Chinese investors scramble to dump overseas property as economy freefalls

Chinese investors rattled by the country’s shaky financial situation have raced to offload foreign properties as their household wealth dwindles.

Hundreds of middle-class families who bought investment properties before the Covid pandemic in 2020 have mounted a frantic search for potential buyers following China’s bumpy reopening earlier this year.

The national government officially ended three years of COVID-19 measures in January 2023 but quickly found itself in the midst of a property crisis, the effects of which have rippled across the country.

The ripple has left wealthier Chinese residents unable to pay for their investments, with many having bought properties in Southeast Asia before the pandemic struck in 2020.

The economy has whittled down their household income, forcing them to cut back on spending as they attempt to weather China’s financial storm.

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Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Stephen Yao, a Guangdong-based property agent, said affluent Chinese nationals have struggled to afford payments on homes that once would have given them attractive returns.

Mr Yao, who represents more than 200 families, said the mass selloffs were indicative of the wide-ranging effects on people’s incomes.

He said: “A number of them can no longer afford the final payment for their property investment and desperately need cash to solve their domestic financial problems, such as business failures, lay-offs and mortgage loan defaults.

“Some no longer have the extra funds to continue holding these overseas properties.”

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Foreign investment from Chinese residents in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and beyond have also left properties built by domestic companies in peril.

After seeing the investing trend in Southeast Asia, Chinese developers jumped at the opportunity to build properties in the area made to entice the middle classes readily recouping their money in foreign homes.

But these properties now lie vacant as the economy leaves people unable to invest, with the combined floor area of unsold homes currently at an estimated seven billion square feet, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

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A former deputy head of the statistics bureau has warned that companies wouldn’t be able to fill that space, even with China’s entire population at their disposal.

He Keng, 81, told a forum in the city of Dongguan that, while some estimates about the number of vacant homes are “a bit much”, there are billions of properties standing unoccupied.

He said: “How many vacant homes are there now? Each expert gives a very different number, with the most extreme believing the current number of vacant homes are enough for 3 billion people. That estimate might be a bit much, but 1.4 billion people probably can’t fill them.”

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