Last year, Chinese spent $22 billion on US properties with the favorite destinations being Los Angeles, Irvine, San Francisco, New York, and Las Vegas. Chinese buyers have now turned their attention to Seattle and its ritzy suburbs.
In recent years, wealthy Chinese have become the biggest foreign buyers of real estate in the Seattle area, and in some areas, they account for nearly one third of $1 million-and-up home purchases, according to The New York Times.
The competition to woo Chinese buyers in the Seattle area is heating up. Many agents are hiring Mandarin speakers, and some are even opening up offices in Beijing. Similarly, many builders are constructing new houses with Chinese buyers in mind, including bringing in feng shui consultants. It’s not uncommon for bad feng shui to scuttle a deal or require last-minute changes.
May Wan, an agent in Bellevue who works with Chinese buyers for Berkshire Hathaway Home Services recounted one such feng shui incident: “We had a case where a tree was blocking the chi, or energy flow, of the home, so it had to be taken out. They planted another one nearby.”
The focus of the real estate buying frenzy so far has been on a few of the most upscale suburbs of Seattle, including West Bellevue and Medina, which is home to Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. In the eastern suburbs of Seattle, brokers say that Chinese buyers purchased 20 to 40 percent of the $1 million and up homes in the area. The median purchase price of Chinese-bought homes is $523,148, which is nearly twice the national average. Three quarters of the purchases are in cash.
The influx of Chinese money has been significant enough to drive up the home prices in some of these areas. The median home price in Bellevue has reached $1.37 million, an increase of 82 percent since 2011. A home listed for $1.1 million in West Bellevue recently attracted 24 bidders, nearly all of them Chinese, and sold for $1.4 million. A $2.5 million lakefront house sold only a few days after hitting the market and received three bids.
The tide of Chinese money pouring into the Seattle area isn’t expected to ebb any time soon, as a Hurun Report survey recently found that 64 percent of China’s millionaires have emigrated or plan to emigrate in the coming years. Their favorite destinations for emigration are the United States, Canada, and Australia. Those surveyed listed better education, air quality, and food safety as their main reasons for emigration. Recent political and social instability in China has also caused wealthy Chinese to secure their wealth outside of China. According to Boston Consulting Group, Chinese held $659 billion offshore in 2013 with that number expected to top $1.9 trillion in 2018.
Sotheby’s recently released a study with insights on the affluent Chinese home buyer, and it’s no surprise wealthy Chinese are choosing Seattle. With its excellent schools, clean air, and large Chinese population, Seattle is an ideal city for Chinese property buyers. The 2013 film Beijing Meets Seattle, Finding Mr. Right, in English, really put Seattle on the map. It became one of China’s top-grossing movies of all time and painted Seattle as a “romantic escape from the intense materialism of China.”
Todd Lozier, the president of high-end real estate agency Lochwood-Lozier, said Chinese prefer large, modern houses with two kitchens – a small, vented kitchen and a larger showroom-kitchen – along with a grand entryway and extra rooms for visiting family. “They like curb appeal,” Lozier said.
image credit: chethan shankar