Some tech workers and others with temporary visas — and even some naturalized U.S. citizens — say they aren’t comfortable making the biggest purchase of their lives as federal policies on immigration and foreign investment harden.
Some legal immigrants across the Seattle region are suddenly backing out of home purchases in reaction to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, threatening to upend a large portion of a roaring real-estate market.
Tech workers here on temporary work visas appear to be particularly concerned.
Karishma Kiri, a Windermere agent on the Eastside, said three of her 10 would-be homebuying clients dropped out of the market in the last couple weeks. All were tech workers, at companies like Amazon and Microsoft, who came here from South Asia on temporary H-1B work visas.
“There’s a definitely a fear in the market,” Kiri said. “I understand the fear. I can’t tell someone, ‘Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get your visa renewed.’ Who knows? Things could change.”
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Zabir Hoque, a software engineer who came from Bangladesh as a kid and is now an American citizen, lives with his girlfriend in her condo near the Space Needle and had been looking around to buy a house. But with President Trump in office, he’s decided to hold off for six months to a year.
“I could question if this is really where I want to raise a family,” Hoque said. With all the uncertainty, “I shouldn’t make any big decisions right now.”
Paul Johnson, a loan officer with Guild Mortgage, had a call from a local Amazon employee who was on a temporary work visa from Iraq to make an offer on a $700,000 condo in Seattle. Within hours of Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order on immigration, he had backed out.
“Right there, that was a cold splash of water on my face,” said Johnson, who’s since had another immigrant client back out of a home purchase. “It’s the most significant purchase or investment people will make in their lives. If they’re not sure they’re not going to be allowed to stay in the country, why would you make such a decision? It’s prudent to wait.”
Real-estate professionals said those backing away from homebuying decisions were typically people with temporary visas who are worried the visas won’t get renewed, or could be revoked, or they won’t be allowed back into the United States after visiting their home country. But others are overseas buyers concerned they won’t be allowed to live in the United States, and some are legal U.S. citizens who emigrated from overseas and are now unsure if they should put down roots here.
The details of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown have been changing, creating confusion that real-estate professionals are ill-equipped to deal with.
Big potential impact here
It’s impossible to know the exact impact the pullback from immigrant buyers could have on the local real-estate market because no one tracks the immigration status or nationality of homebuyers, and there’s a lag on basic data for things like home sales and prices.
But the potential impact is large: One King County resident out of five was born in another country — about 450,000 immigrants in all. And Seattle is near the top of the U.S. rankings for interest from foreign homebuyers, with nearly $3 billion in overseas money going toward home purchases in Washington state each year, according to the National Association of Realtors.
The Seattle metro area also has among the nation’s highest concentrations of H-1B work visa holders, with more than 7,300 per year, according to the Brookings Institute. Those workers often hold well-paid technical jobs and are more likely to be able to afford homes.
Redfin agent Kyle Moss taught a class earlier this month to about 100 current and potential buyers at the company’s Seattle headquarters. When he asked who was concerned about the recent immigration orders, said Moss, about half the class shot up their hands.
“It was on the tip of everybody’s tongue,” Moss said. “There’s a lot of people with a lot of uncertainty right now.”
After the class, one of his clients, a prospective buyer from Bangladesh who had been looking for a house in Ballard, told him he was ending his home search because he was scared of getting deported.
Moss said his clients are asking, “ ‘Are they going to deport me? And what’s going to happen to the home I just bought: Who owns it then?’ ”
Brokers say it would take a significant pullback in immigrant buyers to have a major impact on the ultracompetitive housing market. With so few homes for sale and so many home shoppers desperate to escape soaring rents, most houses already attract several bids. Home prices here are rising at the fastest clip of any region in the country, according to the Case-Shiller home-price index.
But home-price increases have started to slow in recent months. And the balance of power between buyers and sellers could change as the spring homebuying season approaches, when most of the available homes typically flood the market.
Most buyers who said they have bailed from the real-estate market over immigration concerns did not want to share their stories on the record over fear of being targeted.
Even some brokerages and banks declined to talk about a topic they evidently consider too sensitive; among them was Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union, which recently launched a loan program to help immigrants obtain citizenship.
It’s also unclear how the shift in buying interest here compares to other housing markets that attract large numbers of immigrant buyers. The national realtors group and experts that track the market say they don’t know, although news reports of a few immigrants backing out of home purchases have surfaced in cities such as San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
In Miami, another magnet for foreign investment, the local realtors group surveyed its members and found barely any had clients who had backed out of home purchases.
Real-estate professionals haven’t had to deal with this kind of sea change in immigration policy before, and often don’t know what to tell immigrant buyers.
Mark Corcoran of Windermere had first-time homebuyers from India — a couple who work at Amazon and Starbucks, respectively — under contract for a new $900,000 house in Kenmore. After Trump’s initial immigration order, they called him and said they were worried their temporary visas would not get renewed, and were thinking of calling off the purchase.
Among their concerns: If they pull out now, will they lose the $25,000 deposit they already put down on the house? Looking at their contract, Corcoran wasn’t sure — there’s no section that specifies what happens if the buyers are worried about losing their visa. It only mentions a vague scenario in which the bank has to pull the loan “through no fault of the buyer,” and Corcoran figures a job loss related to having to leave the country would fall under that category.
Adding to the confusion is the uncertainty over what policies will ultimately be put in place. A Washington state lawsuit has temporarily halted Trump’s initial executive action on immigration, which had blocked some people from entering the United States. But the president has vowed to replace it with another order, and the government began rolling out plans for immigration crackdowns this past week, saying people could get deported after getting caught up in infractions as minor as a traffic ticket.
James Li, a Redfin agent who also has had foreign clients back out of the market since Trump took office, said that beyond the specific presidential actions, the anti-immigration tenor from Washington, D.C., is reverberating around the world and decreasing foreigners’ interest in local real estate.
“It’s about buying into and being a part of the American dream. That’s always been a huge generator. Everyone views America as the pinnacle of what they want to achieve,” Li said. Now, “there is a big swing in rhetoric from America being the place of golden opportunity and inclusion, to now being very much America First. People from Mexico, the European Union, China, are not looked upon favorably. International investors are sitting on the sidelines.”
Kyle Bergquist, a Guild Mortgage loan officer, said people buying houses are already skittish in the first place — but between the immigration uncertainty and Trump’s potential effect on the economy, it’s just worse now.
“I’ve never known of more people wanting to see how things shake out,” Bergquist said.