Chinese investment in Seattle real estate is ‘increasing dramatically’

Don’t expect the appetites of Chinese real estate investors for Seattle-area property to be sated anytime soon.

If anything, the desire among Chinese investors for real estate here is “increasing dramatically,” said West Coast real estate services company Kidder Mathews Executive Vice President Skip Whitney, who heads his company’s China Services division.

One reason is the lack of opportunities in the Bay Area. San Francisco has been “picked over,” Whitney said.

Kidder created the China Services division four years ago.

“We are now starting to reap the benefits, and it’s just going to get bigger. I’m not seeing anything that’s slowing us down,” said another Kidder executive, Brian Hatcher, who works in Bellevue.

Kidder Mathews is working with around eight Chinese groups looking to buy commercial real estate in the Puget Sound region, according to Whitney, who works out of Kidder’s San Francisco office. He said most of the shoppers are looking for development deals because they want to establish a platform to build projects, not just invest in real estate.

Chinese investors’ interest in the Puget Sound area is a relatively new phenomenon.

“Three years ago we couldn’t get anyone to look at Seattle. Now everyone wants to look at Seattle,” said Whitney.

Another Kidder broker, Holly Yang of the Bellevue office, added there’s “an unprecedented requirement for real estate investment opportunities here.”

Whitney said the Seattle region’s similarities with the Bay Area are helping drive investments. Tech companies are fueling both region’s economies, and this makes the Chinese feel “very comfortable” buying in the Puget Sound region.

 Chinese investment and development companies, especially state-owned enterprises, are trying to move money offshore to diversify their holdings in areas with opportunities for strong returns.

The investors are homing in on Seattle, which they now see as a first-tier global investment market. This perception was further raised last month when Seattle Mayor Ed Murray traveled to China for a trade mission. During that trip it was announced that China’s largest homebuilder plans to invest in a 43-story apartment tower planned for a site near the Space Needle.

Since then a Chinese company called Create World America has paid a total of just over $33.3 million for two development sites in Seattle, including one near Pike Place Market, where a condo tower is planned, and one in South Lake Union, where Create World hopes to start construction on an apartment high-rise this fall.

Marc Stiles covers real estate for the Puget Sound Business Journal.

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