Chinese House Hunters Tour U.S. in Search of Sweet Deal

Calum MacLeod, USA Today, February 10, 2009

A special Chinese tour group is heading to the United States later this month to go bargain hunting for houses at foreclosure prices.

More than 40 affluent house hunters from across China will begin a trip to Boston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles on Feb. 24 in search of cheap homes to buy. Their goal: to find investment property and housing their children could use when they go to the USA to study or work. Their budget: $300,000 to $800,000 apiece.

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This is the first overseas buying trip for the real estate firm, whose name in Chinese means “search house” and which has organized house-hunting trips inside China. It may not be the last.

“We won’t force our clients to buy,” Zhao [Zhao Xinyu, a manager at Soufun.com, China’s leading real estate website and the trip’s organizer] says of this first group of bargain hunters, who are paying $3,600 each for the trip. “But if it’s successful, we’ll organize several more trips this year.”

Hunting for businesses, employees, too

Cash-rich China, whose purchases of U.S. Treasury notes help prop up the federal government, is looking to recession-stricken America for more than just houses at the right price.

Chinese companies are on the ground looking for U.S. firms on the skids, says David Putnam, head of Asia for Houlihan Lokey, a Los Angeles-based investment bank that specializes in financial restructuring. They’re looking for people, too.

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In the last two months, headhunters have been scouring America’s decimated financial sector mostly for ethnic Chinese executives. Twenty banks from the Chinese financial capital of Shanghai toured in December in search of talent, the China Daily newspaper reported. Last month, the Chinese government dispatched recruiters to New York and Chicago for 1,700 people to help build the country’s nascent financial services industry.

But houses are assets that individual Chinese with money can try to cash in on.

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There appear to be plenty of others like [Shen Yue, a Chinese film producer]. Soufun.com’s trip to the USA originally was planned for January, but it was delayed because the number of applicants outnumbered the spots on the tour tenfold. {snip}

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