Foreign investors face tough regulations

Adam Main

While developers and realtors sing the praises of investing in property in second-tier mainland markets, the pitfalls are a raft of regulations that have been implemented in recent times pertaining to foreigners investing in the market.

Kevin Harding, managing partner of Elite 8 Consulting, a relocation and homes search company in Shanghai, says a rule implemented last year, stating that foreigners (including Hong Kong residents) are no longer allowed to buy more than one mainland property, has put a lot of potential investors off the market.

In addition, the rule states that foreigners must have lived on the mainland for at least one year to purchase property, and the property is only for personal use.

'For individual investors, it [the second-tier cities] is too dangerous a market to go into as they don't know what they are buying and who they are dealing with,' says the former Hong Kong resident.

'If they are dealing with a big name, such as CapitaLand, that would give them more confidence. But unless they have business interests [in a secondary city] or family contacts that they can rely on, it can be difficult.'

With the tax laws changing so frequently, Mr Harding points out that it is difficult for owners to keep track of what tax they have to pay, when they have to pay it, when they can sell or when it is not a good time to sell.

Despite the obstacles, he remains upbeat about the market's potential.

'Many people here feel that the value of property is overrated; in global terms it is not.

'If you are in a major city such as Beijing or Shanghai, the long-term outlook has to be good without knowing what new tax measures the government is going to bring in. At the end of the day, that is the crux of the whole matter; what is the government going to do with regard to tax?'