By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - A real estate brokerage controlled by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc on Monday announced a marketing agreement with Juwai.com, China's largest international property website, to attract wealthy Chinese citizens hoping to buy homes in the United States.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices believes the agreement will make it "much easier" for the 2 million monthly users of Juwai.com and Juwai.com/luxe to browse franchisees' residential listings, Chief Executive Gino Blefari said in a statement.
The Chinese surpassed Canadians as the largest foreign purchasers of U.S. residential property in 2013, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Including buyers from Hong Kong and Taiwan, the Chinese accounted for $27.3 billion, or 26.7 percent, of international sales in the year ended March 2016, the trade group said.
"The United States is a safe, attractive investment opportunity for foreigners, especially the Chinese," Peter Turtzo, who is spearheading Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices' foreign push as senior vice president of international operations, said in an interview.
Turtzo said Chinese buyers spend in the "mid-$900,000s" on average for U.S. homes, triple what U.S. buyers spend, often using them as second homes or to house children attending U.S. colleges and universities.
Berkshire's HomeServices of America Inc, the second-largest U.S. residential real estate brokerage, is the majority owner of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. It has expanded rapidly and now accounts for about 1 percent of its parent's overall profit.
Juwai.com, which is analogous to U.S. portals such as Realtor.com and Trulia, hosts sites on both sides of China's internet censorship mechanism known as the Great Firewall, making it easier to browse.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices also hopes the agreement will help it benefit from Buffett's popularity in China.
The 86-year-old billionaire, known as the "Oracle of Omaha," recently let Coca-Cola Co put his smiling likeness on cans of Cherry Coke, which he drinks often, in China.
He is also providing real-time translation only in Mandarin for the May 6 webcast of Berkshire's annual shareholder meeting, and Berkshire is a large investor in Chinese car company BYD Co.
"There is no way our brand would be as successful without the endorsement and support of Warren Buffett," Turtzo said. "He is iconic in China as well as in the United States, and he comes with a high level of credibility and trust. People believe in him, and we find that extremely advantageous in the marketing of our properties globally."
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Herbert Lash; Editing by Dan Grebler)