Snapped up by Asian buyers

Offshore buyers are the trailblazers of a Sydney property revival, say agents, snapping up apartments in Bondi, the central business district and the North Shore and houses in Mosman and Killara.

It seems that from a distance, despite The Economist saying only last year that Australian property is overvalued, many admire Sydney's resilience.

''It's similar to the last run, when Sydney woke up in the early '90s,'' said the chairman of off-the-plan marketers CBRE, Justin Brown.

''There was a massive lead of Asian purchasers into our market place. Rents were rising and there was a fundamental undersupply of property in the market.

''The identical thing is happening and we're at the beginning of a five-year cycle. Buyers offshore can see value in our market.''

Mr Brown said that 20 per cent of sales at the Pacific Bondi Beach were offshore, with the project being launched simultaneously last weekend in Sydney and Hong Kong.

All but two in the first stage of 76 apartments sold. Five of 19 penthouses also sold. 

The sales included $1.9 million for 70 sq m one-bedroom flats and more than $10 million for penthouses.

Although many of the offshore buyers in Bondi were Australian expatriates, most overseas buyers in CBRE's other projects in Chinatown, Chatswood and Macquarie Park are from China.


Agents selling existing property are also changing the way they operate to cater for buyers who need Foreign Investment Review Board approval particularly those from China because of the increasing demand.

Some are hiring interpreters and employing Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking assistants to help with negotiations.

Most offshore buyers buy off-the-plan because there is no limit to what they can buy, although the relaxing of government rules in 2010 also allowed foreign buyers to purchase an existing property in Australia of any value. Previously they had been limited to a $300,000 property.

Over the next year, the value of foreign investment transactions approved in Australia more than doubled from $20 billion to more than $40 billion, according to the Foreign Investment Review Board annual report.

Richard Simeon, a director of Richardson & Wrench Mosman, has been dealing with increasing numbers of Chinese buyers agents since 2009.

''If a real estate agent has a prestige property worth $5 million-plus and doesn't have an Asian-focused marketing and sales strategy to target these buyers, then they're not doing the right thing by their vendor,'' Mr Simeon said.

Another prime spot is Killara, where Philip Waller of McGrath Pymble estimates half of sales in the $3 million-plus range are to foreign buyers.

Mr Waller's Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking colleague Polly Chan said one of the reasons Killara was so popular was because Killara High School was one of the state's best-performing non-selective high schools and did not have the waiting lists and standardised English-speaking requirements of many private schools.

Century 21 Cordeau Marshall has expanded its Lindfield, Roseville and Gordon offices in recent months with four Chinese-speaking agents, and regularly advertises its properties in the Chinese language newspapers, The Chinese Weekly and Sing Tao.

''At least 25 per cent of people at open inspections would be Chinese, and up to 75 per cent in somewhere like East Killara because of the school,'' said C21 group general manager Charles Caravousanos.

The chairman of Ray White, Brian White, said strong interest from Asia prompted the opening of the Kuala Lumpur Ray White office earlier this year to join those already in Indonesia, India, South Korea and Hong Kong.

Last month, LJ Hooker signed a partnership with the Chinese property website to tap into that country's rapidly expanding investor market. It has a similar deal with another group to target buyers in Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Macao and Hong Kong. The deals enable LJ Hooker agents to automatically list Sydney property on the foreign websites for no extra cost.

''At a time when local buyers are holding back, it makes sense to do more to reach those buyers who are the most active,'' said LJ Hooker chief executive Georg Chmiel.

More recently, Chinese investment has also been driven by changes at home, prompting buyers to look for secure places abroad to invest.