Imagine selling a $13 million New York City apartment entirely through Twitter, Facebook or SnapChat? On China’s Facebook equivalent ‘WeChat’ this is completely possible and the hottest new trend emerging on China’s largest and most active social network. ‘Emma Hao’, an agent for luxury-home broker ‘Douglas Elliman’ has brokered property sales entirely through the WeChat platform. She does this a lot.. and she is not alone. “I’ll put up a floor plan and say that a new property is good on the blog and the location is great. Then people will say ‘I’m interested’ and buy,” she said. “It’s really something else.” She famously sold $13 000 of New York Luxury Apartments via WeChat to investors who declined to be named.
Why are the Chinese investing so heavily in US Real Estate?
The new government restrictions on capital flight have not slowed down the outbound tide of Chinese investment into the US. The US is considered a very ‘safe’ market to invest in property, particularly amidst the backdrop of the instability of the RMB, Chinese market fluctuation and a lack of property security. Land ownership rights in the US are also a powerful draw as well as the more stable property valuations. The Chinese buyer is looking to protect their wealth and overseas is investment is considered the safest way to preserve their assets. This combined with the positive association of the US with a high quality of life, quality education and further business opportunities has become a powerful incentive for outbound property buyers. Real Estate companies need to engage in intelligent marketing to the potential buyer by tapping into these positive associations.
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The US is Still On-Top
China’s wave of outbound real estate investment shows no signs of slowing down with the US still the number one location for commercial and residential purchasing. According to an Asia Society Special Report, Chinese investment in residential property amounted to $93 billion between 2010 and 2015, whilst commercial property rang in at $17.1 billion over the same period. This is despite the implementation of capital controls designed to restrict capital flight, through pressuring insurers to reduce overseas investment and asking Chinese banks to limit dollar buying and establish international spending limits. Chinese demand for U.S. property remains strong. As of August 2016, the U.S. has already drawn $13 billion in real estate investment commitments from China.
WeChat as a platform for Real Estate investment
WeChat has over 850 million active monthly users and is the primary method of communication in modern China. It is the most popular app functioning as a messenger, news feed, e-wallet, browser, e-commerce platform & app store. Users spend on average 40 minutes per day on this social media app with almost every aspect of their daily lives catered for. Real estate investment is no exception.. Ms. Hao when negotiating sales sets up a WeChat conversation group between herself, the buyer and attorneys to help navigate the purchasing process in the U.S., very different from buying a home in China. “Nobody can see who is in my group and it’s confidential,” Ms. Hao says of being able to send documents back and forth on the social app. Ms. Hao has been using WeChat for the past two years and estimates she’s completed seven deals via the app. “No matter how clients first contacted me, we almost always end up using WeChat at some point,” she says.
The Problem for US Real Estate in China
There is clearly a powerful method for brokering sales and connecting with Chinese buyers on WeChat. But how do you do this? How are they researching for property and are your services visible in China to prospective buyers? The problem is that many US Real Estate firms are largely invisible in China. The country has a completely different online eco-system that is cut off from the rest of the web by the ‘Great Chinese Firewall’. Chinese platforms dominate. No Facebook, WeChat. No Twitter Weibo. Forgot Google, in China there is Baidu. Chinese platforms and search engines are fed by content in Mandarin. If you are not present on Chinese platforms and producing Chinese content that is targeted to the right groups it will be difficult to engage with buyers on WeChat.
The solution for US Real Estate.. Digital Strategy for Lead Generation
The answer is to build your reputation and visibility on the right Chinese platforms to target the most suitable prospective investors. With digital strategy you can develop an incredibly targeted approach based on search information, keywords entered and previous online history. In China, especially via WeChat, there is a wealth of information available about potential investors.
Using WeChat as a Launch Pad
An official WeChat account will be your Launchpad to promote properties to potential clients, you can send floor plans, images, specifications, as well as live video streaming. The account is your ‘shop front’ and needs to be designed as quality ‘micro site’ hosted within WeChat using HTM5. It can feature presentations of properties and outline the company services, case studies and further contact details. Content needs to be optimized for WeChat. You can target specific groups through community chats and share quality information. The network is sometimes called ‘The WeChat Times’, users search for information and it is vital to keep investors up-to-date with the US market.
Baidu.. The Gateway to China
Baidu (Think China’s Google) is a gateway to China with 70% of all online research conducted via this platform. You need to have a quality version of your site as a ‘shop front’ that is highly visible. This is achieved through SEO (Search Engine Optimization) with Mandarin Characters optimized. Appearing in the natural search results will drive the highest quality traffic and leads for a real estate firm. Fewer serious professionals click on the paid ads but turn to the natural search results. Having said this Baidu banner ads & PPC (pay per click) are important when you first enter the market for your visibility and leads can still be generated here.
Chinese Property Forums
Chinese property forums remain very popular with large, active communities of potential investors going here for advice. It is important to have testimonials from existing buyers & investors. This can be artificially created initially in order to drive traction & conversation about your business. Posts can be up-promoted and made more visible through the number of comments, and links to relevant external sites. Creating a topic such as; ‘Where is the best city to invest in the US?’ and then linking an active topic with your firm (recommended by a Chinese user) can be very effective.
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