Chinese people are signing up for visits to the United States with one aim in mind - to buy homes on the cheap.
The US mortgage crisis and the downturn in the global economy has presented them with a golden opportunity.
About 300 Chinese have registered for a 10-day house-buying trip organized by Soufun.com, one of the largest real estate portals in China. The group is scheduled to leave next month.
"We discovered there was greater interest in overseas properties during a recent domestic sales promotion," Liu Jian, chief operating officer of Soufun.com, told China Daily.
"The trip will focus on San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and possibly New York and Washington DC. These cities have huge Chinese immigrant populations," Liu said.
"The cost will be about 15,000 yuan ($2,200) per person, excluding airfare."
Xiao Hong, a housewife who has signed up for the trip, said: "I'd like to buy a house for my son, a high school student."
If all goes well, the house that Xiao intends to buy in the Greater New York area, will be left vacant for three years until her son enters a US college, and the family obtains the required documents to stay in the country.
The possible rent loss during the three years is not an issue, Xiao said. "I care less about the money than my son's education," she said.
About 60 percent of those who will be going on the trip are from the middle class, like Xiao, who are looking for homes for their children, Liu said.
"The rest are investors who have been following the increase in mortgage foreclosures in the US, and the decline in the real estate market," he said.
The house-buying spree is reflective of the rise of an affluent middle class, Wang Hongxin, director of the Real Estate Research Institute of Beijing Normal University, said.
Chinese people visiting the US are allowed to take up to $50,000 a year to spend in the country. Many have toured the US several times to accumulate enough funds to buy property, a lawyer with Beijing law firm King & Wood told China Daily.
Many middle-class Chinese also pay for houses through legitimate businesses they run in the US, the lawyer, who declined to be named, said.
US home prices have plunged since April last year.
The US Mortgage Bankers' Association reported on Friday that 1.35 million homes were subject to foreclosure in the third quarter.
Source: China Daily