WASHINGTON, DC-The Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate is set to release its annual survey of foreign investor sentiment for 2013 on Monday. Some of the results come as a bit of a surprise: Washington DC—traditionally a gateway city of high-repute—has completely fallen of the top five global cities list. Other cities and countries, meanwhile, are showing signs of ascendency, such as Los Angeles, Houston, Spain and Mexico.

Foreign investors’ pick for global cities were London, New York, San Francisco, Houston, and Los Angeles. London, after three years, displaced New York City in this survey. As for Washington, D.C., it didn’t even make the top five this year as it usually does. It fell into ninth place after Tokyo, Madrid, and Munich. Los Angeles was in the top five global cities only once before in 2003.

When the question narrowed to top US cities for foreign investment, the cities selected were New York, San Francisco, Houston, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. That list was largely the same as 2013 except that Houston edged out Washington DC this year moving into third place and Los Angeles had been ranked No.6.

The survey also underlined the importance the US plays in foreign investors’ commercial real estate portfolios. The US’ ranking as the most stable and secure country for investment came in at a margin of more than 50 percentage points over the second country, Germany. This is the widest margin since 2006, noted James A. Fetgatter, chief executive, AFIRE.

“The US recovery is the main attraction for these investors,” he tells GlobeSt.com. “We are seeing a lot of new interest in the US by investors that had pulled back during the recession. Our members anticipate there will be significantly more Chinese investment in the US, possibly even becoming the largest source of capital inflow.”

The US also remains the country providing the best opportunity for capital appreciation by a 26% margin over second-ranked Spain.

One hindrance to foreign investment in the US is the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980, Fetgatter says. “Even though the US is a top choice for investors they definitely would like to relief from FIRPTA.”

The law makes it very difficult for the US to compete with London and other places, he adds.

Meanwhile other nations are gaining swiftly and surprisingly in some cases, especially in Europe. Spain, struggling with debt not that long ago was named the second best country for capital appreciation, receiving 21.1% of the votes. That is close to half of what the US got. Europe, in general, is attracting more interest this year, with 69% of survey respondents predicting they would have modest to major net increases in their European portfolio.

Several markets made progress in Latin America. Brazil fell from first place into second and Mexico moved into the third slot followed by Columbia and Peru. Mexico has appeared on the emerging market list since 2009, but always in fourth or fifth place, while Columbia and Peru were tied for seventh place in 2013.


AFIRE member firms have an estimated $2 trillion or more in real estate assets under management globally. The survey was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2013 by the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate at the Wisconsin School of Business.