OFFSHORE buyers are expected to come to the rescue of Sydney's ailing prestige market this year, with new visa arrangements targeting wealthy Chinese just one of the remedies.
Agents have been showing overseas buyers through some of Sydney's trophy homes, including that of the recruitment queen Julia Ross - a $40 million Point Piper palace.
''We've had interest from England, the United States and Asia,'' said the LJ Hooker Double Bay principal, Bill Malouf.
The Christie's agent Ken Jacobs said the prestige market was looking ''really promising'', mainly due to an increase in foreign inquiries in the past six weeks. ''We've had some sales come together - even between Christmas and New Year.''
He put this down partly to interest in the new ''significant investor visa'', which applied from November 24. This simplifies options and fast-tracks migrant visas for foreigners who invest more than $5 million.
These investments need to be in government bonds, managed funds or companies but Mr Jacobs said the policy was having a spin-off effect as the migrants then looked for somewhere to live. Once the investment was approved, Australian residency was granted.
''My understanding is that the scheme will result in $35 billion investment in Australia,'' Mr Jacobs said.
Interest has already been significant, with a Department of Immigration spokesman confirming there have been more than 200 expressions of interest in the new visa.
Le Chateau, a French-style manor in Dural and location of the TV series Beauty and the Geek, is believed to have sold for about $6.5 million in December to a Chinese buyer, as a result of the visa changes.
The market is abuzz with excitement about the potential of the new visa. ''They're already queuing up. This now gives them a framework so they can enter,'' said the senior economist at the Fairfax-owned Australian Property Monitors, Andrew Wilson.
The managing director of residential projects for CBRE, David Milton, said: ''The government would have been smarter to make the minimum $10 million. It wouldn't have lessened the appeal.'' He said $5 million was not a lot to Chinese hoping for a less complicated path to residency. ''The type of people it will attract will buy a $10 million home or something $3 million to $5 million onwards.''
''The Chinese have replaced merchant bankers at the top end of the market,'' said the Richardson & Wrench Mosman agent Robert Simeon.
Mr Jacobs said there were many reasons that overseas Chinese were keen to invest and buy property in Australia, especially Sydney.
''Geographically it's close to their business. A lot of them have their wives and family here and they can commute'' - not daily but they could travel regularly between Australia and Singapore or mainland China.
He said there was also growing appeal from Europe. ''Whether they're from Ireland, or Spain, or Greece, their economies are going to be in a very bad state … so they want to be active in a more solid economy''.
Jonathan Granger, of the NSW Migration Institute of Australia, said the new system gave migrants more flexibility to maintain business interests in Australia and China.