Growing Chinese interest in investing overseas was a top global business trend in 2013. According to Jones Lang LaSalle, the U.S. real estate market attracted $3.1 billion of capital from Chinese investors last year – an increase of more than 900% from just $264 million invested the year before.
The headline figure could exceed the $10 billion mark this year, although the reported numbers by themselves are a small fraction of the true number.
This phenomenal growth has been driven by two key drivers: First, the Chinese government is now actively encouraging outbound investment thanks to a new ‘go global’ policy introduced by them last year. Second, diminishing yields on domestic real estate investments are making international ones seem more attractive.
Chinese investment hotspots at this time include New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Memphis, San Diego, and Detroit – where investors have been busy snapping up vast swathes of distressed industrial real estate.
But it’s not just Chinese institutions that are investing: as all those cherished only children reach maturity, their parents want them to have the best education that money can buy. Since the United States remains home to the best Universities in the world, so it therefore comes as no surprise that Chinese parents are looking to acquire property in which their offspring can live whilst studying.
So, the opportunities are clear. But how can you start reaching out to this colossal growing market? Given the significant cultural and linguistically differences, this is no easy task. But, hey, we all now know that there’s no such thing as easy money anymore, right?
Well, due to the global architecture of the internet, creating a Chinese language section of your website is probably a good place to start. For this, it is best to engage in the services of a native since automation tools like Google translate usually do more harm than good.
Next, you should ensure that any inbound inquiries are dealt with in the prospect’s native language. Whilst hiring a Mandarin or Cantonese speaker ‘in house’ is an option, it also poses a risk: once trained, your intern might just one day decide to acquire their own realtor’s licence and compete against you.
To mitigate this risk, it can be more effective, as well as cost effective, to engage in the services of a ‘virtual assistant’ located in China itself. He or she can then take inbound calls on your behalf, make outbound ones, receive and send emails, source data, and other administrative tasks. Two birds, one stone: Not only will your new assistant will act as your gateway to China, they can also help in a back-office capacity – leaving you free to get out there and grow your business.
Irrespective of whether you elect to go down the insourcing route or the outsourcing one, make sure that Chinese prospects and customers can reach you by calling a regular Chinese telephone number. Making an international call still remains a psychological block for many people, not only in China, but also in the USA and elsewhere too.
Once you have your Chinese contact infrastructure in place, you can begin the herculean process of reaching out to this massive market.
One way to do this might be to task your Chinese assistant with reaching out to realtors in China who might have clients interested in overseas property. Your listings could then appear on theirs. As with anywhere, identifying the good ones will take time.
Another strategy might be to start reaching out to potential customers directly. Like us, the Chinese are voracious consumers of social media. However, ramping-up your existing campaigns in an attempt to win more business from China is an exercise in futility since Facebook and Twitter have not gotten any traction there.
The good news is that agencies exist that will grab your existing social media content and check that it is compliant with Government guidelines, and then publish it across popular Chinese social media networks such as Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, RenRen and WeChat. This is a neat way of hopping over the almost mythical great Chinese firewall and being on the inside.
Of these, WeChat, has become defacto a standard way of communicating in China. An English version is available for free, and should be downloaded to your smartphone as part of your new armory of tools to help you win more business from China.
Whilst the Chinese might share our love affair with social media, a face-to-face meeting in Chinese culture holds perhaps even more significance than it does in ours. Any hard selling will be counterproductive. Whilst relationship building is important in any culture, it is of utmost importance in this one.
Bear in mind also that the Chinese are avid researchers and might end up knowing more about the property than you do. Be patient, and treat them with respect.
When it comes to setting pricing, bear in mind that the Chinese are a superstitious people. Try and avoid the number 4 if possible. Instead, be liberal with the number 8.
Prior to viewings, you should consider engaging in the services of a Feng Shui consultant who can advise of the best way to present property using the Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing human existence with the environment.
This will be a slow burn. Do not expect results overnight. It’s all about relationship building. It will take time. China’s a tough nut to crack. But if you do crack it, he rewards can be truly enormous both financially and, given the esoteric propensity of the Chinese mind-set, possibly spiritually too.
The Chinese New Year of the Horse signifies health and prosperity. It would seem that now is indeed the perfect time to start looking eastwards and reaching out to this enormous market.