Buy a house, win a visa

U.S. visa.

Kai Ryssdal: Given the state of the American housing market, sellers are offering all kinds of incentives for buyers: granite countertops; a finished basement. And now, a visa to live here.

There's a bill being introduced in the Senate that would give residence visas to foreigners who buy homes in the U.S. How much might that do to actually shore up the housing market? Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer takes a look.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: Here's how it would work: Foreigners plunk down at least $500,000 on a house in the U.S., and get a visa. The visa wouldn't allow them to work here -- they'd have to have a work permit for that. But they could live here, as long as they own the house.

Ruth Sells thinks this is a great idea. She's a realtor in the Phoenix area.

Ruth Sells: It would just put you back out on the streets every day trying to find these people homes.

Sells says she already has a fair number of Canadian clients. According to Zillow.com, foreigners spent more than $80 billion on U.S. homes for the year ending in March, a 24 percent increase from the year before.

Stan Humphries is Zillow's chief economist. He says trading visas for verandas makes sense in this housing market.

Stan Humphries: There is no silver bullet out there. And really, the path forward is a lot of small steps like this that we're going to take.

Not everybody's convinced. Anthony Sanders teaches real estate finance at George Mason University. He says it's clear that foreigners are already flocking to the U.S. to buy homes, so they don't need incentives. Plus, he worries that if we get too much foreign investment:

Anthony Sanders: Whoops! Then we start getting bubbles. This smacks me as having a very large probability of unintended consequences hitting.

Zillow economist Humphries says you get around that by making the visa program temporary, so it's over before prices can spike.

There's still time to tinker with the visa legislation. It hasn't hit the floor of either house of Congress yet.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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