With Covid-19-related travel restrictions preventing in-person presence at property auctions and project sites overseas, Chinese buyers are spending more time online to advance their early-stage buying process, according to a report by Juwai IQI that runs China-based property website juwai.com.

The property portal recorded an increase in Chinese consumer online activity in January. "People who are staying home spend their time by going online. They have more time to do research, search for a property and make enquiries," explained Juwai IQI Executive Chairman Georg Chmiel.

He said Covid-19 has created a situation where early-stage buyer activity is significantly higher than late-stage activity.

"Buyers are enquiring about properties, but they often can't or won't travel to sign contracts, do in-person inspections or take possession of completed units they have committed to purchase."

Some of the countries that have seen strong Chinese buyer enquiry growth on the website in January were Vietnam, New Zealand, Singapore, Germany and Australia. Except for Germany, the rest are all popular destinations for Chinese property buyers, said Chmiel.

Dubai-based real estate developer Samana concurred that they have also observed an increase in online enquiries from Chinese customers.

"Whilst we are currently unable to physically meet our customers and agents, we are utilising on-line portals to actively promote, sell our products and services and have engaged local agents to assist us in this regard," said Alan James, General Manager, Samana Developers.

He said the company has increased its media presence in China with wider use of WeChat and other mediums to keep in regular contact with its clients and agents.

Another Dubai-based real estate firm Azizi Developments said online inquiries from Chinese nationals have been increasing steadily over the past months. "Their continued interest in Dubai's property offerings has encouraged us to launch specific, targeted campaigns, hire a Chinese-speaking sales team, and tailor our offerings to their wants and needs," said Farhad Azizi, CEO, Azizi Developments.

He insisted that Covid-19 has not affected these campaigns, most of which were launched in 2019, prior to the outbreak.

UAE remains attractive

Juwai.com saw enquiries from Chinese buyers peak last November at more than double the average of the prior months for UAE properties.

Although the number of Chinese buyer enquiries has fallen back since then, Chmiel said the UAE remains a popular destination as it offers a good lifestyle and high-quality medical facilities.

"More buyers may explore what's available for sale in Dubai especially during this period," he said, adding that the emirate's relatively easy visa arrangements could make it a desirable destination for Chinese who wish to reside overseas for a few months.

In 2018, Chinese investors had concluded deals worth $617.07 million in the UAE.

Azizi said Chinese buyers are not limited to those domiciled in China. "We attract and cater to Chinese customers from across the globe. A large number of Chinese nationals are investing in Dubai's real estate market as a result of the strengthening bilateral ties and the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative," he said.

Azizi also claimed that Covid-19 has had little to no impact on the sales or collection processes involving Chinese buyers. "We are seeing strong, increasing demand from this demographic, and are catering to them accordingly," he said.

Payments are still coming through on a regular basis, confirmed Samana's James.

"...customers have also moved to on-line payments as well as the more traditional mechanisms," he said.

Quick rebound anticipated

Chmiel said he expects the virus to not deter future Chinese cross-border home buying and investment. "We do not believe it undermines in any way the motivations of investment diversification, lifestyle goals, healthcare and overseas education. We do not believe the virus will contribute to any reduction in Chinese demand for overseas residential real estate," he said.

When the outbreak ends, Chmiel said he expects buyers who started their property purchasing process during this period will be well advanced in their research and possibly in their negotiations. "The pent-up activity may result in an unusually large number of transactions over one or two quarters, as buyers complete delayed transactions," he said, adding that they expect a relatively quick rebound and strong activity in the second half of the year.

Samana too anticipates that there will be even greater demand from the Chinese market post the containment of the outbreak. "Our indicators show that Chinese citizens will actively seek alternative homes and Dubai, in particular, appears to be the number one choice currently based on availability, price, payment plans, visa-free entry and the ease of travel between China and the UAE," said James.

Azizi agrees that regardless of the virus or any travel restrictions, Chinese buyers will continue to be ranked among the top property investors, not only in Dubai but worldwide. "While the emirate continuously cements its international standing as one of the world's most popular real estate investment destinations, we are confident that Chinese buyers, with their investor savviness and the trust and faith they place in Dubai and us, will continuously register interest in the long run," he said.

(Reporting by Syed Ameen Kader; Editing by Anoop Menon)


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