Wealth in Asia

Wanted: Chinese buyer for Michael Jackson's Neverland

Fancy buying a yacht online?
Fancy buying a yacht online?

A 2,700-acre California ranch once belonging to the King of Pop has been up for sale for six months and having failed to attract any local buyers, its owners are now looking east.

Luxify, an online marketplace for new, vintage, and pre-owned luxury goods, is betting on China's wealthy to snap up multi-million dollar properties such as the Neverland estate and Michael Jordan's Highland Park mansion—which has been on sale since 2012—amid a dearth of interest from American buyers.

"Our goal is to display these unique properties to Chinese buyers," Alexis Zirah, co-founder of Luxify, told CNBC on Friday.

"If you look at the U.S. property market, it's been boosted by an influx of Chinese investors. They are the largest foreign investors, having spent $30 billion last year alone. Those people are really buying things at the high end of the market; their average purchase is about $800,000 as opposed to $345,000 for American citizens."

Indeed, the ever expanding wealth of China's upper class has been well documented, most recently by the $170 million credit card purchase of a Modigliani painting by taxi driver-turned-billionaire Liu Yiqian.

Bid takers stand in front of a video screen with Amedeo Modigliani's 'Nu Couche,' November 9, 2015 at Christie's New York.
Why rich Chinese are buying vineyards, islands in cash

Chinese investors have a sense of urgency to diversify their assets out of the country amid severe stock market volatility and fears of further yuan devaluation, so they are accelerating purchases of foreign real-estate, Zirah noted.

Indices in Shanghai and Shenzhen experienced a harsh three-month selloff earlier this year, resulting in the exit of than 20 million individual investors during the month of July, data from the China Securities Depository & Clearing Corp showed. Just one month later, the central bank shocked global financial markets by devaluing the currency by nearly 2 percent against the greenback. While a cheaper currency boosts foreign trade, it makes goods outside of the mainland more expensive for consumers.

The U.S. also remains one of the most popular destinations for Chinese home-buyers since they often use the country as a base for educating their children, Zirah said.

An aerial photo shows singer Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch outside of Santa Barbara, California.
Frazer Harrison | Getty Images

The somewhat eccentric tastes of certain Chinese billionaires could also make it easier for Luxify to market hard-to-sell properties such as the Peter-Pan inspired Neverland ranch.

Liu Dejian, founder of mainland online gaming firm NetDragon Websoft, spent a staggering $100 million to construct a massive replica of Star Trek ship 'The Enterprise' that was completed in 2014.

Still, it remains to be seen whether any of China's billionaires are die-hard Michael Jackson fans.

Alibaba's Taobao website hosted a one-day auction for the superstar's former home in October with a starting price of $79 million, but only received interest from one individual who ended up turning down the offer, according to Chinese news media.

Fears of corruption further complicate the picture for real-estate players such as Luxify.

Recurring incidents of all-cash purchases by mainland buyers have fueled widespread speculation that the funds used may stem from money laundering, casting the spotlight on how brokers should approach cash deals.

"We are not a platform to move dirty money; we're simply here to facilitate transactions. We work with private bankers, lawyers, and family offices who are responsible for the actual transactions," Luxify said.