Chinese Investors Eyeing These States for Land

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Dallas-native Ben Briggs founded and ran a company in Xiamen, China for eight years. His son Robbie served as chairman of the board of the International School of Beijing where he lived for three years. Now, the father and son team are introducing Chinese business influencers to Texas and its investment opportunities.

"Governor Perry has done a fantastic job with taxes and the local Texas economy," said Scott Shellady, CEO of Bradford Capital Management in Chicago. "This naturally leads to a more stable and confident environment for investors and residents. The state has clearly shown an interest in outside investment whether it be from Illinois or Shanghai."

Assuming their colleagues in China would want to learn about opportunities in Texas specifically Dallas-Fort Worth, the Briggs family took their hunch about mass market demand and organized a 12-day, five-city tour of China that ended in Beijing.

"Meetings with banking leaders, lawyers and investors have revealed a feeling of insecurity about assets in China that is motivating them to want to park wealth in U.S. real estate," said Ben Briggs, executive vice president of greater China with Briggs Freeman Sotheby's International Realty.

It's no wonder Dallas real estate is attractive. The Chinese government recently announced that China's economic growth rate during the second quarter of this year stood at 7.5% percent down from 7.7% in the first quarter.

"One group of 70 CEOs we spoke with asked questions regarding residential taxes, high-rise apartments that can be leased out, whether ownership is fee simple, what kind of investments qualify for the EB-5 immigration program and the availability of food-supply properties and ranches," said Robbie Briggs, CEO of Briggs Freeman Sotheby's International Realty. "The interest level everywhere we go is apparent."

The EB-5 program is a permanent residence option for foreign nationals that requires an investment of $1 million in a commercial enterprise that will employ 10 full-time US workers or $500,000 in a high unemployment or rural area.

"We have few, if any constraints, on foreign ownership or investment in U.S. real estate," said Mark Stapp, executive director of the Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) program at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. "Our property rights are some of the best defined and protected in the world and our political environment is stable, which means people want to own hard assets in the United States and in places they know of, can easily get to and are growth economies."

Texas has one of the fastest growing economies in the U.S. The number of jobs in the Lone Star State has grown by 31.5% since 1995 compared with just 12% nationwide, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. "During the recession, the top housing markets were in Texas and there is good international connectivity," Stapp told MainStreet.

Despite the persistent popularity of the television episodic "Dallas," Texas isn't the only state of interest to foreign investors. Michigan is on the radar of Chinese investors as well with an economy that grew 2.3%, the sixth best in percentage terms among the 50 states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

"They are currently buying large tracts of housing in Detroit -- sight unseen," Shellady told MainStreet.

A downside of foreign investment can be clarity of purpose.

"The EB-5 program worries me somewhat because the motivation can be residency not the project so investors may be making investments into marginal deals that could not otherwise attract capital," Stapp said. "That will yield projects that fail and cause markets to be unbalanced."

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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