New York from a distance
By Roxanne James

Chinese Investors in Frenzy over US Real Estate

Rich Chinese investors are the biggest buyers of high-end USA real estate in New York and nationally, they have replaced Canada as the leading foreign buyer of American homes.

Heavy industrial output over the last decade has swelled the number of China's ultra-wealthy class and as the domestic property market approaches collapse, many have been pouring money into prime property in overseas markets.

Beijing has restrictions preventing individuals from owning more than two properties, even as an investment and so growing numbers are going abroad as cash buyers.

In 2013, China accounted for just under 20% of the $68.2bn in foreign real estate transactions, according to the National Association of Realtors. In 2014, Chinese market share has increased to 24% in the first half of the year with further significant investment expected into 2015. Chinese billionaires now dominate the New York market - one of the richest areas in the world - particularly for properties worth in excess of $20m.

Because Chinese investors are principally drawn to the prime market, they spend a much higher average on their property investments than other foreign investors. A Chinese buyer pays an average of $523,000 for a property compared with the UK at $350,000, India $342,000, Canada $212,000 and Mexico $141,000.

Chinese investors are attracted by prestige. When the newly renovated Bank Building on 300 West 14th Street in New York City was converted into apartments, the Chinese were at the head of the queue for a one bedroom $7m home.

"It used to be that they would just appear out of the woodwork but now everyone in the real estate market is going to the Chinese and marketing their product directly to them in China. Some of these guys are buying property sight unseen," said Martin Purcell of Rutenberg Realty.

A classic example is a case of a Chinese buyer purchasing two properties inside New York's upmarket Baccarat Hotel & Residences for around $13m each. The deal was closed on a free texting service owned by China's Tencent Holdings, WeChat. The client had not even crossed the threshold of either property prior to closing the deal and the property remains empty.

Around 30% of apartments in Central Park are owned by foreigners – mostly Chinese - and remain vacant.

However, New York City is not the only target for Chinese investors. California is fast-becoming the most popular investment destination for mega-wealthy Chinese.

"I see no stopping to China's investment in the general US real estate market. It's becoming more widespread now. You're even seeing them start to invest in Miami, a city that does not really resonate historically with the Chinese. Their property market has come to a head. Rather than invest in equities, wealthy Chinese invest in real estate," said Horacio LeDon of Douglas Elliman realtors.

As yet, there is no evidence to suggest that Chinese buyers are increasing the prices of property in the US despite encouraging signs nationally.

House prices in 10 US cities increased by 9.4% in the year ending in May, while the 20-city price index increased by 9.3%. Although home prices are definitely starting to shift upwards, the growth rate is down from a 10.8% yearly pace in April, lower than the 9.9% market consensus.

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