Chinese overtake Russians as top foreign buyers of Manhattan homes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 April, 2014, 1:22am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 April, 2014, 1:22am

For the first time, the Chinese have become the biggest foreign buyers of apartments in Manhattan, brokers estimate, taking the mantle from the Russians, whose activity has dropped off since the unrest in Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions against Russia by the United States.

Wealthy Chinese are pouring money into real estate in New York and some other major cities around the world as they seek safe havens for their cash and establish a base for their children to get an education in the West.

Five of the top brokerages all ranked the Chinese first in both volume and value of sales among foreign buyers in New York City. Opinions differed on how the Russians, Europeans and South Americans stacked up next.

There are no official figures collected on the national and ethnic backgrounds of homebuyers because of US fair housing laws, designed to protect against discrimination.

The Chinese interest is mainly a valuation play, experts say. After the US housing bust in 2007-10, home prices in major cities fell to levels that made them attractive. While prices have been recovering, they are still low by comparison with many other parts of the world.

Many mainland Chinese are switching their interest away from markets like Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore amid fears that prices have soared to frothy levels in those cities. Hong Kong has the second-most expensive housing market in the world, behind Monaco, with Manhattan trailing in sixth place, according to British real estate research firm Knight Frank.

The brokers say many Chinese buyers are also investing abroad so they can own property near major educational institutions. Some are buying homes near top colleges - even though their children are so little they cannot walk yet.

"By far and away, the Chinese are the fastest-growing demographic," said Dean Jones, a US-based broker with Sotheby's International. "They are the top consumer for real estate, and New York is front and centre."