BEIJING - Chinese property buyers are intensifying their search for properties across the globe, despite curbs imposed by the government on movement of money outside China.
Several European countries have offered Chinese property buyers attractive purchase linked visa programs. They are chasing an estimated market of $25 billion and competing with the real estate business in the United States and Australia, which have been the main destinations for Chinese investments in past years.
China, meanwhile, has intensified its efforts to stop the leakage of funds outside the country. The People's Bank of China has recently restricted ATM withdrawals from Chinese bank branches in Western countries because Chinese tourists are known to leave behind unused funds in foreign cities as safety nets.
But the high rate of property buying in 2015 shows wealthy Chinese have been transferring a lot more than the usual limit of $50,000 allowed by the rules.
Savills Research China said it estimated a 30 percent growth in the Chinese overseas property buying in 2015. JLL, a property consultant that researches office and commercial space, estimated a 46 percent growth in this category of overseas buying by Chinese last year, according to its director of Global Capital Markets, David Green-Morgan.
And the Chinese are exploring new areas to buy property.
"Interest in Dubai’s real estate from China is already on the up, with interest said to have surged 1,200 percent year-on-year in August 2015," Yousuf Kazim, CEO of Dubai based Jumeirah Golf Estates said.
"We see huge potential to market in China where there is a growing affluent and wealthy population seeking to ‘internationalize’ a share of their assets to benefit from Dubai’s comparatively low cost per square and competitive rental yields".
An important reason why Chinese buy property in foreign countries is their desire to migrate now or in the future.
Some want to move their children to provide them Western education and to try to ensure they get residency status in those countries in the future.
"Chinese migration are at a all-time high. So, they are a majority of our clients. As well as people that are looking for their kids from an education point of view. So they are the two main types of clients we are dealing with," said Christian Numa, director of Melbourne based Amity Property Group.
This has prompted several European countries like Portugal, Spain, Greece and Cyprus to offer long term residency permits to investors who buy a house or a commercial property.
Spain and Portugal are offering five-year residency permits. Greece and Cyprus are even more generous in offering residency for three generations. The buyer cannot work in these countries, but they are encouraged to invest in a business or rent out their properties.
Countries within the European Union emphasize the added advantage of easy travel across the bloc without an additional visa.
Bobby O'Reilly, managing director Ur Home Portugal, said a major segment of foreign investors who have taken advantage of Portugal’s visa program are Chinese.
Explaining Portugal's visa program, he said, "The minimum investment requirement is 280,000 Euros for Golden visa and entry into Portugal. You can buy and refurbish a property that is more than 30 years old".
A three-day Luxury Property Show that ended Sunday in Beijing saw 120 exhibitors from different countries trying to lure buyers, as well as intermediary companies like property agents, lawyers, and visa companies representing clients that do not want to draw the attention of different government agencies, including anti-corruption authorities.
Most exhibitors said they would do nothing to encourage money laundering, because they do not want to be investigated by authorities in their own countries. At the same time, they are worried about how to arrange for the movement of money without violating laws.
"Ah, the customers, many of them, very private, you know, with their money, so they want to get the money out, so very hush-hush about it, too. They want our help, yeah," said Omied Bagheri, agent with California based Alain Pinel Realtors.
The United States continues to be the main attraction for Chinese property buyers. But some of the most attractive locations are becoming more difficult because there is very little new construction taking place.
"A good part of the property is already held by the Chinese, who do not sell. They like to hold property long term. That is why there is few properties available for sale in the market these days," explained Fred Lam, president of Dragon1 USA, a California based realtor.