You're reading


Monika Tu certainly knows how to make a grand entrance.

As the gates of the A$25m ($18.6m) mansion in Sydney swing open, a Rolls Royce sweeps into the driveway. It glides to a stop, its heavy doors open and Tu, a Chinese-born estate agent who makes a living selling Australian property to Chinese buyers, steps out.

The opulent Georgian Regency villa, its cream facade bathed in sunshine, is flanked by tall blocks of flats in the Potts Point district of Sydney, one of the most densely-populated parts of Australia.

“This is everybody’s dream house,” she said, while ascending a wooden staircase. “Chinese buyers love a piece of history, so they come to this country [and] beside beautiful harbours and beautiful views, they want to have something of significant value.”

Born in Guizhou in southwestern China, Tu arrived in Australia in 1988 to study for an international trade degree in Melbourne. After moving to Sydney in the early 1990s, she sold cosmetics and insurance before setting up an IT firm. Her luxury property business, Black Diamondz, was founded six years ago and today, about 60% of her clients are from mainland China.

Tu recently sold a waterfront mansion in Sydney to one Chinese investor for A$40m ($29.7m). To another, she sold a A$33m ($24.5m) house in the nearby suburb of Vaulcuse with views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and opera house.

It is estimated that last year, the Chinese snapped a quarter of all new stock in Sydney and a fifth in Melbourne.

Chinese capital investments in Australia are on the rise and are expected to be boosted further by recent changes to currency regulations that make it easier for wealthy Chinese to invest in property overseas. Credit Suisse forecasts the Chinese will pump as much as A$60bn ($44.55bn) into Australian property over the next five years.

What’s happening in Australia is part of a broader global trend, with many other countries experiencing a spike in demand for real estate from Chinese buyers, experts say.

A mansion worth A$25m ($18.6m) in Potts Point, Sydney is the kind wealthy Chinese buyers look for. (Credit: BlackDiamondz)

“I had a meeting recently with a developer from Singapore and he looked at me and said ‘you haven’t seen anything other than the tip of the iceberg yet’,” said John McGrath, one of Australia’s most recognisable estate agents and a judge on TV reality show The Block. To meet demand, McGrath has employed a China specialist to field queries from potential buyers, helping them navigate complex rules and any cultural and language differences.

The draw — and the rules

One significant attraction for Chinese property investors is Australia’s proximity.

“It is only about nine hour’s flight [to Australia], so it is only about two hours’ time difference,” she said. “The school system is really good, and I think the Australian people are very welcoming. That is what the Chinese love to come to this country for.” 

Australia has tough legislation that restricts foreigners to buying newly-constructed or planned homes. However, those who have temporary or permanent visas are free to buy whatever they like, and an entire industry has been built around helping rich clients, especially those from China, use trusts and other investment schemes to acquire expensive houses and apartments.

Since 2009, real-estate prices in Sydney, the nation’s most populous city, have leapt by 60% and are up around 15% in each of the past two years, fuelling fears that younger Australians will never get a foot on the property ladder.

WATCH: Take a look inside a Sydney mansion with Monika Tu. Plus, what's really driving Sydney real estate prices up? Click on the video below.

Rising tension

While the British and others have long seen Sydney as a safe place to buy property, the surge of investment from China has sparked concern from some groups in Australia.

A fringe nationalist organisation even recently burnt flags outside the Chinese consulate in Sydney, where a small group of protestors claimed the nation was in the grip of a ‘Chinese real estate invasion’.

But McGrath said foreign real-estate buyers are just a “scapegoat” for the rising prices. He points out that the vast majority of properties in Sydney are still sold to Australians, who aren’t being squeezed out of the market by overseas buyers.

Back in the 1980s, the Japanese fell in love with Australian real estate, and therein lies a lesson for those riding the latest wave of investment from Asia, according to Nigel Stapleton, a real-estate economics fellow at the University of New South Wales Business School. He has cautioned that foreigners often lack a true understanding of the Australian market and because of that sometimes overpay.

“Generally, the foreign investors don’t do as well as local investors,” he said.

But this is where Tu comes in, guiding rich Chinese clients through the property maze.

“Everyone wants to come to Australia,” she said. “For (the) Chinese, this is a most desirable destination.”

To comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Around the bbc