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Chinese love US housing so much, now they're building it

Chinese nationals have been buying U.S. residential real estate at a fast clip for the last few years. Now they are building it, setting their sights on some of the priciest parcels of land in the hopes of attracting U.S. and Chinese buyers alike.

"The Chinese real estate market is very competitive, and the U.S. housing market is recovering and expanding rapidly, so for us as a company to invest a certain amount in the U.S. makes a lot of sense for us," said Tian Ming, chairman of Landsea, a China-based developer, through an interpreter.

Landsea, which bills itself as China's "pre-eminent green builder," is investing $1 billion in the U.S. housing market, beginning with three new developments. It will build condominiums in the New York City market, townhomes in San Francisco and single-family homes in the Los Angeles area.

Rendering of the proposed Landsea Weehawken condo project
Source: IBI Architecture
Rendering of the proposed Landsea Weehawken condo project

"Our primary customer is still here domestically in the U.S., but because of our background and who we are and our brand in China, we will get Chinese customers who will want to buy our homes," said Tian, standing on an empty parking lot in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Two hundred condominium units are planned for the site, which boasts spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline. Landsea purchased the property from U.S. home builder Lennar, which will design and build the project in much the same fashion as its own new condo building, which neighbors the property.

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"We have enjoyed our association with Landsea and expect to see great things from them as they continue their journey in the U.S.," said Bruce Gross, Lennar's chief financial officer.

Lennar has already enjoyed great business from Chinese buyers in its Southern California housing developments. Chinese parents are flocking to California especially, buying homes there so that their children can attend American high schools and universities. Lennar, and other U.S. builders, have even implemented Feng Shui design in some of their homes to accommodate the Asian buyer.

"China's investment is spiking now because there is a fear by many Chinese nationals that their capital is not secure in China itself, and so they are looking for other places to invest," said Ben Thypin, director of market analysis at Real Capital Analytics.

Chinese developers invested close to $3 billion in U.S. commercial real estate in 2013, two-thirds of it in the New York area, according to Real Capital Analytics. They are on track to do the same if not more this year.

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"The reality is that these are very big companies. They're well-funded. The U.S. is, we think it's a good market, obviously we're in it. So we shouldn't be surprised that they've come," said Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments on CNBC's "Squawk Box" Wednesday.

Landsea is one of several Chinese companies breaking U.S. ground now or planning to, a surge reminiscent of previous foreign interest from Japan, Canada and Great Britain. The Chinese real estate market is overbuilt and overpriced, so investors are seeking new opportunities elsewhere. The U.S., which is still recovering from the worst housing crash in its history, is ripe for the picking.

"If the volume of these guys increases, they're going to be competing with each other," added Zell, who sees great opportunity in U.S. real estate right now.

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Landsea is looking at expanding into the Washington, D.C., and Boston markets. It is already partnering with other U.S. companies in construction and management roles.

"We are trying to establish ourselves as a local domestic company," said Landsea's Tian.


Diana Olick | CNBC

—By CNBC's Diana Olick

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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.

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