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Meet Your New Neighbors, Taipei

China's Rich Stir Up Taipei Property Market

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China's Rich Stir Up Taipei Property Market

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The good life in Taipei is luring a new crop of wealthy Chinese nationals. As an upsurge of developers and brokers caters to this new demand for luxury housing in Greater Taipei, how will the rules of the property game change?

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China's Rich Stir Up Taipei Property Market

By Sherry Lee
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 469 )

The moment the plane comes to a halt on the tarmac, a group of potential real estate buyers from Beijing emerges, board a black minibus and head off to scout out properties around Taipei and New Taipei City.

Driving at 60 kph into the hills beyond the Beitou rapid transit station, the minibus negotiates a couple of mountain curves, passing the Kuo-Hua Golf Course in the district of Siaopingding before coming to a halt at the ongoing construction site of Nan Kuo Village, a mountainside luxury housing development with expansive sea views. The luxury villas overlooking the mouth of the Danshui River and Taipei 101 are going for NT$800,000 per ping (about NT$242,400/sq. meter), and with the smallest units covering 256 pings (a ping equals 3.3 square meters), entry into this community will set you back several million bucks. A number of Chinese clients have already ponied up, looking to become the new neighbors in Greater Taipei.

"Selling Taiwanese property to mainlanders is really just too easy," says one Chinese realtor. In Taiwan, you're not only buying a good living standard and good views, you're also buying rights to the land in perpetuity.

Relative to the residential property usage rights limits of 70 years in China and 99 years in Hong Kong, Taiwan's excellent system of individual property rights protections has become a major selling point since the opening of direct links and the subsequent signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. And the newly wealthy Chinese merchant class does not shy away from high prices. To illustrate, initial sales of units in the Huang Hsiang F4 Building, a luxury residential complex along Songren Rd. in Taipei's Xinyi District that may fetch as much as NT$2.5 million per ping (about NT$758,000 per sq. meter), have been set aside for Chinese businesspeople.

Despite regulations limiting loans by Taiwanese banks to Chinese borrowers to 50 percent or less of the value of the secured property, and the Taiwanese government's levying of a luxury tax on properties sold within two years of purchase, China's tycoons remain unfazed. Under Taiwanese law, once Chinese acquire the rights to Taiwanese property, it must be formally registered for a minimum of three years before it can be transferred.

It is an unshakeable trend that Taipei properties are becoming highly coveted by the wealthy of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

China Gobbles Up Hong Kong

Shifting our attention to nearby Hong Kong, after the signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement with China in 2004, prices for residential, storefront and office properties in Hong Kong began an upward spiral, with prices for luxury residential units soaring from NT$2 million to NT$3 million per ping to NT$10 million per ping. Even after the global financial crisis, Hong Kong's property market has repeatedly set new monthly highs in terms of total transaction value and total number of transactions.

"Hong Kong was unaware of just how big an impact CEPA would have. Half of post-CEPA sales in Hong Kong have involved buyers that are Chinese nationals," according to Centaline Property, a major Hong Kong realtor.

More than a few keen-eyed developers and realtors had begun making preparations as early as a year in advance.

Taiwan's living environment and potential have attracted not only buyers from across Greater China, but also Hong Kong and Chinese property developers and realtors who are driving up the market, in a bid to share in the future growth trend.

In New Taipei City, for example, with the nearby amenities of Taipei and an abundance of natural scenery, one well-known Beijing property developer has already committed to investment in the development of a hotel-style luxury apartment resort complex, even holding six client introduction conferences. "Global Chinese" are being targeted as the client base, but the majority of eventual buyers will be wealthy Chinese nationals.

Tycoons, Investors, Realtors Descend

Over the past decade, builders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have frequently cooperated on development projects in China, and the consensus seems decidedly upbeat on the future development of Taipei, Taichung and a few other urban areas in Taiwan. Chinese businesses and Taiwanese businesses have been establishing offshore joint venture corporations to develop construction projects in hopes of locking down some of the free-spending Chinese tycoons and returning Taiwanese businesspeople. The Taiwanese builders handle land acquisition, due diligence and construction permit applications, while the Chinese side is responsible for sourcing world-class design teams, organizing prospective investor junkets and publicity.

Such close cooperation among cross-strait builders and the increasing fondness for Taipei among Chinese nationals has led to a recent spike in people seeking out land around the city for the development of luxury residences.

Observing these developments, Ding Yuh-chyurn, commissioner of the Taipei City Government's Department of Urban Development urges builders to be wary of a bubble and avoid building residences with overly large floor space. The response he gets, however, is always the same: "I'm not going to foolishly build something I can't sell. These residences are all being built to someone else's order. The construction permits haven't gone through yet, and already we've booked solid three rounds of walk-through tours with prospective buyers."

It seems the fresh waters of the Danshui River are being churned by an influx from the wide ocean, stirring up turbulence in the local ecosystem. Not only can a much more varied assortment of investors and buyers be seen; fresh faces are also cropping up in the brokerage business.

Brokerages: Open Competition Emerging

At the end of last year, Centaline Property, founded in Hong Kong and now with more than 1,000 outlets in China and 300 in Hong Kong, formally established a presence in Taipei.

Centaline vice president Kenny Yu, dispatched to handle operations in Taiwan, says he saw the potential for development in Taiwan as early as two years ago when Taiwan slashed its inheritance tax to 10 percent.

The primary thing in the real estate business is in offering local services, Yu says, adding that for the first few years Centaline will mainly focus on serving Taiwanese clients, only introducing Hong Kong and Chinese buyers after they have firmly established local contacts and a full array of properties to offer.

Although China and Taiwan are currently not permitted to advertise real estate sales in each other's markets, Centaline, with its presence in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, is naturally able to publicize property developments throughout Greater China.

Anthony Cheung, manager of Centaline's Guting branch in Taipei, recently brokered the sale of a 91-ping (about 300 sq. meters) residence across from the Kaohsiung City Government offices at a price of NT$310,000 per ping (about NT$94,000 per sq. meter), for which the buyer paid the entire more than NT$28 million selling price in cash.

Cheung, a graduate of National Chengchi University's Department of Land Economics originally from Hong Kong, has put down roots since arriving in Taiwan, having previously worked for Sinyi Realty for four years.

"We can provide more internationalized services to allow people throughout Greater China to make cross-border property purchases," Cheung says.

Centaline is not only headhunting among other brokerages, but has also brought the relatively more transparent, more competitive Hong Kong system to Taiwan. For example, all sales staff share access to the same business development and sales data to encourage competition among sales staff, and there are no requirements as to how much commission sales agents must charge.

"We can sign even with just a one percent commission. Building relationships and keeping transaction volume high is what's important. This has been the best learning experience. We've brought open-style competition," Yu says.

Yu has previously resided in Hong Kong and Beijing, and now arrives in Taipei to lead his Taiwan team's initial efforts. A music-lover, he usually favors leather jackets, but today Yu is impeccably dressed in a tailored suit, his gleaming shaved head conveying energy. He intends to open 20 outlets in Taipei within the year.

On cross-strait flights, property-scouting groups continue to arrive in droves. These strangers from faraway lands are now becoming the new neighbors of Taiwanese people, and will add to the rich fabric of Greater Taipei. As for the long-term effect and unintended consequences of the new neighbors' buying power, including encouraging builders to construct luxury residences, driving prices for luxury properties ever higher, and influencing the value of ordinary residences, this may be something that a lot of Taiwanese belonging to the "ant tribe," who can't afford to buy a house, will not be happy to see.

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy

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