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Weekend Property

Chinese property investors raise stake in American real estate

California, Texas, Florida and Illinois are the biggest markets for Chinese buyers in the US.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 August, 2017, 10:05am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 August, 2017, 4:07pm

Mainland Chinese buyers’ fascination with American property continues unabated, with each family spending an average of US$529,943 per property, according to a report by Savills. The report was based on data from the US National Association of Realtors.

Based on sales reported by member agents, homebuyers from China acquired 40,572 residential units in the United States in the 12 months to March 31, up from 29,195 units in the previous 12 months. This equated to US$31.7 billion in sales, up 16.1 per cent year-on-year. Chinese buyers remain the biggest foreign investor group, accounting for 14 per cent of all sales to international buyers, and 26.6 per cent of the total spend.

According to the data, the four biggest markets they’ve bought in are California (37 per cent), Texas (11 per cent), Florida (8 per cent), and Illinois (7 per cent). New York accounted for only 4 per cent. The majority were acquiring properties for self use, in suburban locations, detached houses and “all paying cash”.

Chinese nationals , as a demographic, “are, generally speaking, underinvested globally,” Savills says, as they have only started investing in large numbers in the past decade.

“However, given their recent numbers and speed at which a decision can be made and a trend established or changed, they can sometimes be perceived as having a destabilising impact on local property markets,” the report says.

Savills says that Chinese individuals invest in overseas properties for any number of reasons, depending on their individual socioeconomic background. “But the justifications tend to be not too dissimilar to individuals from other countries,” says James Macdonald, head of Savills China Research.

For high-net-worth individuals, this may be diversifying investment holdings, buying a holiday home, or owning a second home in a country with which they have either business dealings or a child studying at school or university.

“For middle income households and white collar workers, the purchase of a property might be a stage in the immigration process looking to establish a new home in an overseas country which might offer better job prospects, a different lifestyle or provide access to a better environment, health care or education,” Macdonald says.

So is a proposal to curb legal immigration to the US by half and impose a merit-based system, giving preference to English-speaking immigrants who demonstrate job skills and curtailing the traditional pipeline that rewarded extended family ties, causing any concern?

Jay Xiao, Shanghai general manager at East West Property, concedes that it’s on their minds – especially for parents of student children in the US facing the prospect of being excluded.

“Currently, parents can choose where to live, in China or in the US with their child, after their child applies for a Green Card for them,” Xiao explains. “They may now have to stay in China.”

The most fundamental driving force for Chinese investing in the US is the fact that the US is considered to be the strongest country
Jay Xiao, Shanghai GM, East West Property

However, she adds that the ability to get a 10 year visa “may be sufficient for some parents to visit their student child on a regular basis”.

On the other hand, the proposed merit-based assessment for applicants may be an incentive for talented Chinese students to study, work and immigrate to the US. “Chinese students [similar to Indians] are mostly focused on maths, engineering and accounting – degrees that are easier to find a job for in the US,” Xiao says. “So a merit-based assessment could be favourable for them.”

Savills believes there is still significant demand among Chinese buyers wanting homes in America. “This is especially true given the recent rises in local real estate markets which have made overseas investment opportunities look more affordable.”

Recent analysis of the Savills Executive Unit residential costs indicate that while markets such as Shenzhen have grown by 923 per cent over the past 11 years, mature US markets such as New York have only increased by 75 per cent.

“Analysis also reveals that rental yields in China tend to be significantly lower than cities in the US: while Shanghai may have a yield of 1.5 per cent, New York might be closer to 4.4 per cent,” Macdonald says. “This not only makes it more appealing for an investor looking to secure a constant stream of income, but would also mean the value proposition of buying is much higher than renting especially if mortgage rates are low.”

Although expecting that the volume of purchases could abate slightly in 2017, Savills foresees sustained buyer demand over the coming years “as Chinese individuals and businesses continue to become an integral part of the global community”.

Xiao agrees. While many perceive that it’s all becoming too troublesome, “the most fundamental driving force for Chinese investing in the US is the fact that the US is considered to be the strongest country, economy and education in the world and this may not be changed within the next generation”.