President Obama's administration, citing concern about the origin of funds used for all-cash purchases of luxury real estate, said it is stepping up scrutiny of transactions in New York City and Miami.
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said on Wednesday that it will temporarily require title insurance companies to identify individuals behind companies that pay cash for high-end residential real estate in Manhattan and Miami-Dade County.
FinCen, a unit of the U.S. Treasury Department, said it's concerned that real estate purchases without bank financing "may be conducted by individuals attempting to hide their assets and identity by purchasing residential properties through limited liability companies or other opaque structures."
The "geographic targeting orders," which will be in effect from March 1 until Aug. 27, can give FinCen information that may be made available to law enforcement officials and help them identify people involved in money-laundering, the agency said. FinCen is focusing on title insurance companies because they are a common thread in real estate deals.
"We are seeking to understand the risk that corrupt foreign officials, or transnational criminals, may be using premium U.S. real estate to secretly invest millions in dirty money," FinCen Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery said in a statement. Both New York and Miami are popular with wealthy foreign buyers.
While the U.S. mortgage market has become more transparent and "less hospitable" to fraud and money laundering, "cash purchases present a more complex gap that we seek to address," Calvery said.
The FinCen measures were reported earlier Wednesday by the New York Times.