After pandemic decline, agents see Chinese buyers returning to LA

Anecdotal evidence points to upticks in Chinese scouting homes

Ariana Gaffoglio, Christian Stillmark, Marcy Roth and Tiffany Hu
Ariana Gaffoglio, Christian Stillmark, Marcy Roth and Tiffany Hu (Official, Christian Stillmark, Marcy Roth, Tiffany Hu, Getty)

Real estate agents in Los Angeles and Orange counties have reported an uptick in investment and buying from Chinese clients.

“In recent weeks, both out-of-town buyers and foreign investors have come for the first time since COVID. They’re looking from the higher price points to the lower price points for investment properties,” said Marcy Roth, affiliated with Eklund Gomes at Douglas Elliman. She focuses on listings in Los Angeles’ Platinum Triangle and Calabasas.

Ariana Gaffoglio with Official noticed the same trend in the coastal Orange County markets. “In recent showings in Shady Canyon, 200 brokers came through, half were Chinese. I’ve been getting a lot of calls that were more foreign-based,” Gaffoglio said.

Ginger Glass of Compass said she has seen more buyers from China, as well as Russia, Ukraine and Canada. “Many are establishing vacation residences away from colder climates, and are focused on what L.A. has to offer,” Glass said. 

The most recent highpoint for Chinese investment in the U.S. market was in 2016; the total has declined since then, according to Rhodium Group, an independent research company which tracks Chinese politics and investment. 

Information on Chinese activity in the L.A. real estate market the last couple of months is anecdotal. Christian Stillmark, a Mandarin-speaking agent affiliated with Douglas Elliman, said a number of barriers have blocked Chinese buyers in Southern California. 

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to move money out of China. The political climate between China and the United States has become more volatile,” said Stillmark, who has a focus on the San Gabriel Valley. 

However, he has seen an increased interest from overseas recently, and there has long been an avid Chinese interest in California residential real estate, because Southern California is considered to be more stable than China.

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Some top agents anticipate more foreign investment and are putting resources behind it.

Josh Altman of The Altman Brothers at Douglas Elliman increased advertising and marketing spend to Asian media by an estimated 5 to 10 percent this year. He said buyers were not the only audience for advertising in magazines, TV and listing shows.

“It’s just as important to get in front of the agents as the buyers,” he said of the Chinese market.

The Los Angeles area Chinese market is changing, said Tiffany Hu, based in Douglas Elliman’s Beverly Hills office. Before the pandemic, Hu, a Mandarin speaker who grew up in China, worked with Chinese nationals seeking investment properties. But that market has declined since the pandemic. 

In the past couple of years, she has worked more frequently with the Southland’s Chinese immigrant community. Many of them are seeking houses and condos in the $1.5 million to $10 million range. Living near a prestigious school, such as Harvard- Westlake in the San Fernando Valley, is important to her clients. Globally famous luxury enclaves also are coveted.

“It’s my dream to own property in Beverly Hills,” Hu recalls many of her clients telling her. “ I tell them that there are other great areas in Los Angeles.” 

Kurt  Rappaport of Westside Estate Agency estimates that 75 percent of high-end buyers continue to be locals or domestically based. 

“The Chinese buyer has not been a main source of the pool of ultra high-end buyers,” he said. “I still expect to see wealthy people from all over the world buying in Los Angeles because of its diversity and its weather.”

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