Courting the Chinese real estate buyer

HONG KONG – June 25, 2012 – The U.S. real estate community is going to lengths to woo homebuyers from China and Hong Kong, who reportedly spent $9 billion in sales during the 12 months ended in March. And many experts say that number is conservative because it doesn’t factor in private transactions.

“Because it’s becoming more restrictive to invest at home, and because Europe is so unstable, the U.S. property market is becoming incredibly attractive to the Chinese,” says Patrick O’Neill, whose Hong Kong firm helps Asian investors purchase homes in the States. “America offers low interest rates, discounted prices and a safe harbor for their money.”

If those incentives aren’t enough, developers of new residential projects – which are preferred by the Chinese over existing construction – are practicing good Feng Shui, such as facing windows southward, installing wok kitchens, adding guest units for grandparents, and putting lucky numbers (eight is considered luckiest) on the best units.

Real estate agencies, meanwhile, are hiring Mandarin speakers and flying representatives to China. Some builders and agents also are promoting property sales along with government initiatives, such as the EB-5 program, created to stimulate foreign investment.

Real estate practitioners say the trends are prevalent in cities that have always been favored by the Chinese – including New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles – but are spreading to markets, such as South Florida, that the Chinese previously avoided.

“There was a false perception in China that Miami is not a super-safe city because a lot of Chinese watch ‘CSI: Miami’ or ‘Miami Vice’ on TV,” says Steven Lawson of Windham China, which helps Chinese buyers find property in the United States.

Other emerging markets for Chinese buyers include Las Vegas and Seattle.

Source: Wall Street Journal (06/22/12) P. D1; Schuker, Lauren A.

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