The Ultimate Guide to Sell Real Estate in China

Benji Lamb

Marketing Director – Greater China

Here is our guide to understand Real Estate marketing in China.

I’m Benji, the Real Estate & Investment Director at GMA with experience managing a host of successful Real Estate Lead Generation projects in China. A number of clients have requested a more in-depth analysis of marketing strategy, I hope the following article fullfils this request.  

In China you have to think big, it’s a very different market-place that rewards vision and initial investment. From my experience acting fast and capitalising on limited competition due to barriers for entry pays dividends. If you have a serious project let’s talk.

In terms of international Real Estate investment, the capital investment into residential & commercial projects from Mainland China is at an all-time high with total Chinese global offshore assess tripling from $6.4 trillion in 2015 to an expected $20 tn by 2020.

While much of the total comes in the form of foreign exchange reserves and portfolio investment, a growing share will come from direct Chinese investment in developed western countries.. Enter the Overseas Residential Real Estate Boom.

The US has emerged on top in terms of Chinese re-location and investment for the third year running. OFDI (Outbound Foreign Direct Investment) has sky rocketed, in barely a decade Chinese OFDI went from virtually nothing to over $100 bn per year which has fuelled this dramatic growth.

Understand The Real Estate Market in China

Growing Investment into Foreign Real Estate

Today we see a significant rise in outbound investment into Real Estate. Overseas Property is seen by the Chinese as more reliable. It is really the time for real estate companies to position themselves to satisfy this demand.

Olivier Verot

CEO, Marketing to China

OFDI was typically concentrated in developing nations, now however we witness a huge shift to residential investment in developed nations such as the US, Canada, UK & Australia.

Investment into overseas residential/commercial real estate has hit a record $33 bn, rising by more than half last year. Most notably this accounts for a third of the total OFDI, the highest percentage to date. The discerning Chinese realize investment into bricks and mortar is the safest way for the preservation of assets, particularly in the lucrative Real Estate markets of North America & urban centres in Europe as well as Australia.

When it comes to residential developments this is not surprising, with rising standards of living, priorities around education and lifestyle shifting to the forefront of investors’ minds, as well as a depreciating Yuan.

There is no doubt that China will be major movers of capital into Real Estate for many years to come but how do you attract investment to score a slice of this pie?

Online Lead / Prospect Generation

China now boasts a 65% internet penetration rate with over 900 million Chinese users connected online. There are approximately 350 million ‘middle-upper class’ individuals active online in China daily. To generate qualified investment prospects from the top wealth bracket (for example the upper 25 million) you need to develop a comprehensive digital strategy. Why? Because the Chinese Market is unique & developed under its own set of conditions. The development of global, digital technology coincided with the accumulation of levels of wealth in China. Online research became more deeply entrenched in the investors mind, regardless of the traditional commission focused, sales network of agents.

A Different Market, A Different Approach

In China the answer for lead generation is digital, this is one of the most online centric environments in the globe & Investment is no exception, there is strong culture of online research with the average user spending 1.5 hours per day browsing for information.

The traditional, commissioned focus sales network of agents is not redundant in China. Indeed an online strategy supports their sales efforts BUT relying solely on third party sales certainly has its issues.

Sales Agents Don’t Do Marketing

Firstly sales agents do not do digital marketing, they build offline networks which severely limits exposure without an online presence. It is difficult for an agent to sell a project in such an online focused society without online exposure, even after a personal recommendation Chinese investors will typically research online via Baidu.

A Lack of Brand Control

Secondly I have heard countless complaints first-hand of a ‘race to the bottom’, that is poorer quality service, price cutting and ruthless sales tactics at any cost. Outsourcing to third parties in this way does not allow serious Real Estate professionals control over customer service, their brand image or management over further prospective buyer references.

