Xi Jinping

Singer tunes in to the sales beat

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2011, 12:00am

After more than three years of stagnation the United States housing market is picking up again, and agent Sherri Shang's working hours are growing longer as affluent Chinese buyers resume home hunting in Manhattan.

With a growing number of wealthy Chinese back in the market for investment properties and second homes abroad, Shang has resumed working up to 12 hours a day all week without complaint.

Her Chinese customer base means that Shang, the managing director of world sales for the Asian division of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate - the largest real estate agency in New York - must straddle two time zones: New York and China.

'When most people are in bed here, it is morning in China... I have to answer inquiries and do follow-up calls to my clients in different mainland cities and in Hong Kong,' said Shang.

Adding to the workload was the fact that the market was now totally different to what it was like two to three years ago, when the housing bubble burst in the US and sales ground almost to a halt, she said.

Early this year, sales and prices in Manhattan started to pick up despite other cities such as Las Vegas and Miami not yet hitting the bottom.

'Money from China, Russia, the Middle East and South America is returning to New York City's medium- to high-end residential market,' said Shang, who is a classically trained opera singer and a graduate of the Chinese Conservatory of Music in Beijing.

The classmate of Peng Liyuan, the wife of Vice-President Xi Jinping, she has a long list of rich and famous clients from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan. 'Chinese investors are as smart as any other foreign buyers. They will shop around, study the market and wait for the right moment to buy. One of my clients monitored the area close to Central Park for two years before finally purchasing a condo after seeing prices had started to increase,' she said.

Chinese buyers mostly look for new projects in popular neighbourhoods close to Central Park - which are the most expensive areas. But taking advantage of the weakening US dollar coupled with low interest rates, international capital was now flowing back into new projects in such prime locations.

One notable example is The Sheffield project, about a five-minute walk to Central Park and highly sought after by Chinese buyers. Shang says she has sold 10 condominiums to buyers from Hong Kong and the mainland in the 58-storey project. At present, the remaining units are selling for between US$780,000 and US$3 million each.

'All except one were cash buyers,' she said.

As Shang is the only agent in the organisation that speaks both Putonghua and English, she enjoys an advantage over her colleagues, who are also her competitors.

Language skills aside, her strong networking with rich Chinese helped her sell more than US$10 million worth of property last year, largely to investors from the mainland and Hong Kong.

That has her singing to a different tune from the one she imagined when she arrived in New York in 1999 to further her musical studies at Brooklyn College and Fordham College as an opera singer from Beijing. But she turned to property broking after she found it difficult to get an audition in the Western-dominated music community, she said.

'Through my training as an opera singer, I also speak Italian, French, and a little German. Since New York City is an international finance centre, my language skills helped me entertain buyers from all over Europe, and my strong arts and cultural background allows me to entertain buyers who mostly love music and the arts,' she said.

That means her client base extends into the local community, and she has just closed a leasing transaction for one of the most prestigious homes for US$35,000 a month.

The 2,632 sq ft luxury apartment is on the 63rd floor at the 80-storey Time Warner Centre, with a full view of Central Park.