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Wealthy Chinese buyers snapping up south Dublin homes ‘sight unseen’

Attraction of south Dublin fee-paying schools is driving interest in the area among ‘top-tier’ business families in China, says Dublin agent


Chinese multimillionaires are using Irish-based property agents to buy homes in south Dublin “sight unseen”, with the good reputation of fee-paying schools in the area being a significant factor in their decision to move here with their families.

Agents acting for would-be buyers in China are attending showings of houses in areas of south Dublin close to top fee-paying schools, with some live-streaming the viewings to potential buyers in China.

“They are there to buy, and you would see a lot of it,” says Brian Dempsey, a partner with DNG Estate Agents in Stillorgan, Dublin, who is aware of Chinese agents viewing properties on behalf of prospective buyers.

Houses priced at between €600,000-€800,000 are the “sweet spot” for most of those interested, says Guangqian Yu, owner of buyer’s agency Vanke Ireland on Fitzwilliam Square, which specialises in advising Chinese clients on buying Irish properties.


“People think they want big spacious houses but that is not the case in Dublin,” he says. “They try to be very modest, and buy homes that suit their needs, not that show off that they have lots of money. Rarely do they buy a house that costs more than €1 million.”

Properties featuring on his agency’s Facebook page include many houses with price tags in the €1 million-plus bracket.

Yu says his clients, in addition to buying homes, might buy two investment properties to rent out, usually in the south inner city, Grand Canal Dock and Ballsbridge areas, “where there is the most demand for rental properties”.

Almost all of his clients, he says, are people who have made successful applications under the “golden visa” Immigrant Investor Programme, which was shut down suddenly in February 2023 by the Government, largely because of the level of interest coming from China. The decision to close – and not phase out the scheme gradually – was due to a concern about a flood of last-minute applications.

According to the Department of Justice, about 2,700 applications still had to be processed when the scheme was closed.

Figures released by the department show 1,954 applications were received last year, with the scheme closing on February 14th 2023. All but 41 of the 1,316 applications received in 2022 were from China, and the number received that year was significantly up on the 306 applications received in 2021, of which 282 were from China.

To qualify for the scheme, applicants had to be worth more than €2 million and had to invest €1 million in an Irish business or make a philanthropic donation of €500,000 (€400,000 in some cases). The 215 applications approved in 2023 involved total investments of €184.5 million, according to the department.

Participants in the scheme do not have to move here but, says Yu, but many do chose to live here. “They want their children to grow up in Dublin, in Ireland,” he says.

Despite the sudden closure of the system, Yu says there are still enough applications awaiting processing to keep him in business for the coming years. Only a very small number of the families approved avail of his services, but he does not wish to disclose the exact number. There are other agents in Dublin acting for Chinese buyers.

Private school fees in south Dublin, in the €6,000-€8,000 range, are considerably less than the fees charged at an equivalent school in China, which could be €20,000-€30,000, he says.

Most families do not send their children to an Irish university, preferring to send them to universities in the UK and the US that score higher in the global university rankings, he says.

On its website, Vanke Ireland (International) describes itself as the first Chinese-licensed real estate agency in Ireland.

Among the reasons cited on the website for investing in Ireland are the country’s “housing crisis”, with potential investors being told “property prices in Ireland are set to continue rising”.

“A lot of [Irish] landlords are leaving the Irish market and a lot of [my] clients need investment property to support their day-to-day life in Ireland, so my advice is to buy their own property and one or two investment properties,” says Yu, who established his agency in 2016.

Up to 2020, most of his clients visited Ireland before buying a property but they switched to buying remotely from China during the Covid-19 pandemic and have continued to close transactions “sight unseen” now the pandemic is over, says Yu. “We are their eyes and ears on the ground,” he says.

Chinese investors who have availed of the visa programme have invested enormous sums in the nursing home and social housing sectors, he says, and “have had a very positive impact on the Irish housing market”. They are also supporting the private rented sector by buying property as Irish landlords exit the market.

Most investors are in their 40s or early 50s, come from the “top tier” of Chinese society and have made money in the Chinese property market, he says.

Yu gives an example of a client who sold a three-bed, 150sq m apartment in Shanghai for €3 million (€2.77 million).

“He could use $1 million to buy a house in Dublin, and use the rest to buy rental property so basically he doesn’t ever have to work again,” he says.

Personally, I think that the way Covid was handled in China scared the living daylights out of people and left a lasting impression

—  Solicitor Ben O’Rafferty, who has represented Chinese families who have moved to Ireland

Many people say property in Ireland is too expensive, says Yu, but if you look at big cities such as New York, London, or Hong Kong, the price per square foot can be five to 10 times the price in Dublin.

The Vanke Facebook page uses Chinese script to comment on property being advertised by Irish real estate agencies. Recent postings on the page are almost exclusively focused on south Dublin and including properties on the market for the first time.

The featured properties include a four-bed on Bird Avenue, Clonskeagh, Dublin 14, with an asking price of €1.5 million; a development on Rock Road Place, Blackrock, Co Dublin, where asking prices are from €1 million; a four-bed house in the Nurseries, Taney Road, Dundrum, Dublin 14, with an asking price of €945,000; and a house on Grotto Avenue, Booterstown, Co Dublin, with an asking price of €895,000.

Solicitor Ben O’Rafferty, who has a practice on Merrion Place, Dublin, has represented Chinese families who have moved to Ireland and bought property here.

“Education is a total priority. They want to send their children to Irish schools,” he says. Not all are “golden visa” recipients, he adds. Ireland is an attractive destination for Chinese people who can get “stamp four” visas – permission to live here if you can show you can provide for yourself – because it is seen as a safe country with a good standard of living and a good education system.

“Personally, I think that the way Covid was handled in China scared the living daylights out of people and left a lasting impression,” he says.

It can be frustrating, when people are live-streaming at a showing. You feel it is inflating property values

—  A house hunter

One man looking to buy a house in south Dublin who contacted The Irish Times last week named six properties he had viewed where he said Chinese people wearing headsets were videoing the property and commenting on it in Chinese.

“I think they were live-streaming rather than recording,” says the man, who does not wish to be identified. “It can be frustrating, when people are live-streaming at a showing. You feel it is inflating property values.”

He has dropped out of bidding for two houses, one on Kilmacud Road Upper, Dublin 14, where the asking price was €995,000 but went sale agreed at €1.4 million, and another on Sweetbriar Lane, Kilmacud, which also had an asking price of €995,000 but again went sale agreed at a much higher price.

DNG agent Brian Dempsey says he usually asks the Chinese agents to wait until other people have finished viewing a property before they begin live-streaming or videoing during a showing. “It can make people uncomfortable,” he says.

Although the bidders in most transactions are Irish, the involvement of Chinese bidders can add to the price achieved for a property, he says.

Dempsey believes schools with good reputations in south Dublin are a “huge attraction” in drawing an increasing number of wealthy foreign nationals to buy and live in Ireland.

Shane Hanevy, property consultant with Bohan Hyland & Associates, Rathgar, who is selling a house in Clonskeagh that features on the Vanke Facebook page, says the property was viewed by a Chinese buyer’s agent but they had not bid on the property. The house has attracted bids of €200,000 above the asking price of €1.25 million. He has seen agents acting for Chinese clients videoing properties.

“It’s not every second person in the door, but you certainly come across them,” he says. “It is happening.”