My name's Steve.
About me – I became a part-time property investor in China back in 2003 (I was also running another business, but that won't be of interest to readers of a property forum). It's been a roller-coaster ride, with ups and downs and courtcases and offplan buildings that went into liquidation and constantly changing government policies. However, two factors led to my ultimate success, namely that prices always trended upwards (and still are), and I never met anyone operating unlawfully (greedily, yes, but illegally, no), and so was never "taken for a ride". In conclusion, the long hard slog paid off, and my dream of becoming financially independent was reached at least a full decade prior to my expectation: I retired in 2008 at the age of 38.
I now live on the tropical island of Hainan, in the South China Sea. It's stunning here: miles of untouched beaches and crystal clear water. I'm not in either of the two big cities (Sanya or Haikou), but half-way up the coast between them, in the "middle of nowhere". I spend my days by raising my two young kids and enjoying lots of watersports (Riyuewan has great winter swell for surfing, and in summer we get several typhoons that also bring the waves).
Nothing should be able to tear me away from my tropical paradise, but once bitten by the property bug you'll always be an addict. And so it is that I find myself obsessed with the US market at present. It's too amazing an opportunity to ignore, even if you live oceans away. So in this forum I plan to chronicle my up-coming trip to the US (probably Miami) to dip my feet in those waters.
I have much more to write, but my two-year-old son is tugging at my shirt wanting to show my something. So I'll post this now, and in subsequent updates will explain why it is that I'm leaning towards Miami and not Detroit, Atlanta, Phoenix, Las Vegas. I'd also love to hear back from others who have useful ideas and advice to share.
Over and out
StevelatormorMember@latormorPost count: 76
I'm looking forward to reading the result of your approach to the US market, I was there several times in 2008 and there were VERY good deals, I lived some close to Miami, but I wasn't even thinking in becoming an investor. I haven't made my research about how things have changed since then. It's inspiring to hear about someone who retired at the age of 38, I hope to reach something similar.
Sorry about the break in transmission there. My son has been put on the kindergarten bus and I can pick up where I left off.
WHY THE US?
To many readers, some of whom are already living in the States and doing daily property transactions, the answer to this question is obvious. But I'll just quickly cover this topic for those who haven't given it too much thought yet.
Since the Chinese real estate market is so high I don't want to invest my monthly disposable income here any longer. I've posted my views on the Chinese property market in another forum: http://www.propertyinvesting.com/forums/property-investing/overseas-deals/4331252
So for the past 6 months I've been looking at potential overseas markets, namely South Africa (but the rand is too strong, and property has not come down at all after its 450% increase this decade), Philippines (lawlessness), Thailand (political uncertainty), Colombia (language problem), Cambodia (too many unknowns).
All this time my wife has been asking me why I don't consider the US. My primary reason has been that the prices still seemed to be going down. They had a little upward momentum between March and June, but that was largely due to Obama's tax credit stimulus package. But I'm now beginning to think we're getting nearer to the bottom. Perhaps a better way to state it is: we're getting closer to the time prices start to increase (my estimate is about 2 years from now, and they will rise at an ever and ever faster pace for the subsequent 5 years). And when that magical moment happens, you need to be sure that you:
1. have already gained an understanding of how to operate in that market, plus the ability to do so (eg. have a US bank account, an LLC, an accountant, a trusted estate agent, and a broker to organise financing for future deals).
2. have a foot in the door, meaning you own at least one property there (so that you can sell it, lock in your profit and buy more)
But why the US and not a fast-growing Southeast Asian country? While many of these countries may do extremely well over the next decade, they just don't have the proven track record the US has. Admittedly, the US really has cocked things up this time, trying not to pay the price of the Nasdaq bubble by inflating a property bubble. But my take on the world situation is that the "property bubbles" seen in the past decade over much of the world (specifically English-speaking countries, plus any countries near to or doing business with China) are not "bubbles" per say. If a country's lenders monitor their property markets and take adequate and timely steps to reign in lending when "froth" appears, then property prices will be driven sustainably higher by real demand, not just by people hoping to make a quick buck.
