In the U.S., the Chinese are now the second-largest foreign buyers of homes, behind Canadians, accounting for $7.4 billion of sales in the 12 months ended March 2011, up 24% from the previous 12 months, according to the National Association of Realtors. Buyers from China and Hong Kong also spent $1.71 billion on commercial property in the U.S. in 2011, more than quadruple their investment in 2008, says Real Capital Analytics.
Those numbers likely understate Chinese investment, as investors may buy property under business entities they've set up in the U.S., says Patrick O'Neill, founder of ONeill Group, a Hong Kong-based company that helps Chinese buyers find U.S. property.
One of her recent mainland Chinese buyers paid $5 million for a 5,000-square-foot home in Pasadena that the family expects to occupy for one month a year, she says. "They treat it like a hotel without room service," says Chang, who estimates that a quarter of shoppers in the $3 million-plus market in her area are from mainland China.
Mainland Chinese also account for a third of the buyers at luxury home builder Toll Bros.' new home development, The Heritage in Vista Del Verde in Yorba Linda, Calif., southeast of downtown Los Angeles. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Realtor Stanley Lo of Green Banker real estate says mainland Chinese — a third of his clientele — are looking for homes priced at $800,000 and up. Most of his clients are Chinese business executives, who can afford second homes. They follow friends, relatives or work colleagues to the suburbs between San Francisco and the Silicon Valley.
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In New York City, mainland Chinese are increasingly paying cash for $20 million "trophy apartments," says Pamela Liebman, CEO of The Corcoran Group, a residential real estate brokerage company. Based on current trends — and the increasing numbers of mainland Chinese buyers — Liebman expects they'll account for one in 10 uber-luxury buyers in the next year or two.