STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Now let's go back north of the border to follow up on some real estate transactions. Earlier this week, we reported on a group of Chinese real estate bargain hunters preparing to leave Beijing to search for home deals in the United States. One was a lawyer name Ying Guohua.
Mr. YING GUOHUA (Lawyer, Beijing): (Through Translator) I'm looking for a home in the $500,000 range. But if the quality is really good, I can go higher. If it's good value for the money, I'll consider it.
INSKEEP: That was his thinking before he left. Good values can be found in the U.S. these days and Rob Schmitz of member station KQED caught up with Ying and the rest of the house hunting tour group outside of Los Angeles.
ROB SCHMITZ: Ying Guohua stepped out the luxury tour bus and rubbed his eyes. He had just arrived from China and a scrum of reporters from the local Chinese Language Press were peppering him with questions. This made him look even more dazed. They followed his every move as he toured his first model home, here in Sumner Ranch, one of dozens of Spanish-tiled suburban developments among dozens of other Spanish-tiled suburban developments in Corona, a city 50 miles away from Los Angeles.
The Chinese real estate buying tour of the U.S. got off to a rocky start. On the way here, the driver got lost. This development is so new the roads don't appear on any maps, not even Google. Once here, the circus began.
Aside from the media, Chinese American real estate agents descended on the group, handing out business cards. One man stopped them, giving them free copies of his book, "Pursuing the American Dream." The title was written in Chinese above a large photo of the author in front of an American flag and a cut out of the Statue of Liberty.
This was all a bit disorienting for Ying Guohua. His bloodshot eyes peered through the model home's living room window. He scanned the outside landscape, skeletons of unfinished tracked homes abounded, empty fields lay beyond, the smell of manure hung in the air. Ying looked puzzled.
Mr. YING: (Through Translator) The environment here isn't so bad, but I think it's a little far away from the city. What kind of an area is this? It seems like a place where you'd raise horses or sheep. This looks like farm land to me.
SCHMITZ: One country's farmland is another country's suburb, Mr. Ying's first lesson in buying America real estate. His second lesson came to him after learning the price tag for this home, $400,000.
Mr. YING: (Through Translator) in Beijing a house like this, this far away from the city center, wouldn't be as cheap as this house.
SCHMITZ: And that's precisely why this group is here. Home values in the cosmopolitan cities of Beijing and Shanghai haven't slipped as much as they have here. This the first of a series of U.S. tours for wealthy Chinese looking for bargain properties. This group will visit new and foreclosed homes in the suburbs on both coasts. They make up the newest Chinese export to the U.S.: landlords. Many of them, like Shanghai Resident Yow Lin(ph) are real estate developers looking to buy properties to rent to Americans.
Mr. YOW LIN (Real estate developer): (Through Translator) I found out about this tour over the Internet and I was immediately interested. I'm a very busy person and I don't have time to come to America and shop from house to house on my own. That would be exhausting.
SCHMITZ: Ms. Yow is looking for an investment property. She plans to rent it out at first and then when her children are old enough, send them here for school. Her price range? Half a million U.S. dollars - equal to about four million Chinese yuan.
Ms. YOW: (Through Translator) Three or four million yuan won't really buy you much in the good neighborhoods of Shanghai, so the prices for these homes seem fair. But I want to make sure that I buy a house when the market is at its lowest point. I'd hate to buy this house and have prices sink further.
SCHMITZ: Prices sinking ever further? Welcome to America, Ms. Yow.
Outside the model home next door, Shanghai developer Jenny Jongs(ph), squints, purses her lips and points out the property's short comings to her friend.
Ms. JENNY JONGS (Shanghai developer): (Through Translator) The master bedroom is a bit small. Whoever deigned this house was a little stingy.
Unidentified Woman (Friend of Ms. Jenny Jongs): (Through Translator) But it's a good price.
Ms. JONGS: (Through Translator) Yes, it's very cheap. It's only $360,000.
SCHMITZ: Inside the house, Ying Guohua, the lawyer, says he hopes to find something before the end of this trip.
Mr. GUOHUA: (Through Translator) I'm not just window shopping, I'm serious. If I spot a good investment property, I'll have my people come back here and follow up for me.
SCHMITZ: Hopefully Ying's people will have better maps.
For NPR News, I'm Rob Schmitz.
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