And this is the crucial difference between the US and other countries who saw their property prices rocket this decade. Back in 2004, if US lenders had tightened their requirements, or increased the downpayments (eg. to 30%, like they demand here in China) US prices would have levelled off for a year or two, and then gradually crept up (sustainably) to prices higher than they are even now (like in Australia, South Africa and China).
But that's not what Bush and Greenspan had in mind. They wanted every Tom, Dick and Harry to own a house, even though about 20% of all human adults should probably not be property owners in a laissez faire economy. It's probably just built into the human condition that a percentage of people, even in this modern world, have a hunter-gatherer day-to-day philosophy, which makes it difficult for them to hold on to property for the long term. These people tend to be renters (in countries like the US) or live in government housing (for example in European countries).
But back in 2004 in the US, these people were actively sought out by commission-hungry mortgage brokers and estate agents, offered $500K properties with no downpayments required and no interest payments for the first two years. Where did the agents get all this Easy Money to throw at such risky investments? The money came from Wall Street, who in turn got it from innocent Mom and Pop investors, and in some cases even overseas governments (hence the bankruptcy of Iceland).
Conclusion: the US has dug itself into the biggest balls-up since the Great Depression. But it will come roaring back. And while it will make lots more mistakes in the future, it will have learnt it's real estate lessons from this current disaster. So when the US finds its feet again, and figures out how to make big bucks in some other area of the coming China-dominated global economy, property prices in the US will sustainably reach previous highs.
We need to ride that wave all the way up!
WHERE IN THE US SHOULD ONE BUY?
I have done hundreds of hours of research (ie. all online), and whittled the possible choices down to Miami, Florida. That's not to say that other places don't offer great upside potential or high rental returns. I have selected Miami because I believe it will offer the highest price increases once things turn around.
I have based my analysis on stats from many sites (trulia.com, zillow.com, city-data.com, realtytrac.com, among others) but the stats I put most of my trust in come from Case-Shiller (if you want to know more about why their info is so highly regarded, and their indexes are traded on Wall Street, do a Wiki search on them).
Their latest stats came out 2 days ago (28 Sept), and have been beautifully compressed into a very simple interactive map which will show you all top 20 cities you should be considering.
If you want to see their graphs in much greater detail you can check out: http://www.blytic.com/DashboardView.aspx?dashboardid=451E0FC5633D4009BE304FA5FCF24920
From the Case-shiller charts one can see the following: Miami rose nearly 3-fold in the past decade, and has crashed by roughly half. Of all the other cities, only Los Angeles went up as high, but didn't crash quite so much, and is currently already on its way up, meaning it is no longer as great a buyer's market as Miami is (which is only trending up very slightly at present).
I also favor Miami because it has such a high number of foreclosures, which the following map illustrates well:
Note that the above map is interactive: click on a state and you'll see the counties' foreclosure map.
And finally my Miami prefernce comes from demographics: the population is expanding very quickly, and will no doubt continue to do so. Why live in depressed and depressing Chicago when you could be in tropical Florida?
Unlike Miami and LA, Los Vegas is still on its way down (which may be a good thing for investors wanting to buy a little later). I prefer Miami to LV simply because its near the sea, and is a much bigger and more famous city with greater inner demand for housing. However, LV probably also has huge upside potential, considering that it's fallen even more than Miami has.
The Phoenix graphs are almost identical to LV's, so my opinions are the same for those two cities.
As to Atlanta: it never went up during the boomtimes like the south eastern and south western coastal cities, which makes me wonder just how much room there is for price rises in the next recovery.
Detroit is a fascinating market, and is the wild card in the pack. It hardly profited in the boom, yet crashed more than most in the bust (due to the car industry getting hit for a six in the Global Financial Crisis). Detroit has houses (beautiful well-constructed ones from the 1920's) selling for a fraction of replacement cost. I have seriously considered Detroit, and done much research on a zip code by zip code basis.
