When Chinese property selling platform AC Property co-founder Esther Yong first started advertising residential property to Chinese investors, she never thought inquiries for Australian housing from China would dry up.
After the boom selling-frenzy years between 2012 and 2017, Chinese buyer inquiries for Australian housing have slowed to a trickle.
They are now asking her for homes to buy in Serbia. China is financing the reconstruction of a railway line between Budapest and Belgrade in Serbia.
“I get inquiries for Serbia everyday,” she said. “Everyone is looking for the next place to invest after Australia and the One Belt One Road is helping places like Serbia.”
“Chinese investors say following its government’s plans for infrastructure expansion is always a safe bet.”
“While central Europe isn’t part of the European Union yet, they believe it will eventually become a reality one day,” she said referring to Serbia, which has an application to join before Brussels.
The Chinese capital withdrawal is stark, Ms Yong says. The main reasons for the ongoing retreat from Australia are high stamp duty and scrutiny from the Foreign Investment Review Board. In almost every state, foreign buyers of property are required to pay a surcharge.
In January, nearly half of the 160 Chinese real estate agents surveyed by another online marketer Investorist in its International Property Outlook report said they were still selling Australian properties but only half of those agents said they would continue to do so by the end of 2019.
Ms. Yong’s clients, who now shop for properties on her new international platform, sodichan.com, share the same reasons for wanting to buy in Serbia an increasing number of friends working on joint Serbia-China infrastructure projects and, price.
Very Friendly to Chinese
“Looking at the Belt and Road, it costs only 600,000 RMB (about $120,000) to buy a single-family villa in the Serbian capital, covering an area of 700 square metres.
A group of bosses in Zhejiang have already opened supermarkets there, engaged in wholesale, and the business is booming,” a buyer commented in a chat forum on Chinese social media Baidu. “Serbian folk style is simple, warm and hospitable, blue sky and white clouds, very friendly to the Chinese,” another said.
Other Balkan countries are also popular as One Belt projects ramp up in Macedonia, Bulgaria and Bosnia.
Chinese property platform Juwai.com adds that elsewhere, Vanuatu, Portugal, Ireland, Malta and Spain are also a hit with Chinese investors.
“Golden Visa” countries like Greece and the US remain top of the list for Chinese investors. A golden visa is a permanent residency visa given by a country to individuals who invest, often through the purchase property, a certain sum of money in that country.
Chinese are the biggest participants in these programs, Juwai.com says.
Sydney consultant and Golden Visa Experts’ John Petropoulos, who used to broker property deals for Chinese investors in Australia, says inquiries for Greece from these clients have increased tenfold since 2013. He is also fielding inquiries from relatives of Chinese Australians or lawyers in China.
“They are looking for a new status symbol that is no longer Australia,” he said.
“With capital transfer restrictions in China, what they can transfer $US50,000, it’s barely enough now for a deposit in Australia.”
“Rich Chinese are now flooding golden visa programs all over the world. In fact, there is only a handful of programs anywhere in which Chinese are not the most numerous applicants,” Juwai.com chief executive Carrie Law said.
Ms Law says however Chinese interests in Australian property won’t disappear completely because of China’s continued interests in other Australian exports, Ms Law says.
“Everyone knows that Australia owes its wealth to China. China floats Australia’s fortunes up on a tide of cash. Australia’s top three exports are iron ore, coal, and education. And who buys these exports? China.
Who’s the biggest investor in new housing? China. Whose cheap goods make life easier for Aussies? China’s,” she said.