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China developers rush overseas amid shaky home market

As the cracks in China's housing market deepen, the country's major property developers are scouring the world for new opportunities.

Spending on overseas residential development projects soared to $1.1 billion in the first quarter - an 80 percent on-year rise, with Australia, the U.K. and U.S. garnering most of the investment.

Models of a housing project at a real estate fair in Qingdao, China.
Hong Wu | Getty Images
Models of a housing project at a real estate fair in Qingdao, China.

Overall outbound investment - including residential and commercial - grew 25 percent to $2.1 billion over this period.

Investment in residential projects was driven by developers looking to "counteract slower economic and price growth at home," said David Green-Morgan, global capital markets research director at real estate services firm JLL.

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Shanghai-based Greenland's investments in London, Los Angeles and Sydney, and Guangdong-based Country Garden's first foray in the Australian market earlier in the year, underscore growing interest in overseas residential properties.

China's once red-hot housing market has shown signs of a rapid cooling in the recent months.

According to a survey by China Real Estate Index System (CREIS), 45 of the 100 cities experienced month-on-month property price declines in April, up from 37 cities in March.

Read MoreUrbanization plan could further cool China property

Meanwhile, property investment in China has also lost steam as bank funding for developers tightens. Property investment accounted for about 12 percent of China's gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter, down from 15 percent in 2013, according to Reuters.

Shopping for commercial real estate

Although commercial investment was flat over the first quarter of 2014, Chinese investors still spent over $1 billion outside of the country.

A key component of first-quarter investment this year has been the use of foreign partnerships and joint ventures to make the purchases, noted Green-Morgan.

This was exemplified by a recent deal in Chicago, where China Cinda Asset Management partnered with U.S.-based Zeller Realty Group to purchase a 65-story office tower in the city for over $300 million in March.

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The deal marks the largest-known investment by a Chinese company in U.S. commercial property outside of the major cities on the East and West coasts, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"We expect interest and activity from equity-rich Chinese investors in overseas real estate markets to continue to grow throughout the remainder of 2014 and, as a result, it is possible that the total volume of spend by Chinese investors on commercial real estate outside of China could pass the $10 billion mark in 2014," said Darren Xia, director of international capital group (ICG) at JLL China.

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  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.