But despite Detroit's unbelievable prices, the demographics are a concern. The population of Detroit City is in decline, and unless the local government can attract new industries, the trend will continue. And don't forget the role that weather has been playing in the flight away from America's north.
Another worry is the danger of neighbourhoods permanently declining, resulting in little chance of price increases. Having said that, though, the Case Shiller graphs are already showing a bounce off the bottom for Detroit, so it's anyone's guess what's going to happen there.
Apart from the fear of a general decrepitude setting in to all of Detroit City's suburbs due to unemployment and emigration, I was also very put off by the way they tax property there. They're taxing (annually) at 3% of the assessed property price. Granted, they usually only assess the price at half of its "true value", but here's the catch: the assessors are claiming the "true value" to be the 2005/2006 prices, which are often many times higher than the current price.
I'll give you an example: if a house is listed for $20K, the country assessor will look at it's highest value ever (eg. the 2006 price of 200K) then issue an assessed price of half of that (100K), and you will be taxed 3% of the 100K each year, namely $3,000 a year. If you're intending to rent out the house for only $800 that's quite a big chunk gone. That's not my main concern though, since similarly high property taxes are being charged everywhere in the States (due to local governments being bankrupt and trying to make up the difference from property owners). What worries me is that more and more owners who find themselves unemployed will dump their properties because they can't afford to pay the monthly tax. I worry about this situation in Detroit more than in other cities simply because Detroit has such consistently high unemployment. And if more and more people dump their properties, it'll be hard for prices to recover.
The above are all my own opinions, and I would like to hear other people's. Let me repeat, wherever you choose to buy in the US at present is probably a good bet. Nobody knows which place is better than others. We'll only know in 2020. Where you choose to buy will ultimately come down to your own gut feeling.TOAMMember@TOAMPost count: 4
I have seen most of your entries today and agree with you in your analysis and approach to investing in the US. Miami certainly does have lots of upside in the long term considering its position today. Can you please let me know how your would go about finding properties in Miami from Australia and who would you use to assist?
thanks for your post and encouragement. Please follow this blog to see if I succeed in turning a dream from afar into reality.
I'm not in Australia, but China, which is equally as far from Miami.
My intention is to do all I can from this side before departing(hopefully set up a bank account, deposit funds, find an estate agent in Miami, plus a lawyer to assist with LLC, or I may just apply for one online) and then go over and begin to make offers on Short Sales and REOs (bank owned properties). If it seems viable I may even try to purchase at public auctions, although probably not on this trip. I should add at this point that I intend to move my family to Miami for a period of time, once I've bought a few properties. I've already retired, so whether I live in China or the US is all the same to me.
I haven't decided yet whether I'll buy condos or houses: condos appeal to me because they will require less maintenance, but their high Home Owner Association fees will cut deeply into future rental returns. Single family homes are very attractive because they come with their own private land (an ever-decreasing commodity on this planet), but will require much higher maintenance, not to mention insurance (which is quite high in Miami due to the danger of flooding caused by hurricanes, as well as wind damage).
My main goal of this first trip is to buy at least one property, and to do my utmost to get financing, even if that just means getting a credit card. The reason financing is a crucial part of my long-term strategy is because once prices start increasing I want to have a lender that trusts me. I intend to buy dozens of properties when the tide has turned. The only way to make big money in property investing is to go in big, which means you must be leveraging by getting bank loans.
You probably understand this simple fact, but I'll give an example anyway: if you only pay a $100K deposit on a $500K house, but the house increases by 20% in a year, you've made $100K. In other words, you've doubled your money.
