Less than three years after launch, HouGarden (hougarden.com) is one of the top three sites marketing New Zealand properties in China less. HouGarden has around 180,000 unique visitors per month at present and racks up over one million page views. While 49% of visits come from China and 41% from Chinese-speaking New Zealanders, there is growing interest in New Zealand property from Singapore (4%) and Hong Kong (nearly 3%), as well as Malaysia. What sets HouGarden (which means ‘backyard’ in Chinese) apart from its competition, founder Mr Sam Yin says, is its tailoring to the Chinese psyche. “In New Zealand, Kiwis and assimilated Chinese – those who speak English and understand Kiwi culture – just want the facts and the numbers.
“However, Chinese in China are conservative and want to build a connection. They are also buying remotely so they want to know exactly who is involved, and to deal with agents, lawyers, immigration consultants and others they can trust. With HouGarden we have set out to build a Chinese-language online real estate community to respond to these specific needs – just a group of listings, no matter how comprehensive, is not enough. It works as a kind of LinkedIn for property vendors and buyers.”
The two major sectors of the HouGarden market are those who want to immigrate to New Zealand, and parents buying property for their children to live in while they study at New Zealand universities. However, an equally important demographic has sprung up that Mr Yin says should be encouraged in the interests of New Zealand infrastructure – large property investors who are buying tracts of land for housing and employing New Zealand architects, designers and contractors to build, then marketing the finished property to New Zealanders. Current examples are Albany’s Library Lane project and the 48-apartment Parkview Residences development adjacent to Basque Park on Eden Terrace.
“There is a lot of wealth in China and also Hong Kong and Singapore, and the latter groups are less conservative and more adventurous in their approach to real estate investment,” Mr Yin says.
“I think this type of investment should be encouraged – the New Zealand government is clearly struggling to meet new housing targets, having only built five houses in the year since the introduction of the Special Housing Accord, and encouraging offshore investment is not about selling New Zealand real estate to foreigners. On the contrary, it results in job creation and new housing for New Zealanders without any burden to the taxpayer, because all the upfront cost is being shouldered by the investor.
“Chinese buyers spent nearly US$37 billion on international residential property in 2013, and Auckland Council and the New Zealand government would be smart to leverage this investment power for the benefit of Kiwis.”
The top three cities represented in traffic on HouGarden are Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and the website is backed up by a mobile site, smartphone app and WeChat, each of which has tens of thousands of users.
What’s next for the ambitious Mr Yin and HouGarden? Building a stronger relationship with all New Zealand real estate groups to encourage them to market all listed properties in China. “The health of the New Zealand economy depends in part on attracting more foreign investment – real investment that strengthens our infrastructure and productive sector – and we want to play a part in driving this.”