Friday, December 14, 2012

Old ally Albania poses new property attraction for Chinese investors

Richard Warren lives in London where he writes about property for the South China Morning Post, London Evening Standard and Financial Times. He has been a specialist property researcher for the BBC. Previously based in Hong Kong, he has written for the Wall Street Journal Asia and Hong Kong Tatler.
Albania was China's only European ally in the 1960s and early 70s. The small Balkan state, population 3 million, is appearing on Chinese political and economic radars again, and property developers are hoping this could lead to a surge of Chinese investment in their sector.

There is talk of Albania becoming a free trade hub for Chinese companies, giving them a foothold in the European Union if the Balkan state's application for membership of that organisation succeeds. The country's oil deposits are an added attraction for China. In August, China's vice premier Li Keqiang spoke of strengthening trade and investment ties.

Official Chinese interest in Albania's property market is growing. Last summer, the Chinese ambassador to Albania visited the Lalzit Bay Resort and Spa on the country's Adriatic coast where developer Strabag is building up to 800 holiday homes.

Official interest is slowly turning into private investment. Two apartments at Lalzit Bay have been bought by Beijing-based western expatriates who plan to let them out to holidaymakers when the first phase of the scheme is completed in 2014. The developer will launch the resort's condo-hotel units to Chinese investors in 2013, with prices for units with sea views starting at 99,000 euros.

Of possible interest to some Chinese investors is the Albanian government's proposal to award citizenship to foreigners who invest at least 100,000 euros in their country. Buying a home would be an easy route to obtaining that citizenship, so developers are keen on the idea. Some Albanians are concerned the citizenship plan may be exploited by foreign criminals looking to hide from their own governments, so it has yet to be enacted. However, even if the citizenship plan remains sidelined, it is clear Albania's property market and wider economy is opening up for business, and Tirana wants Chinese investors to become a big part of it.

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