The Real Deal New York

New property portal helps Chinese buyers find New York homes

December 21, 2011 11:12AM
By Katherine Clarke

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From left: The Juwai.com website and Chinese buyers on a tour of the Trump Soho building led by Windham China and New York’s Prodigy Network

A new international property search platform targeted at Mandarin-speaking Chinese home hunters may bring even more Chinese buyers to New York.

Juwai.com, a database of over one million property listings from 80,000 brokers and developers in the U.S., Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, including select multiple listing services in America, launched last week and helps international agents market their non-Asian properties to Asian buyers.

Real estate agents who want to advertise to Chinese buyers can key in the listing information, which will then be translated into Mandarin, a language understood by most Chinese citizens; the site also takes care of metric and currency conversions. Agents can upload individual property listings or import listings in bulk at no cost.

“Chinese consumers have three criteria: abundant listings, unbiased information and trustworthiness,” said Juwai founder Andrew Taylor, who works out of Hong Kong with business partner Simon Henry. “It’s not enough any longer to just list the property in English. Chinese will be the dominant language on the Internet by 2015, [a fact confirmed by data from the Heritage Foundation,] and [the] Chinese are among the fastest growing group of property buyers around the world.”

Taylor and Henry had both been living in China when the idea came to them a few years ago, a spokesperson for the company said.

“It just made sense,” the spokesperson said. “The Chinese are buying property all the time but the barriers to communication are pretty big. There needs to be a middle man there.”

Chinese buyers have been steadily buying up little pieces of Manhattan in the form of luxury condominiums, particularly in shiny new buildings such as the Time Warner Center, the Laureate and 15 Union Square West, as has been previously reported.

New York brokers have already made moves to capitalize on interest from Chinese buyers, seeking to present listings to them in their native languages.

In June, Bond New York launched a Chinese language section on its website in an effort to attract Asian investors and buyers, and embarked on a Web marketing campaign to brand the brokerage and the wider New York market to Chinese-speaking buyers overseas.

Some Chinese buyers “pretend they speak English but they don’t,” said Michael Chen, Bond’s director of Asian market development, who came up with the idea for Bond’s Chinese section. “Some American advertisers [of real estate listings] probably use a translator in China but a lot of times, that doesn’t translate effectively.”

Other brokerage companies, like Michigan-based Windham China, have a bricks and mortar presence in Asia; the company set up shop in Shanghai about five years ago, said CEO Steven Lawson, and has begun leading tours for prospective Chinese investors in the U.S. The company’s next tour, in January, will feature stops in New York as well as other U.S. cities.

“New York is always on the agenda,” he said, “and it always impresses. For investment purposes, the Chinese recognize that New York is very special.”

The company’s success, he said, has been in making U.S. listings seem accessible to Chinese buyers, particularly in their own language. By providing a firsthand opportunity to look at various properties and cities the company’s clients are more confident to consider investment funds in the U.S.

“The fact that the entire team is bilingual is important,” he said of the company’s staff in China, which is mostly made up of Chinese nationals.

As for Juwai, Lawson said its website is “clean and well-designed,” but not “revolutionary.”

While the recent surge in the number of Chinese buyers showing no immediate signs of slowing right now, Chen said it’s only a matter of time before interest wanes.

“A lot of things are changing in China,” he said, “political structure change particularly. In the next two or three years that surge may be adjusted.”

With Chinese buyers expected to purchase at least $50 billion in overseas property in 2012, according to the Global Chinese Real Estate Congress, brokers may want to jump on the opportunity. Other statistics from various information sources referenced by Juwai.com, including the Chinese business journal Hurun Report, and Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management, show that more than 90 million Chinese citizens search for property online while only 1 percent speaks English. China’s wealthy also prefer to invest in equities and real estate over other opportunities; up to 75 percent of their international property transactions this year were paid in cash.

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