You asked who I will be using to assist me to purchase properties in Miami. I'll be using an estate agent, whom I shall select from responses to posts I've been making on Trulia.com
I have no intention of using any other purchasing service, since I'm an entrepeneur by nature, and always rely on my own wits to get things done.mjcantrellMember@mjcantrellPost count: 31
Keep a close eye on Kansas City, Missouri. It is expected to have a "Super Highway" that will connect Mexico imports all through the Midwest and to Canada. Kansas Cities railways make it a good spot for a "small port" It is already in the works and will bring even more infrastructure to the area. Kansas City has already became the largest city in Missouri in just a couple years. According to the U.S. Census bureau Kansas City has grown over 9% in the last nine years.
I have been buying investment property in this area over the past 10 years and I am yielding over 20% currently in this market. I have alot more facts about the area if anyone would like to learn more.TOAMMember@TOAMPost count: 4
Thanks for the response. I truly admire your entepenuerial spirit and bullish approach. I would like to stay in touch and keep this log going as I investigate further.
Thanks for the advice. It's always good to broaden one's horizon's by listening to advice from people who have first-hand experience.
I hadn't considered Kansas City, probably because I'm not that familiar with the US (although I did live there 20+ years ago when I attended the University of South Florida).
I tried to do some research on Kansas using the Case-Shiller data, but they do not cover it because it isn't one of the US's top 20 real estate markets. If you want to see the 20 they do cover, check out the following interactive map showing the latest Case-Shiller date: http://www.reuters.com/article/interactive/idUSTRE68R2M720100928?view=small&type=smallBusinessNews
So to continue my research I checked Kansas city on trulia.com, and was very surprised at what I found. You can see the charts for yourself:
The average house price is $75K, which is fairly cheap (Trulia.com states the average Miami house is $125K). But more interesting is the fact that over the past 10 years Kansas house prices have steadily increased. There was no exceptional rise during the bubble time, and no perceivable dip during the Global F C, just a constant upward trend.
Kansas certainly has something going for it (as MJCantrell mentioned above). Also I recall reading on a different forum that it's easier to get a bank loan in Kansas than in places suffering high foreclosures.
So I'd highly recommend Kansas to anyone wanting a solid investment.
I, however, will stick with Miami, since I believe that prices will eventually reach their old peak, which means Miami prices have room to rise 2.8 times.
I must say it has been really great hearing about your plans for the future. I am only new to investing in general, but from what I can see at the moment, there seems to be a great oppurtunity in US at the moment. I hear alot of bad stories about it however, but I still have a gut feeling that this is a once in a lifetime oppurtunity and I for one do not want to miss out on it.
Retiring at 38 definitely does sound like a dream, or even at least having the option to work or not, that is something I will be striving too. I am only 23 at the moment and I believe if I make the right decisions now I can set myself up to be very comfortable by then.
I have made a couple spreadsheets with some things, obviously not with too much detail, just basic things and it is hard to ignore the significant profits and gains I seem to be able to make using even conservative figures.
I hope you keep in touch as it would be good to know if you find suitable people over in Miami who you could perhaps recommend to others.
The most important step towards reaching financial independence is to make the decision to do it. You're only 23. You'll definitely get there.
I only realised the importance of making money when I was 26, having discovered that a science degree isn't worth the paper it's written on. I bought a ticket to the booming Far East to make some money. I then made what seemed like a lot of money to me at the time selling art in Taiwan, and by the age of 29 I stopped working with the intention of just trading my own money on stock markets online. You must realise that this was late 1999, and stock markets had been going up for a decade or so and the papers were full stories of people who got rich quick in the internet bubble. People were also warning of an imminent Nasdaq crash. So I set up my trading accounts and just kept cash, waiting for the big crash.
Sure enough it came in about April 2000 if I remember correctly. I had $50,000 in cash, and I was convinced that if I bought internet stocks once they'd crashed to a third of their value, then I'd make a killing during the recovery. Boy was a wrong.
Not only was there no recovery (and even 10 years later the Nasdaq is at the same level that it crashed to back in 2000), but the stocks I bought (which weren't big famous companies like Microsoft) just kept heading ever and ever lower. The reason I chose smaller companies was because they had crashed the most. This makes me worry about investing in places like Detroit as opposed to Miami (ie. Detroit reminds me of small internet companies whose stock prices just kept heading lower). In real estate, it's location, location, location.
