingham, 9,700 of them were from Canada. Bellingham is the last major city before the Washington coastline hits the Canadian border. And with the rise of home prices in Vancouver and favorable market conditions toward the U.S. dollar, more and more Canadians are looking to call Bellingham home. According to the May 2016 realtor.com/international report, other countries searching for a home in Washington include Japan, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Qatar.

Global buyers are a boon to local economies. Identifying which countries are most interested in your local market, and providing the resources and tools to make their home search easier, you can actively contribute to that growth. International buyers are purchasing in nearly all U.S. markets, even if they aren’t as obvious as Washington’s. Look around at your community and note the opportunities that are of potential interest to international buyers, whether it is educational or business. Know your area’s history and who has immigrated there in the past. Does your town or city have a place on their website for global buyers? Does your website sort out this information for them?

The more you welcome buyers with open arms and streamline the process the easier it is for them to purchase a home from you. And, as always, NAR has the tools and resources to help you build your global business!