Beijing is now ground zero for the world’s largest cross-border residential property boom.
Motivated by a weakening yuan, surging domestic housing costs and the desire to secure offshore footholds, Chinese citizens are snapping up overseas homes at an accelerating pace. They are also venturing farther afield than ever before, spreading beyond the likes of Sydney and Vancouver to lower-priced markets including Houston, Thailand’s Pattaya Beach and Malaysia’s Johor Bahru.
The buying spree has defied Chinese government efforts to restrict capital outflows and shows little sign of slowing after an estimated $15 billion of overseas real estate purchases in the first half of 2016. For cities in the cross hairs, the challenge is to balance the economic benefits of Chinese demand against the risk that rising home prices spur a public backlash.
“The Chinese have managed to accumulate very large amounts of wealth, and the opportunities to deploy that capital in their own market are somewhat restricted,” said Richard Barkham, the London-based chief global economist at CBRE Group Inc., the world’s largest commercial property brokerage. “China has more than a billion people. Personally, I think we have just seen a trickle.”
Ping An Haofang, an online real estate platform owned by China’s second-largest insurer, says its $15 billion first-half estimate, derived from market data, nearly matches the figure for all of 2015.
Fang Holdings, the country’s most popular property website, predicts overseas buying will increase 130 percent this year, while transactions through September at Shenzhen World Union Properties Consultancy, China’s largest broker for new-home sales, already were 50 percent above last year’s level.
China overtook Canada as the largest source of residential purchases in the U.S. last year after an estimated $93 billion of buying from 2010 to 2015, according to a May report by the Asia Society and Rosen Consulting Group.
It is the world’s biggest-ever wave of overseas residential property investment, said Susan Wachter, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who specializes in real estate markets. While Japan had a similar boom in the 1980s, it was mainly focused on commercial buildings, Wachter said.
Today’s Chinese buyers have a long list of reasons to flock overseas. The yuan’s slump is eroding their purchasing power, while returns on local financial assets — including stocks, bonds and wealth-management products — are shrinking as the $11 trillion economy slows.
Chinese real estate, meanwhile, has grown increasingly out of reach after a speculative boom sent domestic home prices to all-time highs. Residential property values in Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai all jumped more than 30 percent in the year through September, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
“Properties in Shanghai are ridiculously expensive,” Chen Feng, 38, said at a property fair in Shanghai in September. “With the amount of money it takes to buy a small apartment here, I can buy a building of apartments in many places in the world.”
That line of reasoning is nothing new, of course. Sydney, Vancouver, Hong Kong, London and a handful of other cities have long been popular destinations for Chinese buyers.
The difference now is that those traditional hot spots are starting to lose their appeal, in part due to efforts to deter an influx of overseas money. In Hong Kong, the government enacted a 30 percent tax on foreign property owners this month.
The risk of similar measures in other cities can’t be ruled out as politicians including Donald Trump, the U.S. president-elect, tap into local discontent over rising living costs, according to CBRE Group’s Barkham.
Chinese buyers have responded by branching out to cheaper cities. In the U.S., they are increasingly searching for properties in Houston, Orlando and Seattle.
Countries in Southeast Asia have grown more popular. Juwai.com’s queries on Thailand are surging at a 72 percent annual rate, helping it surpass Britain as one of the top five most-targeted destinations worldwide.