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Shifting Visa Policies Putting Damper on NYC Real Estate, Brokers Say

By Amy Zimmer | May 10, 2017 3:23pm
 A view of Manhattan's east side, with the copper-tinted Trump World Tower a few blocks north of the United Nations.
A view of Manhattan's east side, with the copper-tinted Trump World Tower a few blocks north of the United Nations.
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DNAInfo/Amy Zimmer

MANHATTAN — A businessman from Turkey arrived in New York City in January, just before the inauguration, looking for a one-bedroom condo in Midtown East or the Upper East Side under $1 million.

He told his broker Carole Cusani that he’d return in February with his wife. But after President Donald Trump's immigration policies sent shock waves through the international community, Cusani said he never did.

“He said, ‘I’m not comfortable buying in there with the current political climate. I’m putting all my plans on hold,” recounted Cusani, of BOND New York. “He didn’t feel comfortable here because he’s Muslim.”

Many brokers across the city who work with international clients said they’re seeing similar hesitation because of the current political climate's antipathy toward immigrants and uncertainty around immigration policies.

"There's a gray cloud of uncertainty, and it's going to take stronger economic conditions to offset that," said real estate expert Jonathan Miller.

While there’s no hard data for the number of foreign buyers who are investing in NYC real estate, Miller estimated they make up between 15 percent of the market, as a baseline — and as high as 85 percent of the buyers in certain new developments around "Billionaire's Row" in Midtown.

Triplemint broker Amy McDonald, who works mainly with international clients, particularly those from Europe, has seen a lot of fear when it comes to buying.

“Even the folks who can afford to buy here and have the down payments are choosing not to,” she said. “A lot of things are up in the air, and they don’t know how long they’ll be here. It’s kind of the same feelings across the board, wherever they’re from: just general uncertainty.”

Those who are living here already and renting prefer to keep it that way, she said.

“A lot are worried about their visas,” said McDonald, whose firm found that the number of people in Mexico searching for NYC real estate dropped significantly from 2015 to 2016, falling from the No. 9 spot to No. 18, according to the February analysis of locations of international visitors searching its website.

Parish Pradhan, a broker with Keller Williams Tribeca, said he had a deal held up for nearly three months because the seller’s wife, who he wanted at the closing, was unable to get her visa.

The seller, a green card holder from Denmark, and his wife, originally from Poland who had no green card, wasn’t able to come get her visa until Pradhan made calls to the US Consulate to help speed the process.

“She couldn’t get a visa although she owns an apartment in the city and has been coming here since the 1980s, and her husband has a green card, and her son is a citizen who lives in the West Village,” Pradhan said.

The new owners of the $1.325 million two-bedroom Murray Hill apartment were parents buying it for their daughter, who had hoped to move in by February.  They were immigrants themselves — Persians who moved to Boston from Iran in the 1970s — Pradhan noted.

“We got lucky because the buyers were understanding,” he said.

The Trump administration has targeted immigrants through various executive orders, including the controversial one signed in January to ban travel from seven (then six) predominantly Muslim countries and halt Syrian refugee resettlements — which is still being argued in the courts. Nearly 60,000 visas were revoked after that order, reports said.

Trump's administration has also gone after H-1B visas, which are often used by tech industry companies to sponsor foreign workers in highly skilled fields like science and engineering, while leaving alone the EB-5 program, which lets affluent foreigners get visas in exchange for spending at least $500,000 on projects like Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner's Jersey City towers.

Paul Magyar, an agent at Mirador Real Estate, recently was working with an NYU student from China, who planned to move into a $5,400-a-month three-bedroom in the East Village with two roommates, pre-paying the entire two-year lease. But because of “visa issues,” she had to back out of the deal, he said.