Chinese Developers’ ‘Trickling’ Global Real Estate Projects Make Way For Open Floodgates

A rendering of Vanke's midtown Manhattan development.

A rendering of Vanke’s midtown Manhattan development.

Last week, top Chinese real estate developer China Vanke Co. announced its plans to build a luxury midtown Manhattan condominium tower, a decision which comes on the heels of a string of similar global undertakings by Chinese companies. As ultra-wealthy Chinese investors are flocking to buy luxury real estate in some of the world’s priciest locales such as New York and London, Chinese developers are moving at a much quicker pace into the international arena than they have been in previous years.

The new 61-story, ultra-opulent skyscraper will be located at 610 Lexington Ave., and is being developed as part of a partnership between Vanke, U.S. real estate investor Aby Rosen of RFR Realty, and developer Hines. The 91-unit tower will reportedly feature only 17 residences from the 52nd to 63rd floors, making for apartments around 3,000 square feet. According to New York property blog YIMBY, “it is fair to assume” that these residences will be “priced astronomically.”

The full rendering of the Vanke midtown Manhattan project.

The full rendering of the Vanke midtown Manhattan project.

The condos appear to be intended for the global ultra-rich—especially Chinese buyers, who have been snapping up real estate abroad at growing rates as the Chinese government clamps down on speculative buys at home. The main focus so far has been on “gateway cities” such as New York and London, but buyers are also moving on to smaller cities such as Sydney, Frankfurt, Munich, or San Francisco.

In connection to the growing rates at which wealthy Chinese buyers are snapping up property is the fact that Chinese real estate investment surged over the past year. Just one year ago, The Wall Street Journal wrote that Chinese real estate investment was still comparatively low, with China-based companies buying $1.9 billion in U.S. commercial real estate from 2007 to 2012, compared to $3.6 billion from South Korea, $3.7 billion from Japan, and $32 billion from Canada. According to the article at the time:

While some in the property sector have been predicting that China’s maturing economy would lead to a wave of investment in U.S. real estate akin to the Japanese property-buying spree of the late 1980s, thus far, it has only been trickling in.

Real-estate executives say Chinese investment has been hindered by regulatory hurdles—Chinese insurance companies weren’t allowed to invest directly in foreign real estate until last year, for instance. But generally, investors in the country have simply been reluctant to dive into the U.S. market.

“It’s been more noise than significant money,” said Collin Lau, former head of real estate at the giant state-run China Investment Corp. He now runs Bei Capital, a Hong Kong-based investment firm. “It will still take some time for any meaningful capital to go to the U.S.,” Mr. Lau added.

However, that’s all changed over the past year, with developers investing billions of dollars to cause the rate to more than double. According to property firm CBRE, North American investment climbed to $2.5 billion in 2013 alone, up from only $500 million in 2012. These numbers are estimations—Real Capital Analytics believes that the investments in the United States alone were closer to $3 billion. Meanwhile, total Chinese outbound investment in real estate surged to an estimated more than $8 billion last year, up from a total of $2 billion in 2012.

Vanke’s New York development is its second major U.S. project, and it is joining many Chinese companies in targeting areas for luxury development with Chinese buyers in mind. Last year, the company teamed up with Tishman Speyer Properties Inc. to begin work on two luxury condo towers in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Chinese companies Greenland Holding Group and Xinyuan Real Estate Co. are also building projects in New York, while Dalian Wanda plans to buy a New York luxury hotel in the coming future. This surge of investment is also happening abroad, such Wanda’s plan to build a luxury hotel by the River Thames in London.

There are several reasons for this current upsurge, Although it is connected to the fact that Chinese investors have been taking advantage of  real estate opportunities as a result of the global financial crisis in 2009, regulatory restrictions in China as well as concern of a looming China property bubble are driving investments overseas. As wealthy individual Chinese buyers scoop up properties over the world, developers are following them to prime locations—which includes the United States.

That’s certainly what Vanke appears to be doing. According to a statement by CEO Wang Shi last year, “We follow Vanke’s customers. Many of Vanke’s customers have emigrated abroad. About 30 percent of them have chosen America as the destination.”

 

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