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From sunny suburban developments in Irvine, California, to shiny new condominium towers overlooking Manhattan's skyline, Chinese buyers are sinking cash into U.S. residential real estate. Chinese are now the top foreign buyers of domestic properties, according to the National Association of Realtors, and nearly half of them are paying cash, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate sales and analytics company.
Forty-six percent of Chinese buyers paid cash for their U.S. homes so far in 2015, up 229 percent from a decade ago. Compare that to a 33 percent cash share for buyers overall, up 65 percent from a decade ago.
"Cash buyers across the board are playing a much bigger role in the housing market now than they were 10 years ago, and that is particularly true for Chinese Mandarin-speaking cash buyers, who are more likely to be foreign nationals," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. "Foreign cash buyers have helped to accelerate U.S. home price appreciation over the past few years given that these buyers are often not as constrained by income as local, traditionally financed buyers."
Recent instability in China's economy and stock market has driven even more buyers to the U.S. — so much so that Long & Foster, a Virginia-based real estate agency, recently began working with Juwai, a China-based real estate listing site.
"We're seeing demand from Chinese buyers with children of all ages — some as young as 1 year old — and they're relying on our team for insight into the local areas and their educational offerings, from elementary to university level," said Pandra Richie, president of Long & Foster's corporate real estate services. "Access to quality education is one of the top priorities for Chinese buyers, and from Philadelphia to Richmond, our market areas offer some of the best school districts and universities."
Asian buyers accounted for 35 percent of all international purchases of U.S. real estate for the 12-month period ended in March 2015, spending more than $28 billion. They have been very active in high-end markets, especially in California and New York City.
Kathy Sloane, a real estate agent with Brown Harris Stevens in Manhattan, recently returned from a real estate conference in China.
"Many Chinese signed up to come. Many New York developers signed up to find out what these Chinese buyers wanted," said Sloane. "The Chinese buyer that was there, often brought their children. They are affluent. They want to know how to get their children into school and how to get health care for their parents. It's a package."
Some want trophy apartments in New York, but certainly not all. There is an appetite for everything. They do tend to like new construction, as is evidenced in Irvine, California, where homebuilders are selling and even designing for Chinese buyers.
Read More Chinese buying up California housing
"These people are not about flight capital. They are about changing their lives and moving out of China for a variety of reasons," added Sloane.
Education, health care and the promise of price appreciation are all enticing to Chinese buyers. While demand has been on the higher end until now, it is likely that more affordable markets like the mid-Atlantic will start to see increased demand. Cash is a distinct advantage in today's tight housing market, and clearly Chinese buyers know that.