To summarize, by the end of 2000 my stock portfolio was worth a third of what it had been. It pained me too much to sell any stocks at such an awful loss, so in effect I had no money.
Luckily I got a big break at this time (or in retrospect that's what it turned out to be): for my 31st birthday my sister bought me a book she'd picked up on a recent trip to Hong Kong. It was about the impending China boom. It was written by two very respectable New York Times journalists. I ate up the info, and immediately made plans to move to China. Luckily I'd learnt a bit of Mandarin while living in Taiwan, so the Chinese market, culture and language weren't totally alien to me.
I'll skip to the end: the property market in Shanghai did a remarkable surge between about 2002 and 2010. In a market like that, all you need to do is make sure you're positioned well for the takeoff. Even a fool can't lose money if you just make sure you're in the game.
This is what I currently think is going to happen in the US. I don't know when it'll start, and I know prices won't go up as much as they did in China, but they'll go up at a fast enough pace to turn any prudent investor starting with just small capital but big dreams (and most importantly, a credit record in the US) into millionaires.
What did I learn from my post-Nasdaq Crash disaster: don't get in too early, and don't jump in for all you're worth. The US property market has been going down for 4 years now. It's surely time to start getting our feet wet.
I think I should add some other lessons I gleaned from losing two-thirds of my savings back in 2000.
It made me a very careful investor, probably an over-careful one. I became sceptical about everything I read, and even grew to overly question my own thoughts as to which way markets would head. Had I not taken that fall in 2000 I would probably have dived into Chinese property at an earlier time and in an even bigger way than I did, and would have made greater returns.
However, this is using hindsight. Nobody knew how things were going to turn out, and the advantage of caution is that you'll at least end up comfortably cautious, as opposed to either broke or rolling in money, neither of which is ideal. I've now come to the realisation that having too much money or too little to do will not necessarily lead to happiness, hence my current interest in finding something new to stimulate my mind (ie. the US property market).
Over the years I've also learnt the value of diversification. My mistake of 2000 was putting all my eggs in one basket.
If you're reading this and have a sceptical mind like myself, you've no doubt asked yourself as to the wisdom of investing in US property when the future remains clouded. After investing in the post-Nasdaq pop I learnt that not everything recovers. So how do we know that US property now is not analogous to the Nasdaq in 2001? Perhaps US property just went through a huge bubble and has now returned to the level it always should have been at?
These are questions I was asking myself 2 months ago, and did a fair bit of economic research into. There are some very interesting debates online (involving some of the world's most famous economists), and there are two camps in the debate:
1. those that say that property prices should rise only as fast as inflation, which in the US has averaged 3% for the past few decades (if you fall into this camp, then according to the Case-Shiller studies going back to 1900 property in the US is still about 30% higher than it ought to be, and property in Australia would be much much much too high!!!!!!)
2. those that view property as a luxury item more than a basic commodity (like clothing and food). If you fall into this camp, then you belong with the economists that believe property prices should follow people's increases in income, which have averaged about 1.5% higher than inflation in the US over the past few decades. If you take the average property price in the US in 1950 and run it through a compound inflation program of 4.5% for 60 years you will find that current US prices are way too low.
Living in China, as I do, I believe that just simplifying the argument into the above two camps ignores some other fundamental issues.
1. Land is an ever decreasing finite resource (which puts further upward pressure on property values)
2. There are huge cultural issues at play. For the past 300 years in Europe people could emigrate to the colonies where there was limitless land. In the past 200 years in the US, people just headed westwards when they felt squashed. This ability to up and leave has bled into Western culture whereby people feel that everyone can easily own an affordable home/ranch. In China, however, people have understood the value of property for hundreds of years. The excess Chinese population did not mass emigrate to Aus, NZ, South Africa, US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina like the Europeans did. Instead, they stayed put (as did the huge population in India), and made do with the limited space available (which they came to value very highly).
