Chinese Cash Floods U.S. Real Estate Market

Dionne Searcey and Keith Bradsher, New York Times, November 28, 2015

Canyon Lake Ranch was once a playground for Christian day campers, and then was a corporate retreat with water-skiing, barbecues and cowboy shoot-’em-up shows. Hawks now circle above 108 sunbaked acres occupied by copperhead snakes, a few coyotes and the occasional construction truck.

Soon this ranch will be a gated subdivision of 99 mini-mansions designed for buyers from mainland China. The developer, Zhang Long, a Beijing businessman, is keeping three plots to build his own estate along the site of an old rodeo arena.

This luxury development 35 miles northwest of Dallas is the latest frontier in a global buying phenomenon as Chinese money becomes a major force in real estate around the world. The flood of money is likely to persist despite the current tumult in China. While a currency devaluation and stock market crash have crimped the country’s buying power overseas, the resulting uncertainty is making many Chinese individuals and companies eager to invest anywhere except their home country.

In London, Chinese investors are purchasing high-end apartments in wealthy neighborhoods and big skyscrapers in the financial district. In Canada, they are paying $1 million for modest Vancouver bungalows. In Australia, a Chinese sovereign wealth fund bought nine office towers, one of the biggest real estate transactions in that nation’s history.

In the United States, the home-buying spree began on the coasts, where Chinese buyers snapped up luxury condos in Manhattan and McMansions in Silicon Valley, pushing up home values in big cities. It is now spreading to the middle of the country, where prices are more modest and have room to run.

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This year, Chinese families represented for the first time the largest group of overseas home buyers in the United States. Big spenders on new homes are helping prop up local economies in the Midwest. But in dense areas like San Francisco and Manhattan, they are also affecting the affordability and availability of housing, as demand outpaces supply and bidding wars ensue.

While Chinese purchases make up a small sliver of overall sales in the United States, they have had a disproportionate impact on the market for more expensive properties, buying one in 14 homes sold for more than $1 million. On average, buyers from China, including the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong, pay $831,800 for a home, more than three times as much as Americans spend, according to a National Association of Realtors survey.

Some Chinese are buying homes purely as investments, capitalizing on surging rents in many parts of the United States. Others are trying to move their money beyond the reach of the Chinese government.

Many buyers have their children’s education in mind, picking up homes in good school districts or close to universities. At the upper echelon, the wealthy are hoping for green cards, joining with developers to take advantage of a federal program that fast-tracks them for residency.

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