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Real-estate hot spots draw the world’s affluent

Municipal museum of Cascais, in Portugal.

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Wealthy people often have business and investment interests around the globe. As such, they are drawn to foreign real estate.

Canada's high-net-worth residents are no exception, says Winston Chesterfield, director of custom research at Wealth-X, which provides market data on wealthy individuals.

"They do these purchases primarily as investment decisions, and secondly, there's this interesting balance between lifestyle and necessity," says Mr. Chesterfield, who is based in London, referring to Canada's nearly 8,600 ultra-high-net-worth residents (according to Wealth-X's most recent survey) with more than $30-million in assets each.

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"Their businesses often have a global reach, so their habits in terms of property purchasing tend to be a lot more sophisticated than buying a ski lodge," Mr. Chesterfield says.

The fabulously wealthy gravitate to major cities and other desirable locales – be it for business, pleasure or both. Among the hot spots are these well-known destinations as well as lower-profile haunts that are garnering attention because of favourable investment fundamentals.

High-tech, high-end living

New York has one of the highest concentrations of billionaires in the world, Mr. Chesterfield says. But other cities are climbing the list, especially those in the booming tech sector, such as San Francisco. "It's really increasing in billionaire numbers, and we think it's going to overtake London soon."

Fast-growing, profitable tech businesses are driving up real estate prices and attracting well-heeled investors to Berlin and Tel Aviv as well, says Paul Tostevin, associate director with Savills World Research, a real-estate services provider.

Even Dallas is seeing a transformation as a result of tech growth. "Dallas is shaking off a lot of that huge-flag-and-cowboy-boots image and is actually quite a hot property market," Mr. Chesterfield says. A recent article in Forbes notes that Dallas-Fort Worth is providing a high-end, multi-residential lifestyle to young professionals from around the world.

Another hot spot driven by tech wealth is Auckland, in large part because the New Zealand city provides yacht-friendly docking, which appeals to tech barons, says Mr. Chesterfield.

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"There's also this kind of sense of apocalypse preparation," he says. "They're looking for places that are remote." New Zealand fits that description, he adds. "It's also a very peaceful country and doesn't get involved in conflict."

Sun, sand and savvy

Warmer climes with silky sand beaches such as the Bahamas are increasingly popular with wealthy Canadians, says Jerry Hammond, president of Hammond International Properties, a Toronto real estate agency.

"If people want to be a little more low-profile, you go there," says the realtor, who specializes in the luxury market in Canada and abroad.

The Bahamas also appeals to Canadians because it's in the same time zone and involves a relatively short flight, he adds. The combination of luxury and convenience attracts an exclusive lot. "The worth of the people buying into these destinations usually begins at about $5-million."

Most wealthy buyers are seeking exclusive gated and beach communities with homes starting at about $2.5-million, he adds. The limited number of these developments generally assures upward pressure on home prices and provides a decent long-term return on investment, Mr. Hammond notes.

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Florida also remains popular with the elite, with Boca Raton a highly sought after locale. A condominium at the Boca West Country Club, for example, ranges from $895,000 to more than $2-million (U.S.), he says. "That would get you somewhere from 900 square feet up to in excess of 3,000 square feet."

Up-and-coming for the upwardly mobile

High-net-worth individuals looking for the next big thing should check out Portugal. Its capital, Lisbon, has "long been considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe," Mr. Chesterfield says. "It's underrated and not expensive in terms of property."

Astute investors can find plenty of decent options for about $500,000 (U.S.), says Cody Shirk, the California-based founder of Codyshirk.com, who writes about and invests in foreign real estate.

Better value can be found along its coast, where "you can easily buy an apartment for $200,000."

Another draw for Portugal is the ability for foreign buyers to gain EU residency through the country's Golden Visa program. Foreigners buying property worth at least 500,000 euros can live and work in the country and, perhaps more importantly, travel freely throughout the Schengen zone (26 European countries) without a visa.

Closer to home, Puerto Rico may be struggling under crushing government debt, but it remains a leading tourist destination for U.S. residents on the East Coast because it remains a U.S. territory and the dollar is its currency, Mr. Shirk says.

"One interesting fact is you can use leverage there a lot more easily than you can in other countries," he says. Loans in most Latin American countries bring interest rates of about 15 per cent, but in Puerto Rico they are about half that, he says.

Moreover, its financial difficulties have depressed prices for beachfront property. "You can find a nice three-bedroom apartment that's less than 10 years old on the beach for about $200,000 (U.S.)," he says. Another plus is its capital San Juan has all the trappings of North American culture, such as Wal-Mart, Starbucks and Bed Bath & Beyond.

"It's nice to have those places if you need them," Mr. Shirk says, "even if a lot of people are trying to get away from it all."

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