Hong Kongers seek­ing new homes amid protests

Orlando Sentinel - - BUSINESS - By Shawna Kwan, Emily Cadman and Natalie Wong

Res­i­dents of Hong Kong are hunt­ing for homes all over the world as tense anti-gov­ern­ment protests look set to drag into the new year.

Real es­tate bro­kers from Aus­tralia to Canada have seen a surge in in­ter­est with the de­sire to se­cure a safer fu­ture prompt­ing many to look be­yond the Asian fi­nan­cial hub.

“There’s been an in­crease in cap­i­tal out­flows from Hong Kong-based in­vestors into other ma­jor global real es­tate mar­kets, with Aus­tralia, Sin­ga­pore, Ja­pan and the U.S. all see­ing an in­crease in pur­chas­ing ac­tiv­ity,” said Ben Burston, Knight Frank LLP’s Aus­tralia-based chief econ­o­mist.

Pro-democ­racy protests that erupted in June have crip­pled the city’s econ­omy and caused huge in­con­ve­nience to peo­ple’s daily lives. The po­lice have fired more than 16,000 rounds of tear gas over the past six months while black-clad pro­test­ers have van­dal­ized trans­port fa­cil­i­ties and pro-China shops.

Fed up, some res­i­dents are plan­ning moves.

“I have to come up with a backup plan,” said Cat Liu, a sales­per­son who’s con­sid­er­ing buy­ing an apart­ment in Tai­wan or Malaysia, partly be­cause of the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. “The sit­u­a­tion hasn’t got­ten any bet­ter. Both sides are stand­ing firm and there’s no way to reach a com­pro­mise.”

Even though Asian des­ti­na­tions of­fer more af­ford­able in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for the mid­dle class in Hong Kong, the more af­flu­ent tend to opt for prop­er­ties in the West. Aus­tralia is also an at­trac­tive choice.

“Buyer in­ter­est from Hong Kong has stepped up con­sid­er­ably com­pared to what we’ve seen in the past two years,” said CBRE Group Inc.’s Aus­tralia res­i­den­tial di­rec­tor, Colin Grif­fin.

CBRE ex­pects the high­end res­i­den­tial sec­tor will be sup­ported by over­seas in­vestors, par­tic­u­larly those from Hong Kong and main­land China.

To that end, it re­cently launched The Pent­house Col­lec­tion, with a fo­cus on lux­ury apart­ments in Syd­ney, Mel­bourne, Bris­bane and the Gold Coast. The units will boast ex­tras such as pri­vate el­e­va­tors, wine cel­lars and rooftop pools, in ad­di­tion to valet and concierge ser­vices.

CBRE in Aus­tralia plans to work with CBRE of­fices in Hong Kong and main­land China to tar­get prospec­tive pur­chasers. The prop­er­ties av­er­age $13.8 mil­lion, with some cost­ing up­ward of $20.7 mil­lion.

“Th­ese buy­ers are look­ing at tro­phy homes and are pre­pared to pay a pre­mium in or­der to se­cure top-end prop­er­ties,” Grif­fin said.

Canada is another pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion.

David Ho, a Van­cou­ver­based se­nior vice pres­i­dent at CBRE, trav­els fre­quently to Asia to meet with buy­ers and po­ten­tial in­vestors.

“They’re 35 to maybe 45, young fam­i­lies. A lot of peo­ple are just try­ing to learn about Canada and set up a con­fer­ence call with im­mi­gra­tion con­sul­tants, ed­u­ca­tion con­sul­tants, mort­gage bro­kers, ac­coun­tants that give them a broad view of ev­ery­thing,” Ho said.

They’re look­ing to buy homes worth up to $760,000 and are “av­er­age Joes,” he said.

BILLY H.C. KWOK/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial build­ings are seen from Hong Kong’s Vic­to­ria Peak.

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