Chinese move into luxury Manhattan property

By Gianna Palmer
Business reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
A room with a view of New York appeals to Chinese buyers

Owning a home on US soil is no longer only an American dream. Increasingly, buyers from China are snapping up luxury property in America, particularly in high-priced markets like New York.

Cynthia Liu, 26, is among the Chinese buyers who have decided to invest in upmarket residential real estate here.

Ms Liu grew up in Beijing but now works in Manhattan, where she recently bought a spacious one-bedroom flat in a high-rise with a view of the city's famous skyline. She is still unpacking boxes, but says she is very happy with her new home.

Image caption,
Cynthia Liu's family view her New York apartment as a better investment than Chinese property

"The amenities are amazing," she says. The modern building boasts a tennis court and swimming pool among its many perks.

Ms Liu's family sold property in China to pay for her new flat, believing that the Chinese real estate market is cooling and American property is a better asset.

"I feel like it's safer to move the money from China to New York and invest in some more stable real estate properties," Ms Liu says.

She recognizes that she's part of a bigger trend.

"I have more and more friends trying to buy apartments," she says, counting off several Chinese friends who've also recently bought flats in Manhattan.

Mind blowing

The real estate sector in New York is scrambling to court buyers like Ms Liu and her peers.

Image caption,
Estate agent Nikki Field is learning Mandarin to help her to sell to Chinese buyers

"We are becoming very, very focused on our Asian neighbour," says Nikki Field, a senior estate agent at Sotheby's International Realty.

Ms Field specialises in selling luxury flats to the Chinese. Since 2008, she has taken regular trips to mainland China to meet potential buyers and has also enrolled in Mandarin lessons and university courses on Chinese business and culture.

The number of her Chinese clients keeps increasing, Ms Field says, and has shown no signs of slowing down so far this year.

The National Association of Realtors reports that the Chinese invested $22bn (£13bn) in American residential real estate in the year ending in March, a nearly 72% increase from the year before.

According to Ms Field a quarter of all buyers in Manhattan came from Asia in the first half of this year.

"This is a mind blowing number," she says.

Safety deposit box

The Carlton House is a soon-to-be-completed luxury apartment building minutes from New York's Central Park.

Potential buyers can see what the complex will have to offer by touring the showroom, a mock-up of the flats for sale in the building.

Jane Klaris, a senior sales executive at the building, points out the various features designed to appeal to the wealthiest house hunters: marble inlaid floors, high gloss appliances and a 24-hour concierge and doorman service.

Image source, dbox
Image caption,
Artists rendering of the penthouse terrace in the Carlton House complex which is near completion

Properties like these come with a high price tag: the 9,000 square foot, two-storey penthouse apartment recently sold for $65m.

It's just the sort of property that often appeals to wealthy Asian buyers.

But these purchases aren't just for the pleasure of a well-appointed place to stay.

Image source, dbox
Image caption,
Artists rendering of the penthouse interior for the Carlton House complex

Chinese buyers view American property as a way of diversifying and preserving their assets at a time when many are leaving their own country.

According to the Shanghai research firm Hurun Report, 64% of Chinese individuals with a net worth of more than £1m are either emigrating or planning to do so.

"I like to describe the phenomenon as: we're building the world's most expensive bank safety deposit boxes," says Jonathan Miller, chief executive of Miller Samuel Inc, which values property in New York City. He says properties worth up to $50m have been sold to Chinese clients in the past.

With at least a dozen new residential skyscrapers planned or currently under construction around New York City, for the time being there should be plenty of boxes available for the growing number of buyers to invest their money in.