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LGBT Chinese flocking to buy Thai property

Bangkok and Phuket seen as welcoming

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Bangkok and Phuket are the top two destinations in Southeast Asia for LGBT Chinese looking for condos to live in because such buyers feel comfortable in these cities, says Juwai.com, a Chinese international real estate website.

The website's chief executive, Carrie Law, said mainland Chinese buyers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) probably account for 5-8% of total property-buying inquiries in Bangkok.

Chinese buyers made nearly US$1 billion (32.7 billion baht) worth of buying inquiries in Bangkok over the past 18 months, placing LGBT inquiries at about $50-80 million.

LGBT Chinese purchasing power was $938 billion in 2017, up triple from two years earlier. The group's average monthly income is five times larger than the national average.

"The advantage in disposable income may be even greater because they do not have children," Ms Law said.

Despite their spending power, LGBT individuals face difficulties in their daily life in China.

Homosexuality was officially classified as a mental health disorder in China as recently as 2001.

"Overseas, however, many feel free to openly express their identities and their affections and live openly with the partner of their choice," Ms Law said. "They want to own property in a place they can feel comfortable visiting and living in."

Because LGBT international property buyers are less likely to have children, they invest differently than other Chinese. For the bulk of Chinese buyers, providing an international education or lifestyle for children is often the primary motivator.

"LGBT buyers are more likely to be buying a pure investment property or a residence for their own use as a second or third home," Ms Law said. "More often they are seen buying in destinations that are popular vacation destinations for LGBT travellers."

According to a recent report by Juwai.com, Thailand is perhaps the most tolerant country in Asia, and Bangkok is known as Asia's gay capital, viewed as a gay-friendly haven for Chinese tourists and property buyers.

Same-sex sexual activity is not illegal in Thailand. Buddhist monks often officiate over same-sex marriages. Gay-oriented nightspots cater to Chinese tourists.

Nearly a dozen travel companies offer gay-themed trips to Thailand. Some local bar owners report that they have added Chinese songs to their playlists.

"LGBT Chinese buyers prefer the central business district, but if they can't afford a more central location, they are willing to purchase in a suburban area with good transit connections," Ms Law said. "Budget is the biggest determinant for location."

At $4,500 per square metre, new luxury apartments in Bangkok sell for one-sixth the price of similar housing in Hong Kong.

Premium buyers can obtain larger homes, a more central location and more premium fixtures in Bangkok than in Hong Kong or many other Asian and world cities.

For buyers in the lower price brackets, Bangkok offers new condominiums starting at $130,000.

That figure is among the lowest in any major city popular with buyers from mainland China.

Bangkok property also appeals as an investment for LGBT Chinese buyers.

The capital's land prices have climbed 1,000% over the last 30 years, and prices for centrally located condominiums have doubled in just the last five.

Some 45% of LGBT Chinese buyer inquiries in Bangkok are for the purchaser's own use and 13% are for a holiday home, according to Juwai.com consumer surveys.

Chinese demand for property in Bangkok is growing rapidly, especially among LGBT buyers.

In the first half of 2018, Chinese property buyers made more inquiries into Bangkok real estate than in all of 2017.

"The median budget for LGBT mainland Chinese buyers in Bangkok this year is about $160,000, which varies from period to period and depends on what is in the market," Ms Law said. "Their budget seems to be consistently 5% or 10% higher than the median for all mainland Chinese buyers."

She said that when LGBT buyers purchase for investment, they want the same things as other investors and are buying in Bangkok because of the city's welcoming nature.

"When they buy residences, they want locations as central and convenient as possible," she said.

Some LGBT buyers want features designed for entertaining, in the form of common spaces they can rent from the building or larger kitchens and dining areas in the apartments.

"The most important thing developers can do to succeed with these buyers has more to do with the sales suite than the product," Ms Law said. "Target these buyers directly, show them you share their values, and sales and referrals should follow."

Like Bangkok, Phuket is an appealing market for Chinese LGBT buyers seeking to fulfil lifestyle and investment goals.

Phuket is one of the most popular beach vacation destinations in Asia for LGBT tourists.

Phuket also features dozens of LGBT-oriented venues, especially in the Patong area. Each April, thousands come for Phuket's weeklong pride festival.

LGBT buyers most commonly buy new properties with rental guarantees provided by developers for units they can rent out or -- while visiting Phuket -- occupy. In smaller numbers, they come to live full-time.

In the wake of the Phuket boating disaster on July 5, in which 47 Chinese tourists died, buyer inquiries dropped to 17% of the long-term average, but indications are that the decline will be temporary.

Even after the decrease, inquiries for Phuket property in mid-2018 were nearly twice the level of the same period in 2017.

Southeast Asia contains five of the globe's top destinations for Chinese LGBT international property buyers, with three factors driving buyer interest: tolerance, proximity and affordability.

The region is home to a number of cities that, for cultural reasons, display tolerant attitudes towards LGBT individuals. Apart from Bangkok and Phuket, these include Phnom Penh, Manila and Ho Chi Minh City.

Geographic proximity, significantly lower initial purchase prices and lower monthly costs put these markets within the reach of larger numbers of buyers.

By contrast, mainland China and other traditional investment markets such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney have high prices, fees and restrictions, making real estate investment more difficult.

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