For those of you hiding under a rock the past few years, wealthy Chinese investors have been ramping up their purchases of US real estate, reported the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

After a five-year spending spree, the Chinese have knocked the Canadians from first place to become the top foreign buyers of US houses and apartments for the 12 months to March, according to the National Association of Realtors.

In the wake of China’s summer’s stock market crash, the devaluing of the nation’s currency and with a slowing economy, wealthy Chinese have been moving more money out of China and into US property to get a bigger bang for their buck.

Prior to the summer the big worry of wealthy Chinese was the fear that the government would probe their holdings, but now they worry about the authorities undercutting the value of their money with more devaluations or letting inflation run rampant.

New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

Investors have been aggressive buyers of commercial property. Earlier this year, a Chinese insurer spent a record price for a US hotel buying New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel for $1.95 billion. In addition to big name properties, the Chinese are looking at unlikely investments such as small office buildings, chain hotels and other nondescript properties in and around big US cities, seizing an opportunity to place greater sums of money outside government reach, reported the Wall Street Journal.

“It isn’t just about finding yield, but about parking their capital,” Joshua Zegen, co-founder at New York-based Madison Realty Capital told the WSJ.

The paper reports that over the past couple of years, Chinese investors have acquired a strip mall near Long Beach, Calif., a Marriott hotel near Los Angeles International Airport and a waterfront office building on New York’s Staten Island, helped fund at least two big condo projects in Westchester County and purchased large swaths of property in the Queens, N.Y., neighborhood of Elmhurst.

Wealthy individual investors have long ignored Beijing’s rules limiting the amount of money allowed to exit the country by sending capital to the US. through family and friends, wealth advisers and private bankers say.

And on Monday it was reported that China’s foreign-exchange reserves in November fell to their lowest point in two year, fueling concerns about Beijing’s ability to stem capital outflows.

In an effort to stem the tide of cash flowing out of the county, Beijing tightened control over foreign-exchange transactions in September. Yet, this could lead to the opposite effect and force the ultra wealthy to pull even more money out of China, Katie Kao, a New York real-estate broker, told WSJ.

“They want to move faster and make more investments in the US,” said Kao, who is also a founding president of the Asian Real Estate Association of America’s New York east chapter.

As for getting a total on how much U.S. commercial real estate the Chinese actually own. That’s made difficult because many make the transactions through private companies or through a local partner.

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