This, I believe, is one reason that Canada and Australia are seeing property prices heading ever higher: they are under the Asian influence.
Longer term, I feel that the entire world is going to re-think it's attitude towards property, due to the up and coming middle classes of China and India. Right now only segments of the world are viewing property through the Asian lens, but sooner or later everywhere will see the light, meaning the US, South America, Africa, and those overly socialist European countries will also have to board the global property train.
There were two interesting articles on Bloomberg News Channel today. The first was about foreclosures in the US. I quote:
Homes in the foreclosure process sold at an average 26 percent discount in the second quarter as almost one-fourth of all U.S. transactions involved properties in some stage of mortgage distress, according to RealtyTrac Inc.
“We’re still clearly building up more distressed inventory,” Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac’s senior vice president, said in a telephone interview. “That will either put downward pressure on prices or keep them from going up.”
Bank-owned properties sold for an average discount of almost 35 percent in the second quarter.
Short Sales sold for an average discount of almost 13 percent. Short sales are when lenders accept less than the outstanding loan amount for the property.
From the above except it appears that it's better to buy properties from the bank (ie. REO's) than to buy them before the bank reposseses them (ie. Shorts).
The second interesting article was about opening a premier account with HSBC. Again I quote:
“HSBC lets premier customers open accounts at HSBC branches around the world and transfer their credit history when arriving in a new country to make them immediately eligible for loans or mortgages. Customers also receive better currency exchange rates. They are not charged fees for the services as long as they maintain the minimum balance of $100,000.
I'm currently working on setting up a Premier account with HSBC. You have to maintain an average monthly balance of $100,000. If your savings dip below that level then you are charged $50 per month to maintain the account. My plan is to use the premier account long enough to transfer funds to the US, and also to see if it will assist me in applying for a mortgage in Miami. Once I've bought property and my account no longer has over $100K then I'll close the account.
I was know in earlier posts you talked about some of the research you look at in the areas. But I was wondering how much you looked into factors such as unemployment. I read an article which was published within the last couple weeks showing that the unemployment figures for Miami had risen from 12.4 – 12.7%, well above the national average which is about 9.1%.
I was also looking at vacancy rates across the country. Florida has been consistently one of the highest over the last few years (around 17%), however this is state wide and I am not sure what it is specifically for Miami.
I was just curious what these sorts of figures do to your thinking of where to invest in America. I know in an earlier post you were saying it was more important to look at the capital gains which may (hopefully) occur so maybe the rental income is not a great priority. But with the high unemployment figures, and in particular rising figures, are you sure of the soundness of the investment.
I was hoping to be able to find out some things to see what the government is trying to do to fix these issues, such as investment in infrastructure or other ways to increase employment and stimulate the economy.
Anyway, just curious of your opinion on this.stellarreiMember@stellarreiPost count: 7
I’m finding your posts very interesting and on right target.
As a Miami resident, quite honestly, I haven’t been keeping up on real estate outside of the US. However, I have been watching the market here in Florida like a hawk for the last few years as I specialize in investment property sales as a wholesaler in Miami. Ive found that Investors have accounted for almost half of the real estate transactions for the past year or so. Foreign buyers have recently been gobbling up Multi-family properties and Condos by the beach like crazy. This is due to there high rental returns rates in our heavy populated, tourist infected Miami. Some banks have even placed restrictions on investors when buying foreclosures to attempt to level the playing field. Most First time home buyers never stood a chance at the good deals due to investors snatching up everything as soon as it hit the market. It’s gotten so bad that Fannie Mae, now makes cash buyers wait 15 days days after a home is listed to allow owner occupants first dibbs. They call it the “Anti – Investor Rule” lol
Thanks for shedding light on what’s happening in other countries Steve. I can now understand why so many foreign investors are coming out the woodwork. But who could blame one, when most properties can be brought with little to no risk. First – time home buyers can buy a remodeled home for less than the average rental rate in the same neighborhood. “Who what have thought” And since we are such a highly populated area, renters are never seem to be a problem. Its truly a perfect storm.
