TOKYO • The trend has already hit Sydney, Vancouver and cities in the United States.
Now it is happening in Japan: busloads of real estate buyers from China coming in, buying up homes and pushing prices higher.
Real estate agencies in Beijing are organising twice-monthly tours to Tokyo and Osaka, where 40 Chinese at a time come for three-day property shopping trips, seeking safe places to invest their cash abroad.
They are being prompted by the yen's decline to 22-year lows and excitement over the 2020 Tokyo Olympics driving up prices, as they did in Beijing in 2008.
Such tours will soon start from Shanghai too.
Partly as a result of nascent Chinese buying, Tokyo apartment prices have reached the highest levels since the early 1990s, up 11 per cent over two years, according to the Real Estate Economic Institute.
"The Chinese buyers had mainly been from Taiwan until last year, but that trend has reversed since October as the yen weakened against the yuan," said Mr Zhou Yinan, an Osaka-based agent at Chinese brokerage SouFun Holdings, who said his mainland buyers are about 20 per cent more numerous than at this time last year.
Thousands more mainland Chinese are coming on their own, hitting real estate agencies in Tokyo's Ikebukuro Chinatown district. Classified advertisements, including properties for sale, are piled up in free Chinese newspapers outside a Chinese supermarket.
"There are so many Chinese buyers recently," said broker Song Zhiyan at BestOne realty in Ikebukuro, who uses the messaging application WeChat to reach thousands of potential customers in China.
Her transaction volume exclusively for mainlanders buying in Tokyo has tripled over the past six months, Ms Song said.
Demand is so strong that some developers have put a quota on the number of new apartments sold to foreigners, said Mr Kenny Ho, Tokyo-based managing director at Sinyi Realty, a Taiwanese brokerage with outlets in Japan.
Japan's sluggish economy caused price gains in Tokyo to trail those in other urban centres such as New York, London and Hong Kong since the 2008 global credit crisis. Buying from China, which created about a million new millionaires last year, according to the Boston Consulting Group, has the potential to quickly change the dynamics of local property markets.
In the US, buyers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan spent US$28.6 billion (S$38.5 billion) on homes in the 12 months through March, becoming the largest group of foreign buyers for the first time, an annual report by the National Association of Realtors shows.
Chinese already buy almost a quarter of new homes in Sydney, and their outlay will more than double to A$60 billion (S$61 billion) in the six years to 2020, Credit Suisse Group AG estimates.
In Japan, sales to Chinese and Taiwanese buyers jumped 70 per cent in the first three months of the year from the year- earlier period, or 11.1 billion yen (S$122 million) at Sinyi Realty. About 10 to 15 of every 100 new apartments sold are to foreigners from Asia, according to Sinyi.
Chinese buyers are typically purchasing in the one million to two million yuan (S$217,000 to S$434,000) bracket, said SouFun international sales director Gui Liangjing in Beijing.