SoFla real estate community courting Chinese investors

From Mandarin brochures to Chinese cuisine, the industry tries to lure a potentially sizable buyer pool

Apr.April 10, 2015 04:30 PM

Paramount Miami Worldcenter has brought in a Feng Shui consultant to design the project. The Estates at Aqualina has named its two towers with lucky numbers in Chinese culture. And Shanjie Li is opening a Cantonese restaurant in the Brickell area to cater to discerning tastebuds.

As signs that the spending power of Latin American investors is weakening, China is emerging as a promising market for South Florida investment, real estate experts say.

Developers and brokers are translating brochures into Chinese, traveling to Beijing and Shanghai to woo Chinese buyers, and taking note of increased interest in their listings from Chinese investors.

Li, head of American Da Tang Group, in particular, has focused his efforts on a campaign to lure wealthy Chinese investors, hoping they will discover South Florida and buy condos, shop, dine and visit spas — all of which he plans to develop himself.

In March, Li opened a Miami realty firm to focus on drawing more Chinese investors to the area. His goal, he told The Real Deal through a translator, is to make South Florida a haven for affluent Chinese, with all the accoutrements they desire, including authentic Chinese cuisine.

He plans to open Da Tang Unique, a high-end Chinese restaurant, in mid-May at 801 Brickell Bay Drive, in the Four Ambassadors building. With 4,500 square feet, the restaurant will be overseen by a chef from China, he said.

South Florida’s warm weather and booming real estate industry make it attractive for deep-pocketed Chinese looking for an alternative to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Li said.

“It’s a very welcoming city. The city is very suitable for wealthy people,” he told TRD, citing the economy and growth of new technology, among other factors.

Li envisions three separate developments to appeal to investors: condos in the Brickell area, for business people; a golf community in Doral for vacationers keen on the sport; and a wellness center near the ocean for retirees and the “overworked.”

An affiliate of the American Da Tang Group has bought a Brickell development site at 1430 South Miami Avenue for $74.8 million, where he plans to create a condo project.

Li is not the only one in South Florida focusing on Chinese investors. Other developers and real estate professionals are targeting the Asian country for potential buyers as news spreads of the increasing appetite Chinese nationals have for U.S. real estate investment.

In Florida, China’s share of the foreign buying pool jumped more than 40 percent from mid-2013 to 2014.  A report released recently by Miami’s Downtown Development Authority cited the potential for more Chinese buyers in the local condo market, noting the Chinese Yuan’s gains against the dollar — one of the few currencies to show that trend — as one of the factors.

“What we are seeing is really the beginning of a strong Chinese influence and interest in South Florida,” said Philip Spiegelman, principal of International Sales Group, which has added a Mandarin-speaking member to its staff to be able to communicate with buyers and form alliances. The firm is also partnering with American Da Tang on efforts to reach Chinese buyers.

Chinese interest is already starting to show.

A report released last month, conducted by the National Association of Realtors for the Miami Association of Realtors, listed China for the first time among nations represented, at 2 percent of international sales.

“China is the No. 1 strongest market for new business from anywhere in the world,” Teresa King Kinney, CEO of the Miami Association of Realtors, told TRD. “They are finding us, and they are loving us.”

To further promote Miami, a group of local Realtors will be attending a luxury property show later this month in Beijing, she said.

Peggy Fucci, CEO of OneWorld Properties, the exclusive sales and marketing firm for Paramount Miami Worldcenter, has been traveling to China during the past two years to understand the market. Fucci said that Chinese buy abroad for specific reasons, which include quality of life, education and investment opportunities. She said the upper middle class in China is “enormous” and that there are “more people with more money than they know what to do with.”

Fucci expects that at least 20 percent of the 60-story Paramount Miami Worldcenter will sell to Chinese buyers, and she’s using a number of tactics to cater to the Chinese market. Among them: removing floor and unit numbers that the Chinese avoid.

“You have to understand the cultural idiosyncrasies — how to hand over a business card, [for example],” she said. “We felt it was really important to bring in a Feng Shui consultant.” Instead of translating marketing materials into one dialect, Paramount is translating into multiple dialects. And Paramount also hired a public relations firm based in Beijing to market the development.

Fucci, who was recently appointed to a Miami Downtown Development Authority committee to attract Chinese visitors and buyers to the area, said her firm brought in 25 Chinese visitors for the Chinese New Year.

Currently, Paramount has 20 reservations from Chinese buyers. The project officially launches sales on April 18.

Alice Tan, an agent with Coldwell Banker, also said a newfound interest in Miami is taking hold in China, and investors are paying cash. This summer, she is bringing a group of 30 real estate agents and buyers from Shanghai to tour properties. “They love the weather, and prices here are great,” Tan said.

More developers across the region are eyeing Chinese investors.

At The Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles Beach, all of the luxury residential development’s marketing materials, including brochures and DVDs, have been translated into Mandarin Chinese. The developers, brothers Jules and Eddie Trump, intentionally named their two towers Via Acqualina 777 and Via Acqualina 888 — lucky numbers in the Chinese culture.

Michelle Farber Ross, broker and managing partner of Prestige Estate Properties, the luxury arm of Fort Lauderdale-based MMD Realty, said she has begun to notice more activity from China for $1 million-plus listings on her site.

Two sets of Chinese buyers recently toured a $9.99 million, 16,000-square-foot, waterfront mansion in Fort Lauderdale, she said. One set considered it for a second home, and the other was looking to establish roots to acquire citizenship and bring over their children.

“Having them come through to see that home is telling me that they are really looking at trophy properties,” Ross said.

Ophir Sternberg, founding partner and CEO of Lionheart Capital, said he and a small sales team will be traveling to Beijing and Shanghai, as well as Hong Kong, this summer to market the Ritz-Carlton Residences Miami Beach.

Chinese buyers have purchased seven units at the Ritz-Carlton Residences on Singer Island, and so far, three units at the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Miami Beach, Sternberg said. “And they want to introduce us to more of their friends who are interested in buying as well,” he added.

“There is a growing appetite and a growing trend,” he said. “I am convinced this will continue to grow.”

Click here to learn more about The Real Deal’s U.S. Real Estate Showcase & Forum, set to take place in Shanghai in September.

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