I know you will attain your investment goals nicely as your deciding to jumping in at a great time.
P.S: Please ignore the grammar errors as its 5 am and I writing with my eyes half way shut
~Cheers~Dick YorkMember@Dick-YorkPost count: 8
Hi British Buyer,
I am also looking to seriously purchase in the USA in particular, MIami Florida. I have real estate agent and family living in Miami so perhaps we can bounce off each others ideas and experiences. I live in Sydney Australia
You can reach me on email@example.com
I would be very interested in how you get along. I also live in Sydney and at the moment and looking keen to invest in America, I am not sure what areas are the best, I believe there is oppurtunity accross the nation and sometimes it is just personal preference. One benefit of Miami I suppose is that it is a nice holiday destination so could be some added fun there.
If you have a good real estate agent there would you be able to pass on their contact details. I am hoping to build up some sort of team over there who can help me through the whole process and help me to see the feasibility of it all. I have seen a few services that provide this, but I do not see a reason to spend my money on something I can do myself, when I almost would prefer to do it myself anyway, I hate doing things without having full information anyway.
So once you have a real estate agent, what other people are required to help process an IP in Miami? A property manager, an accountant, a solictor. Do you have these contacts available presently?
Let me know if you wanted to discuss it further.reinvestorMember@reinvestorPost count: 1
Hey all check this out:
This might help out your decision about Miami.
Hi everyone who's been reading/posting in the last week, and I apologise for my disappearance from my own thread.
The reason is that I live on Hainan Island (it's a large circular tropical island, about 250kms in diameter, off the southern coast of China) and 10 days ago we were hit by the most unbelievable flooding. Torrential rain has poured down continuously since then, and most cities (including the one where I live) were metres underwater for a few days. Not surprisingly, we lost electricity supply and phone connections, and therefore ADSL.
The flooding receded 3 days ago, and as soon as I got my internet connection back I dived back into my Miami trip preparations.
ATTEMPT AT OPENING A US BANK ACCOUNT
Yesterday I sent off (by courier) my application for a US-based HSBC account. I've been dealing with the Buffalo, New York HSBC, and they kindly offered to assist me in opening an account without requiring me to visit an HSBC branch here in China (I explained to them how difficult that would be for me, since there aren't any HSBC's within 500kms of where I live). I'm told that the account will be opened within 3 days of them receiving my application, assuming everything is in order. I'll let you all know how this turns out. I hope to have the account opened within 10 days, and then I can start wiring $ into it. This will take a few days since China has restrictive foreign currency laws, and I'm still not sure how I will circumvent them.
Quite a few people posted above, so I'll address them in order of their postings.
Thanks for raising some important points, namely that the unemployment situation is awful in Florida, Miami included. Your comments have prompted me to look into the matter further. It seems you are correct in stating that the unemployment situation is worsening. The following graph shows as much:
I know of no infrastructure or other government projects to stimulate job-growth.
I can only guess that the reason unemployment is so high is because the Florida economy is so dependent on the property market. According to Wikipedia, the population of the Miami metro area increased about 30% from 1990 to 2009, and I bet a lot of those people were either attracted to the area by construction jobs, or ended up working in the housing industry. Now that the bottom has fallen out of the property market, all those people are out of work.
But a recession is always a temporary phenomenon (in strongly capitalist countries), where periods of economic euphoria, overinvestment and quick gains are interrupted by severe doldrums. During the downtowns, there is underinvestment, and thus an increase in pent-up demand. I'm banking on Miami being catapulted out of the recession when the US economic situation finally turns, and all those people who haven't being buying houses for the past 4 years (not to mention all those who've been kicked out of their houses) suddenly rediscovering their interest in property.
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