Direct Lead Generation & Marketing the most Effective Approach

In China the best approach is to use sales agents to compliment & support direct online lead generation. The figures speak for themselves, a comprehensive campaign can drive 100 leads per month, a sales agent typically provides between 1-3. You also then have control of customer service and the sales conversion process, many firms such DAMAC, RS Properties and Douglas & Elliman all built Chinese customer service teams to handle conversion directly. Higher lead figures & direct, in-house sales increases the likelihood of conversion.

Direct Lead Generation in China = Control Over Your Brand

 

The discerning investor buys into the reputation of your brand. You need to be reputable and visible on the right platforms, direct lead generation via your own website and accounts allows you to control that first impression (you are not just a page in a portfolio), rather you have a strong identity in your own right.

The benefit of investor referrals from an in-house team

 

Over-reliance on sales networks can be dangerous for any serious Real Estate firm seeking to seriously penetrate this market. Building a Chinese customer service team in-house allows you to control communications, importantly you can also benefit from investor referrals and re-direct interested parties for your own listed projects.

A third party, sales agent has no loyalty to provide referrals to you, rather they remain a gatekeeper with the power to push sales in one direction or another, most typically just based on commission. To take the most referrals you must increase commission rates.

With direct lead generation, what you save on commission you invest into marketing strategy to dramatically increase lead numbers.

How to Sell Real Estate in China: What you Need

A Quality Chinese Website

You need a quality site that is built as a ‘vehicle for visibility’ on Baidu (China’s Google).

How is this achieved? The site needs to be optimized & audited on the ‘back end’ (meta tags/descriptions/titles etc) for the most effective Mandarin Chinese searches.

All Lead Gen in China starts with Chinese character searches.  

The website needs to be optimized for speed of load;

An Ideal Site Built for Baidu;

  • 8-10 Pages
  • Keyword repetition in-line with selected keywords
  • A static site, i.e avoid video’s and complex graphics
  • Internal links to other relevant pages
  • Content Rich.. I prefer a Wiki style content presentation.

See below for two examples of sites developed.

A more simple presentation is far better for search engine visibility in China.

Ronald Serry Australian Property feature a Baidu ‘Live Chat’ tool for engaging in live web communications, an effective lead generation tool.

 A sample landing page developed for Damac, note the simple, static layout, search bar for property enquires & pop up live chat tool.

lead / Prospect Generation Forms

The two main ways to make contact via the site should be a traditional ‘lead generation form’, in China it is also advisable to embed QR code links to drive traffic directly to your WeChat account as an additional method of contact.

You can also note the benefit of the ‘Baidu Live Chat’ Tool. This allows you to make contact while investors browse your content, portfolio etc. Rich in content equals longer time spent browsing and the greater the likelihood of contact via liva chat tools.

Baidu Ads & SEM: Search engine Marketing

Why such an emphasis on Baidu? Because it’s a powerful portal to investors. Consider that 75% of all property and investment research is carried out via Baidu. This is China’s largest search engine and you must be highly visible and reputable here.

Baidu visibility falls into two categories;

In Real Estate PPC (Pay Per Click) is actually very effective from my experience. In drives highly qualified, knowledgeable and specific enquiries.

Think middle to bottom of the lead funnel.

PPC will place you at the top of search feeds based on a pre-determined selection of Chinese keywords.

With PPC the most important aspects to consider are;

  • Keyword Bidding Prices
  • Link Monitoring
  • Ad Copywriting
  • Quality Feedback, Reporting + Analysis

There have been fears in China of ‘click fraud’ (i.e. competitors falsely clicking on web pages to drive up numbers). A quality agency needs to monitor click through rates to ensure they do not suddenly ‘spike’ or dramatically alter.

PPC ad link appears at the top of the search results based on targeted keywords

SEO on baidu (Search engine optimization)

Search Engines are the heart of Chinese Real Estate Researching. Baidu rankings are as important as your google ranking. Search on Google and you will find only the most reputable players in the industry in the natural results, in China it is no different.

How do you rank highly in the natural results on Baidu?

