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Real estate pitch with amenities

By Jack Freifelder in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2015-03-31 11:58

Reaping real estate dollars from rich Chinese buyers requires some finer services, say some industry insiders.

"What we try to do is a service-first model," Erik Coffin, founder and CEO of the Gotham Corporate Group in Los Angeles, told China Daily. "When the client comes in they really need a relocation concierge service. That doesn't really exist in the marketplace at the level it needs to be."

There is a "huge inefficiency" in the real estate market with respect to courting ultra high net worth individuals, he said.

Gotham is a boutique real estate firm that employs about 60 agents, almost 20 who speak Mandarin, Coffin said.

"Education is arguably the No 1 or No 2 reason they come here to buy real estate," Coffin said. "But as far as the ultra high net worth individuals, how do you get to them? That takes creativity, branding and focus.

"They're used to a certain lifestyle or a level of service," he said. "When they get off the plane, they need to be shown the education system and its schools; they need wealth management, even basic things like the DMV."

The firm has offices in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Palm Springs and Beijing, and has been looking to court Chinese and other international clients.

"We blog in six languages and we have about 34,000 subscribers to our Chinese blog. We're on Weibo, QQ, WeChat, all the social media.

"That's catering to the Chinese, but also to an international demographic," he said. "We weren't doing that three or four years ago."

Some of the amenities Coffin and his agents pitch to clients include wealth management and lifestyle consultation services, and meetings between parents and school officials.

Visits to local wineries and helicopter tours are common, too, and there's even a three-night stay in a Las Vegas villa, Coffin said.

"There is nobody doing what we're doing, and it is working," Coffin said. "In business, you structure yourself for opportunity, and China is absolutely a big blip on the radar. I get to China four times a year, and it's extremely beneficial. The trust factor is apples to apples, no matter what price point."

Companies in China, such as real estate portal, have "come to the forefront" in connecting Chinese buyers and agents overseas, Coffin said.

Coffin said such services play a key role in educating Chinese consumers.

Chinese investors have been making forays into overseas real estate for most of the last decade, according to data from Real Capital Analytics Inc. Statistics from the New York-based real estate research firm show that Chinese investors spent $39 billion on global real estate from 2009-2014, up from $92 million in 2008.

Andrew Taylor, co-CEO of Juwai, a Shanghai-based real estate platform catering to Chinese clients seeking homes overseas, wrote to China Daily: "Property marketers are realizing that they can do more than just sit at home and wait for Chinese buyers to arrive. They can advertise online in China; they can translate some of their materials; they can travel to China to build a referral network; and they can attend property expos in cities like Shanghai or Beijing to meet directly with consumers.

"There is still room for agents to start marketing to China for the first time, and most agents should," Taylor wrote. "But at the premium end, it's not amateur hour any longer, and the best agents are offering advice and services that they would never have dreamed of just a few years ago."

In Beijing, a marketing campaign sponsored by SouFun Holdings Ltd, China's biggest real estate website, touts a 12-day "Gold-Digging US tour". Earlier this month, the city was also host to a foreign property and immigration exhibition.

"There are several well-run conferences that try to match Chinese buyers with foreign brokers," Min Chan, an immigration lawyer, who maintains a law practice that handles EB-5 cases, told China Daily. "It's a small niche market area, but what Gotham is trying to do is very unique."

Chan, who is also a broker with City Connections Realty in New York, said some of the things that have changed in recent years include more specified services catered to Chinese clients and more knowledge of Chinese buyers' interests.

Bloomberg contributed to this story.


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