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China's real-estate agents explain why they love Seattle and if they think foreign homebuying will keep surging

Mike Rosenberg, The Seattle Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

SEATTLE -- One of the biggest stories in the Seattle-area real-estate market continues to be the strong interest among homebuyers coming from China.

Although foreign sales here are down a bit lately, King County in recent years has become one of the most sought-after U.S. regions for people in China looking for a home as an investment or to move to. While a boon for home sellers and real-estate companies, buyers from China have been blamed for soaring home prices, and foreign speculators became a main topic in the Seattle mayoral election.

So why are so many people from China interested in buying here, and will it continue? To find out, we joined a delegation of 15 top real-estate brokers from mainland China who are in town this week to check out the area for themselves and tour homes with the help of Windermere -- the latest sign of China's interest in Seattle. The brokers include the leadership of the China Alliance of Real Estate Agencies, whose membership handles about 60 percent of home sales in China.

Why Seattle?

The brokers all said good schools, clean air, proximity to China, beautiful natural resources like lakes and mountains and the growing economy are the main draws, with most citing Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing as internationally renowned companies.

"It's like Vancouver, but cheaper," is how Yi Liu, a broker in China who serves as the real-estate alliance's vice president, sums it up. Vancouver, B.C., has long been a major destination for Chinese homebuyers.

 

Are the homes used as investments or actual residences?

"It's about 50/50," said Chris Hu, vice president of B.A. & 515J Group, a brokerage in Beijing. Those who rent out the homes can see 5 to 6 percent profit a year, he said, as the local market continues to see rising prices. "The investment return is very nice to them," Hu said.

Families in China will often send just their kids to live here and go to school, or the breadwinner will stay behind and work in China: "A lot of Chinese buy here as an investment in education for their kids," Hu said.

Local brokers have long reported Chinese money flowing strongest into luxury homes in places like Medina and West Bellevue. But that's beginning to change, Hu said.

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