Chinese shop for property abroad as domestic market cools

With mainland property sales slowing, wealthy Chinese are becoming increasingly active as buyers of luxury homes in London and the US

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2014, 3:00pm

Chinese investors have shown keener interest in buying overseas properties as their home market suffers from a slowdown caused by high inventories and tight financing.

And wealthy Chinese have emerged as key buyers of ultra-luxury properties offshore, not just ordinary homes, property consultants said.

According to international property consultancy Knight Frank, Chinese accounted for 10.2 per cent of the buyers of newly built residential homes in central London in the year to July 31, double the 5.1 per cent in the earlier year.

Average spending rose to £1.07 million (HK$13.8 million) from £839,000.

"Five years ago, they were not really in the market. Three years ago, they were at the tip of the market. But now they are in the marketplace," said Liam Bailey, global head of residential research at Knight Frank.

And there is a new phenomenon: ultra-high-net-worth Chinese buyers chasing luxury homes.

Citing transactions handled by Knight Frank as an example, Tim Hyatt, the firm's head of lettings, said it sold seven properties for over £20 million each in the last two months. Wealthy Chinese buyers bought two super-luxury homes in June.

"There is an emergence of ultra-high-net-worth Chinese buyers in the market," he said.

Hyatt said prime central London property prices have risen at an annual rate of around 7 per cent, and prime outer London also saw rising prices.

While the pace of growth may slow, transactions remain healthy, Hyatt said, suggesting investors take a longer-term view when buying in London.

The trend of Chinese buying offshore is expected to accelerate as deflation in the mainland's property market continues to accelerate. According to China's National Bureau of Statistics, 64 of 70 cities recorded a month- on-month drop in July, with an average decline of 0.93 per cent, the most significant decrease ever.

Given the structural imbalance between supply and demand, the slowdown in the mainland property market will continue, analysts said.

London is not the only market Chinese or ultra-high-net-worth Chinese are targeting; US markets such as California are also popular.

"Chinese buyers are among the top international buyers in our area right now. I have shown my high-end listings to countless Chinese buyers, almost all of whom are looking for second homes," said Sally Forster Jones, the president of Beverly Hills-based Aaroe International Luxury Properties.

Chinese investors have topped the list of foreigners buying property in the United States, accounting for almost a quarter - US$22 billion - of the US$92.2 billion spent by foreign buyers in the US real estate market, a survey by the National Association of Realtors released in July showed.

Irvine, California, and Los Angeles' San Gabriel Valley were some of the most attractive housing markets owing to their Chinese immigrant communities.

"Most are looking for properties in prime areas, and some are looking close to schools their children may be attending," Forster Jones said.

"Most buyers are looking for new properties - new constructions or high-end remodels - properties that require very little to no work."

Chinese buyers are also looking for development opportunities. They are looking to invest in prime areas where they see potential for appreciation and return on their investments.

"I have closed several recent deals with Chinese buyers ranging from US$800,000 to about US$20 million," Forster Jones said.

Instead of waiting for the wealthy Chinese to come, some agents have decided to knock on their doors. The Miami Association of Realtors, the largest local real estate association in US, will visit Beijing and Shanghai next month to introduce the city and its properties to mainlanders.

Participating agents and developers will represent the majority of projects planned in Miami, said Teresa King Kinney, chief executive of the group.

"While China did not figure in the top list of countries investing in Miami in 2013, it is in eighth place for the first half of 2014, according to the Miami Association of Realtors multiple listing service," Kinney said.

Sometimes mainland Chinese have other concerns, besides the market outlook.

"I had a very interested Chinese buyer," Forster Jones said. "One of their main concerns was the street number, which was considered an unlucky number. We had to work with the city to see if it was possible to change the street address before they would consider the property further."