Mar 8, 2022 - Economy & Business

Early signs of Russian pullback in real estate

Illustration of Russian flag on real estate sign.
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

"Any Russian who wanted to come here isn't going to come," said Liz Elliott, a real estate agent with Echo Fine Properties in Martin County, Florida, just north of Palm Beach. Already, a Russian client backed out of a deal she'd been working on.

Why it matters: Observers of the U.S. real estate market are watching to see how new economic sanctions — on oligarchs, but also on financial transactions involving money from Russian banks — will impact sales.

  • More broadly, the early signals of skittishness show how the impact of sanctions could spread to parts of the global markets that are typically supported by Russians living or visiting.

State of play: South Florida and Manhattan have long been popular destinations for Russian cash — of the legit and not-so-legit sort.

  • "The heat is up. They're scared that they're going to have their real estate seized or potentially seized," Manhattan real estate doyenne Dolly Lenz told Fortune.
  • Ultrawealthy Russians are calling her now, looking to sell or cancel upcoming deals, she said.

Elliott's clients are "wealthy. Not ultrawealthy," she said. They're Russian citizens looking at homes priced between $250,000 and $1 million in a gated golf course community in Palm City. "That's a bit of 💰," she texted last night.

Worth noting: Oligarch real estate gets a lot of attention, but it's a very small part of the Manhattan market, said Jonathan Miller, a prominent real estate consultant at Miller Samuel based in New York.

  • With real estate booming and supply still tight, less Russian cash is unlikely to materially impact prices in New York or Florida, he added.

Yes, but: No one actually knows how much Russian-owned real estate is out there. Until very recently, it's been pretty easy to buy houses, penthouses and even factories in the U.S. secretly, said Gary Kalman, director of Transparency International.

What to watch: Regulations that would require more transparency in the real estate market are still being finalized, Kalman said. "It's going to be a while."

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