Targeting Chinese buyers remains a challenge, but growth is expected: panel

Brickell skyline with a Chinese flag. Inset: Jim Park, Carmen Chong, Nina Fabbri, Jesse Pan, Jesse Ottley and Zar Zanganeh
Brickell skyline with a Chinese flag. Inset: Jim Park, Carmen Chong, Nina Fabbri, Jesse Pan, Jesse Ottley and Zar Zanganeh

Despite efforts by Miami brokerages to establish divisions targeting Chinese investors, agents fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese and who understand the culture are still hard to come by, according to real estate professionals specializing in the Asian market.

Addressing a roomful of peers at the Trump National Doral Country Club, ISG International broker Nina Fabbri said recruiting brokers who can sell Miami to the Chinese is a bit of a challenge because it’s still a new market for investors from the Far East. “We have been able to find agents through different Chinese associations,” Fabbri said. “We’ve also found some agents through institutional systems. But it hasn’t been easy.”

Fabbri joined Cervera Real Estate development division president Jesse Ottley, Coldwell Banker associate broker Jesse Pan, AREAA’s past national chairwoman Carmen Chong and Las Vegas based luxury real estate Zar Zanganeh for a panel discussion during the 2017 Annual Installation Breakfast for the Greater Miami Chapter of the Asian Real Estate Association of America, or AREAA.

Ottley, the Miami chapter’s new president, explained that a significant reason for the dearth of Chinese brokers is because the profession doesn’t carry the same level of prestige as in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. “Real estate agents here are affluent,” Ottley said. “They drive nice cars and have nice homes. In China, they’re viewed as the developer’s underling.”

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Nevertheless, Ottley said Cervera has established a team of Mandarin and Cantonese speaking agents focused on China. “They are typically younger and less experienced,” he said. “We want to get the language skills and then train the sales force.”

According to a 2016 report prepared for AREAA, Chinese investors could gobble up $218 billion in commercial real estate assets and residential properties across the U.S. in the next three years, and Ottley said Miami is poised to lure a prominent share of that untapped market.

“When we travel [to China], we position Miami as a brand first,” he said. “Then we lead with the economic drivers and the infrastructure that is being built. Then we demonstrate the price point is very competitive compared to New York and Los Angeles.”

Jim Park, AREAA’s national chairman emeritus who moderated the panel, said the pool of Chinese investors looking at Miami real estate is expanding to the point that the city may not need direct flights to really tap that market.

“In Miami, it is still relatively small,” Park said. “But it is certainly moving and growing in the right direction.”