Wealthy Chinese are pouring money into real estate in New York and
some other major cities around the world, including London and
Sydney, as they seek safe havens for their cash and also establish a
base for their children to get an education in the West.
Reuters asked five of the top real estate brokerages for their
ranking of foreign buyers in New York City. The Chinese ranked first
in both volume and value of sales in all their estimates. Opinions
differed on just how the Russians, Europeans and South Americans
stacked up next.
There are no official figures collected on the national and ethnic
backgrounds of home buyers because of U.S. fair housing laws,
designed to protect against discrimination.
The Chinese interest is mainly a valuation play, real estate experts
say. After the U.S. housing bust in 2007-2010, home prices in major
U.S. cities fell to levels that made them attractive. While U.S.
prices have been recovering, they are still appealingly low by
comparison with many other parts of the world.
Many Chinese buyers 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 that 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 can't walk yet. More than 80 percent of wealthy
Chinese want to send their children overseas to school, according to
the Hurun Report, a Shanghai-based publication.
"By far and away, the Chinese are the fastest growing demographic,"
said Dean Jones, a U.S.-based broker with Sotheby's International.
"They are the top consumer for real estate, and New York is front
Added Pamela Liebman, CEO of the Corcoran Group, one of the best
known New York real estate firms: "In sheer numbers, the Chinese
outspend the Russians in every segment of the market."
THE RUSSIANS: "THEY'RE GONE"
In Manhattan, it wasn't long ago that Russian oligarchs dominated
the gilded world of real estate, gobbling up status-heavy, marquee
properties, such as an $88 million, Robert A.M. Stern-designed
penthouse and a $75 million mansion with a ballroom and a rooftop
Now, many brokers say, Russian buyers have become scarce largely
because of fears that the struggle over Ukraine will worsen leading
to increasingly tough U.S. sanctions on politically-connected and
"They're gone, they're gone," said Sotheby's International broker
Nikki Field, "They've been gone since the Crimean outbreak."
The Chinese grew to 28.5 percent of Field's international business
in the first quarter of 2014, up from 19 percent last year. "We've
only scratched the surface with Chinese demand," Field said.
Chinese buyers typically used to pick up properties in the $1 to $5
million range in New York, often buying two and three at a time for
investment purposes, the brokers said.
But lately they have been moving up market, brokers say. The current
in-vogue building among the Chinese is Central Park's One57, a new
skyscraper designed by Pritzker Prize-winning French architect
Christian de Portzamparc, where they can spend $18.85 million for a
three-bedroom or $55 million for an apartment taking up the entire
81st floor. The building comes with all of the amenities of a
The Chinese are also venturing out to Long Island, where they are
buying Gatsby-esque mansions set atop rolling greens.
Broker Shawn Elliott ferries around groups of Chinese buyers in
Rolls Royce and Mercedes-Benz luxury sprinters every week, often
catering to entire families at a time.
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"They're looking for trophy properties," said Elliott. "They're
looking for their children to be comfortable, and to be near
Columbia or New York University."
Some Chinese aren't even bothering to come to the United States at
all, going so far as to pick up multimillion-dollar properties
One Chinese buyer recently purchased two properties,
worth $13 million, at the Baccarat Hotels & Residences in New York.
The entire deal was done via the Chinese social networking site
WeChat, according to the broker who did the deal, Douglas Elliman's
"I think the Chinese trend is onwards and upwards," said Liam
Bailey, a partner with Knight Frank. "There will be more Chinese
buyers, and they will take more share of the market."
New York isn't alone.
In Sydney, the Chinese became the top buyers of new luxury homes
last year, according to sales research conducted by Knight Frank.
Shanghai businessman Wang Jiguang has already picked up two houses
in another major Australian city, Melbourne, and one apartment in
Sydney. "My child is going to study abroad, and we are just
preparing some overseas assets for our child, which will be less
risky," Wang said in a telephone interview from Shanghai.
Mainland Chinese were the top foreign investors in Australian real
estate last year, according to Australia's Foreign Investment Review
Board. They bought $5.9 billion worth of property, accounting for
11.4 percent of total foreign investment in real estate, FIRB said.
The data includes both residential and commercial properties. But
the average value of the purchases for China is the lowest of all
the countries, which suggests a large number of the deals are for
Monika Tu, a broker at top-end real estate firm Black Diamondz
Property Concierge in Sydney, says that over the past year mainland
Chinese have become 80 percent of her company's business.
"There is nearly no local market for top-end properties," says Tu.
That fact has made the local headlines, with some accusing the
Chinese of "pricing out local buyers". In March, Australia's federal
parliament announced an inquiry into foreign investment in the
sector in a bid to find out whether local real estate deals are
being properly policed.
In Manhattan, some locals are also starting to grumble, brokers say,
about the new "China Price", a phenomenon that can see Chinese
buyers sweep in and outbid other buyers, often with all-cash offers.
In London, robust property laws and British universities are a big
draw for the Chinese. They became the city's number one foreign
buyer last year, according to Knight Frank, accounting for 6 percent
of all purchases over 1 million pounds ($1.68 million). The Russians
accounted for 5.2 percent.
"The Russian buyers are a maturing market," said Bailey. "And they
aren't growing anything like the Chinese buyers."
(Reporting by Michelle Conlin and Maggie Lu Yueyang;
Martin Howell and Alex Richardson)
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