BANGKOK/HONG KONG, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Mainland Chinese are snapping up more properties in Thailand for both personal and investment purposes, after being priced out of the market in big cities at home, developers in the Southeast Asian country said on Wednesday.
With its beaches, varied street food and ancient temples, Thailand has become a holiday favorite with Chinese visitors, who are expected to account for close to a third of an estimated record 35 million tourists this year.
Thai property developer Sansiri Pcl, which is opening three new offices in China this year to join its Beijing branch, said sales to Chinese buyers had risen steadily over the past three years.
"In 2014, they comprised about 15 percent of our foreign buyers. Last year, almost 30 percent. This year they might actually be up to, or surpass, Hong Kong, which has been our lead market for years," Cobby Leathers, Head of International Business at Sansiri, told Reuters.
The CEO of Raimon Land Pcl, Adrian Lee, said three to five years ago Chinese buyers accounted for 20-30 percent of the company's foreign buyers. Now they make up around 60 percent.
Thailand ranked sixth for the number of Chinese real estate buying enquiries made in 2016, but moved up to No.3 in the first half of 2017, said Sue Jong, chief of operations for Juwai.com, a major Chinese international property portal.
"We are also seeing a formerly under represented buyer appearing in larger numbers. This is the upper middle-class Chinese buyer who can't afford property in more expensive countries," said Jong.
Two-thirds of Chinese buyers are looking at property that costs $250,000 or less, Jong added.
Shu Feifei, 33, a native of Chegdu in China's southwestern Sichuan province, said she had bought two properties in Bangkok in the past two years and that she rents them out through the short-term rental website Airbnb.
"Investing there was a better option than investing in China," Shu told Reuters.
"In Thailand, it's good for foreigners to buy smaller properties, it's easier to rent out too if they want to rent," Shu said, adding she had received many enquiries through social media from Chinese investors interested in doing the same.
China home prices have seen significant growth since the start of last year, with gains spilling over to smaller cities in recent months as authorities placed restrictions to keep prices in check in major cities.
Bangkok and seaside favorites Phuket and Pattaya are top destinations for Chinese buyers, according to Chinese real estate portal Juwai.com.
The surge in Chinese buyers has continued despite a recovery in the yuan in 2017 after falling to a near 8-year low against the dollar in late 2016.
($1 = 33.2800 baht) (Additional reporting by Brenda Goh and Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Himani Sarkar)