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A two-bedroom suite at the Four Seasons Hotel on Toronto’s Yorkville Avenue can cost $1.95-million. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
A two-bedroom suite at the Four Seasons Hotel on Toronto’s Yorkville Avenue can cost $1.95-million. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Toronto agents go online to reach Chinese buyers Add to ...

How many people in Canada have the dosh to spend $1.95-million for a two-bedroom suite at the Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences in Yorkville?

Not enough for Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.’s Victoria Boscariol, who was convinced she needed to get her listing in the five-star tower in front of the legions of wealthy buyers who live in mainland China.

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Many agents in Toronto are looking for ways to reach members of the swelling middle and upper classes in China. Ms. Boscariol has affiliations in the global luxury market but she doesn’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese and she felt that her connections hadn’t made sufficiently deep inroads into the Chinese market.

That’s when she met the entrepreneurs from Juwai.com, who established a head office in Shanghai to act as a bridge between Asian business people looking for opportunities and Western real estate agents. Juwai.com reports that 82 per cent of their traffic is from mainland China and 18 per cent from Chinese-language speakers in such places as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.

After listing on their portal three weeks ago, Ms. Boscariol is astonished at how many people in China are clicking on her page.

“The traffic is 10 times what I get from the rest of the world.”

She knows this because she uses Google Analytics to track the web traffic through her page. The numbers exploded as soon as she put her listing on Juwai.com.

“It’s such a great thing to show my sellers – we are getting into the Chinese market and I have the numbers to prove it.”

Ms. Boscariol had tried various strategies for marketing in China but she always ran into onerous red tape, firewalls and difficulties with translation. Juwai.com had already tackled those obstacles.

“It just solved such a big part of the puzzle that I had been trying to get around for a long time. They have a good understanding of both sides – the Asian side and the Western side.”

The portal has property listings from 53 countries around the world.

Andrea Hanak, an agent with Royal LePage Your Community Realty, has her listing at 7 Vernham Ave. posted on Juwai.com.

“I would say the majority of my buyers are coming from mainland China,” she says of her high-end business. She has travelled to China to forge connections but she found the trip required a large investment in time and money.

Juwai.com is not the only site targeting Chinese buyers who invest overseas but it seems the easiest for an English-speaking agent to work with, says Ms. Hanak.

Ms. Hanak says she has seen tens of thousands of clicks on the properties she has listed on the site in the past six months or so.

“Those numbers are looking great.”

She hasn’t sold a property yet to a buyer that came through the site but she figures it’s only a matter of time.

“There is a lot of new wealth and there are a ton of people who figure they should bring their money out but they don’t know how. It’s a slower process.”

Simon Henry, co-chief executive officer at Juwai.com, says Canada ranks fifth in destinations searched by their users, behind the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and Singapore. Within Canada, Vancouver garners 50 per cent of the searches and Toronto, 31 per cent. Ottawa and Calgary lag far behind at seven per cent each, while Halifax accounts for five per cent.

Chinese buyers spent $30-billion (U.S.) on international property in 2012 and interest is increasing – including in all of these Canadian cities, Mr. Henry reports.

“We haven’t seen any downturn in interest in Canada at all,” Mr. Henry said recently in a telephone interview.

When it comes to their reasons for buying real estate in this country, 51 per cent of the clients say they are looking for a “lifestyle” property. That could be a ski chalet or a waterfront estate, Mr. Henry explains.

“We refer to them as an ego property.”

Twenty-three per cent say they are purchasing a place for their children attending school here. Since the average amount spent on a foreign property is $1.5-million, Mr. Henry says, those are some rather spoiled students.

“I just don’t think they’ll grow up at all well-rounded.”

Tailing those reasons for purchase are investment at 19 per cent and immigration at seven per cent, according to Juwai.com.

The clients prefer new construction to old and they are very comfortable with condo living.

“People tend to buy what they’re familiar with,” says Mr. Henry.

Large, newly built houses in good neighbourhoods are also coveted.

“It’s a dream to have a backyard if you’re looking to move overseas.”

But what about all the talk of a bubble in the Toronto and Vancouver condo markets? Don’t Chinese investors read The Economist, the august journal which just this week reiterated its view that the Canadian real estate market is among the most over-valued in the world?

They do indeed read The Economist and much more, says Mr. Henry, who adds that Juwai.com also provides analysis to help clients keep up with shifting landscapes around the globe. The clients are looking for strong investment opportunities, he says.

When Singapore’s Inland Revenue Authority increased the stamp duty on residential land purchases, for example, searches on Singapore tumbled 30 per cent, Mr. Henry says. When Spain moved toward changing its visa rules to attract overseas property investors, searches on that country’s real estate spiked.

“They’re quite savvy in terms of markets,” he says of Juwai.com’s clients. “They are very susceptible to market forces.”

Mr. Henry says the potential pool of investors is huge. China has approximately 2.7 million individuals considered high-net-worth – meaning they earn $1.5-million or more. There are also about 60 million upper-middle class Chinese, he points out.

Most of the site’s users are buyers conducting their own searches, says Mr. Henry. In some cases secretaries or public relations staff do the research but very rarely are agents conducting searches.

The growth in China’s gross domestic product has slowed, but Mr. Henry points out that the country is hardly diminishing as an economic power.

“A lot of people talk about the slowdown in mainland China, but [GDP growth] is still 7.2 per cent. It’s just ludicrous.”

 

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