  • Content is king, quality Chinese content is rewarded with higher positioning
  • Backlinks are vital, other reputable sites with ranking need to link to your site
  • Meta Tags/Descriptions/Title Keywords need to be in-line

Natural results are where the most serious prospects are generated. Discerning investors will research via Baidu extensively before coming to any decision.

Ronald Serry Property Ranking Third on the First Page in the natural results based on the keyword ‘Australian Real Estate’

News Applications – A Powerful Tool for Lead Generation

Search Engines are the heart of Chinese Real Estate Researching. Baidu rankings are as important as your google ranking. Search on Google and you will find only the most reputable players in the industry in the natural results, in China it is no different.

 

How do you rank highly in the natural results on Baidu?

  • Content is king, quality Chinese content is rewarded with higher positioning
  • Backlinks are vital, other reputable sites with ranking need to link to your site
  • Meta Tags/Descriptions/Title Keywords need to be in-line

 

Natural results are where the most serious prospects are generated. Discerning investors will research via Baidu extensively before coming to any decision.

A sample News App Add (centre article). The Advertorial is inserted into the news feed of targeted readers. Appearing as news legitimizes your project and brand name.

WeChat – A tool for Sales & Communication rather than Lead Gen.

WeChat certainly enjoys a powerful international reputation, it is primarily a branding & sales tool when it comes to Real Estate. For the sales process it is indispensable but for lead generation far less effective.

Why is this? WeChat is a closed network, this means users can only see content posted if they are already connected with you. The search function on WeChat is very basic so currently one cannot appear from keyword searches (remember this is the primary strategy in China for Real Estate).

It’s great once you have attracted the lead to begin conversations via WeChat, firms may use WeChat in the following ways;

  • Send portfolios / investment opportunities
  • Send property floor plans
  • Send short videos for viewings
  • Voice/video/text message prospects

For communications set up some WeChat customer service accounts (if budget more limited), if budget stretches it is worth setting up an official account that can be used to push content to followers, this is a long-term process as you have to increase your following over time but it does allow for users to re-share content on their feeds which can lead to referrals.

Some agents swear by WeChat for refferals but they have a large network already, you have to invest in social media to build this before WeChat can be a successful lead generation tool.

Investment & Property Forums in China

 

When it comes to seeking investment opportunities there are a many forums popular with the Chinese. These forums often take the form of a Q&A format with users posting questions for others to answer.

In forums such as Baidu Tieba, Baidu Zhidao, Zhihu & Tianya you can create a positive reputation through user to user discussions.

Baidu Zhidao(Q&A): Is real estate investment profitable nowadays? Any advice on locations?

Zhihu (Q&A): How do I find the most valuable property?

Why are Forums effective?

  • There a many specific threads for buying property in specific price ranges and regions with many targeted buyers both browsing and interacting here.
  • Positive comments about your business come from Chinese users themselves, this helps instil trust & reputation.
  • Forums rank highly on the Baidu search feed so comments and topics are highly visible.

Forum reputation is one of the most cost effective ways for Real Estate projects to improve their standing & reputation online.

Localized News, Keeping Your Finger on the Pulse of China

The most important element of a good PR campaign is to localize your project with trending news in China, this increases the relevancy of your message in relation to the reader & dramatically increases the share rate and levels of readership.

For example news can be tied in with:

  • Trending Topics & Keywords
  • Breaking Chinese News Stories
  • National Days of Holiday in China
  • Well known Chinese figures in your field
  • Local celebrity endorsements

 

PR is an essential element of a campaign but you need quality bi-lingual copywriters to ensure your message is communicated most effectively.

Conclusion: Get in Touch

 

This market is undeniably lucrative for savy firms but also fiercely competitive. Simply relying on sales agents is not enough for long term growth, particularly when it comes to brand reputation. Serious players need to invest in their own online growth in such a digitally orientated market place.

 

We are a specialist Real Estate team with 5 years experience in the Chinese market, we understand this target demographic and how to reach them. Please contact myself and the team for an in-depth discussion on how to further your interests in China.