Exclusive: Chinese property enquiries in Manchester rise by over 250 per cent in a year

Investors continue to buy up swathes of property in the North as CEO of Chinese property website calls weak pound “the new normal".

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Chinese demand for buy-to-let properties in the North of England has rocketed in the past year, the CEO of China’s largest overseas property website has told Spotlight.

Carrie Law, CEO of Juwai.com, revealed that “In Manchester in January 2018, Chinese buyer enquiries were 255.6 per cent higher than in the same month a year earlier. In Liverpool, Chinese buyer enquiries were 160 per cent higher than in the same month one year earlier. Meanwhile, in London, enquiries were down 48.5 per cent that month on a year-on-year basis.”

Law said that while investors flocked to buy British property as the pound fell to a 31-year low in the wake of the Brexit vote, the “general trend of decline” from the initial feeding frenzy had not abated as expected. “It has not been a straight-line decline,” said Law, “and January inquiry levels are actually significantly higher on a year-on-year basis in both Manchester and Liverpool.”

“Today,” she continued, “the weak pound is starting to look like the new normal and Chinese buyers are becoming accustomed to it. They no longer see it as a temporary discount, but a permanent condition.”

Law said that the “adjusted average buyer inquiry price” – what Chinese buyers are looking to spend – is £223,000 in Manchester. With the average sale price for property in the city now £183,934 (a rise of almost 4 per cent year-on-year), overseas investors are well placed to compete against local demand.

More than 80 per cent of buyers on Juwai.com listed investment as their motivation for buying a property in Manchester or Liverpool. Law noted that “the share of Chinese buyers who say they intend to occupy their purchase is more than twice as high in London, at 52.7 per cent, than in Manchester, where it is 18.9 per cent.”

Data shared with Spotlight by Juwai shows Manchester and Liverpool and now the second and third most popular UK cities after London for Chinese buyers. Cambridge and Birmingham occupy fourth and fifth places, suggesting that cities such as Leeds and Newcastle have yet to appeal to Chinese investors.

A number of high-profile property developments in Liverpool and Manchester, aimed specifically at overseas investors, have been abandoned in recent years. As reported in detail by the Guardian these developments, enthusiastically promoted by George Osborne and Joe Anderson, were financed through a “buyer-funded” model that the Solicitors Regulation Authority described as “high risk or fraudulent”.

In Manchester the Angelgate development of 344 apartments, which took more than £30m in deposits before going into administration and remains unbuilt more than two years after its completion date, is reported to have led to protests on the street in Hong Kong. But this seems to have done little to reduce Chinese buyers’ enthusiasm for the city.

“Manchester currently has the greatest dynamism and momentum in attracting Chinese buyers,” said Law. “It has gained buyer share quickly, while London has not.” While London remains popular with wealthier buyers, Law thinks that “by finding ways to persuade more Chinese individuals and families that [Manchester] is a great place to start one’s career, to which to immigrate, and in which to retire,” Manchester’s market for overseas property “would likely close the gap with London.”

Will Dunn edits the New Statesman's regular policy supplement, Spotlight.