With approximately 120,250 Chinese people living in London, accounting for 1.5% of the capital's population, and many young Chinese people coming to London (along with other UK cities) to study, it seems wise for investors and landlords to know what this demographic is looking for from their rental experience.
New research by institutional/Build to Rent revenue enhancement platform Houzen has revealed that young Chinese students typically seek one of two property types: modern, one-bed apartments or accommodation specifically designed for international students.
In 2017/18, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency UK, more than 75,000 first-year students from China enrolled in British universities – meaning they make up a not insignificant chunk of the undergraduate market, especially in major cities such as London and Manchester.
Other attractive elements for Chinese tenants when it comes to London accommodation are a five-minute walk to a train or Tube station, new-build properties, a lively neighbourhood, high-rise buildings, on-site security, resident lounges, social events and balconies.
Meanwhile, the biggest turn-offs include lengthy referencing, a lack of storage, no green space nearby, a lack of 24/7 security, low ceilings and lack of carpeting.
Houzen’s data for 2018/2019 also found that the average cost of an apartment in London rented by Chinese students is £1,999 per month, while the average Chinese student also provides £2,333 per year in ‘additional lifetime value’, typically accounted for by spending on added services offered by their concierge or on-site accommodation team. Their average tenancy length, meanwhile, is just over a year (12.4 months).
A close connection between China and London
According to The Migration Observatory, some 38% of Londoners are migrants, with the capital having a larger foreign-born population proportion than any other UK city. For the UK as a whole, 14% (9.4 million) of the population are foreign-born, with 216,000 of these hailing from China.
Many of those who come to the UK from China opt to settle in London, with more than half of all Chinese people who live in the UK residing in the capital.
Chinese communities are spread across London, with notable populations in Soho's Chinatown, Barnet, Camden, Hackney, Islington, Lambeth, Haringey and Tower Hamlets. There are a number of reasons why Chinese people are drawn to London, including the economic opportunities and diverse cultural pursuits the capital offers.
As stated above, many young Chinese people also come to London to study, with China actually responsible for sending more students to universities in the UK than any other nation – something that has been the case for several years now.
According to Houzen, these ‘bright, young Chinese students are increasingly eschewing the areas of London where Chinese migrants have traditionally settled’. Runnymede’s Young Chinese Migrants in London report states that ‘new, dispersed, affluent and gentrifying Chinese geographies are reconfiguring Chinese London, displacing Soho’s Chinatown as its centre’.
Which London locations are popular among Chinese tenants?
Houzen says safety is a key focus for Chinese students and, to guarantee this, they research areas thoroughly on Chinese forums for international students and through group discussions on WeChat (a messaging and social media app which is effectively the Chinese version of WhatsApp).
As a result of this focus on security, Canary Wharf is one of the most popular areas for Chinese renters, with the presence of private security and CCTV cameras everywhere you look providing ‘an attractive degree of reassurance’ to many young Chinese people who come to the UK to study.
Canary Wharf also scores well in terms of its location. With most Chinese students preferring to navigate London on foot, due to the high cost of public transport, they need to live within a 15 or 20-minute walk of their chosen university - a box that Canary Wharf ticks for a number of London's most sought-after higher education establishments.
“Location is a key consideration for Chinese students and for their families back home,” Megan Wang, international demand leader at Houzen, commented. “Students want to live close to university, in an area that's well maintained and secure. This is just as important to their parents - they want to know that their children will be safe and sound while they are studying overseas. That's why Canary Wharf has risen to a position of such prominence with young Chinese tenants recently.”
How can rental providers appeal to Chinese tenants?
The biggest pain point of renting in London, from the students’ perspective, is the lengthy referencing process – with nearly 30% stating this as their biggest bugbear. A lack of support with this process means that many of those who are not yet fluent in English find it a struggle, with accommodation providers eager to charm Chinese students advised to consider translating a couple of their core documents into Mandarin, to set themselves apart from the competition.
Another way that those courting Chinese students can get ahead of their rivals, according to Houzen, is to consider the principles of feng shui when it comes to furnishing the homes they are offering.
Moving furniture to its optimum location is a simple way to ensure that a room appeals more to potential Chinese tenants by achieving the right flow of energy. Beds, for instance, should never be positioned so that a person’s feet points towards the door in the ‘coffin position’.
Nor should the door open up directly in line with the bed, while mirrors are also out when it comes to bedrooms as they promote Yang energy (movement) instead of Yin (restfulness).
The above is something that all rental home providers can take into account when looking to maximise their appeal to the Chinese market – a market that Houzen knows well.
“Houzen is working in partnership with Chinese and Chinese Singaporean property agents in order to fulfil our ambition of aggregating tens of thousands of channels across the globe to produce near-time results,” Saurabh Saxena, founder of Houzen, said.
“We are already playing a key role in connecting Chinese tenants with Build to Rent and other accommodation providers across London as part of this goal.”