Chinese tots spur home markets abroad

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The trend of Chinese parents pulling out all the stops to secure a bright future for their children has intensified this year. Their investments in both top-quality foreign education and homes near schools overseas have surged as China's economic rise stokes aspirations of the newly affluent middle-income group, said industry insiders.

Sally Wang, who has been working as a realty agent in London for nearly a decade and is founder of real estate agency SJW (UK) Property Investment Ltd, said demand for prime UK properties near educational institutions from young Chinese parents shows no signs of abating.

In fact, thanks to demand from Chinese parents, SJW saw a 50-percent growth in the transaction value of sales of homes in the past two years. A majority of them were located near schools, colleges and universities.

Wang cited a recent instance involving her clients, Beijing-based Chinese parents of a 4-year-old boy. Wang showed the couple a dozen apartments near Hyde Park in London. After viewing them all, the couple selected a three-bedroom flat within half-hour walking distance from their little son's school.

They were willing to fork out 4 million pounds ($5.09 million) as the flat comes with facilities like security, a receptionist desk, gym, swimming pool and parking space.

Wang said if they manage to close the deal, they should consider themselves lucky because these days it is still a challenge to find a home at a convenient location up for sale.

In prized areas, newly developed residential projects are few and far between. "There are still several months to go before the little boy gets enrolled in September, and we will try our best to make the deal happen," said Wang.

Young Chinese parents' anxiety and eagerness about their kids' future go back a long way. A story tracing back to 365 BC goes that the mother of great Chinese philosopher Mencius moved home three times to ensure an environment conducive to her son's education.

Investment in kids' education is seen as essential because children represent the future of the family tree. And a good home at a convenient location in the school's neighborhood dovetails with this overall theme.

In the highly competitive, globalized, digital world of today, parents think high-quality education is essential from a very young age, preferably at reputable institutions in English-speaking countries, industry insiders said.

This narrative, accentuated by the property industry's marketing spiel, has been driving up home prices in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and other English-speaking countries.

"The number of Chinese students studying abroad from a young age has risen substantially in recent years. This has been driving up demand for rentals as well as home sales near prestigious schools," said Slevin Wang, director and joint head of international residential projects, CBRE China.

Agreed Annie Hu, co-founder of realty agency Hyde Global in London. "In the past couple of years, there has been a conspicuous rise in the number of our clients with school-bound children."

Hu said nearly 40 percent of her company's clients are Chinese looking for homes near sought-after London schools for their children aged below 12.

"That figure was between 10 percent and 20 percent about two to three years ago. Back then, there were fewer Chinese parents with young kids aged 3 to 5 among our clients," said Hu, who has been working in the London housing market for seven years now.

Property agents in the US and Australia report similar findings. "Kids' education is by and large the main reason why young Chinese parents continue to buy properties in the US," said Tina Dai, a Shanghai native who turned a real estate agent with JC Pacific Capital Inc in Los Angeles after relocating to the US in 2013.

Dai herself bought a home so her daughter could secure admission into a well-known public school in her LA neighborhood.

Jamie Mi, head of international business at Kay& Burton, a high-end real estate agency in Melbourne, said: "China is Australia's biggest source of overseas students. Chinese parents provide strong support for demand for home sales Down Under."

Apartments adjacent to high-quality public schools conventionally carry a higher price tag in China. But Chinese parents are willing to pay even more if necessary for similar conveniences in other countries. That's because overseas residential properties can also generate steady returns on realty investment, according to industry insiders.

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