Date
24 November 2017
It's a landlord's market in Tseung Kwan O, and probably anywhere else in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ
It's a landlord's market in Tseung Kwan O, and probably anywhere else in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

2015 housing outlook: panic leasing, panic buying

About six weeks ago, my buddy told me that he wanted to move to Tseung Kwan O after his Sha Tin landlord raised his rent by 20 percent to HK$11,000 (despite refusing to fix the air-conditioning during summer).

He chose Metro City Plaza, the largest housing estate in my district with over 6,700 units, mainly small flats. I immediately called my agent who has worked in the area for a decade and just loves the place. 

“Metro Plaza is a landlord’s market — most units are leased within three days,” she told me. The best strategy would be to visit her two weeks before moving in because the rent-free period would normally be no more than seven days. 

We diligently followed her advice. She was right except for one thing: the price kept going up. The rent for a 500 square foot unit is now close to HK$15,000, as opposed to what we hoped would be around HK$13,000. And there were only two units available.

Luckily, another landlord put up her unit for rent on Sunday night, and we took advantage of the little window and signed a temporary contract before the close of business hours on Monday. 

So everything about the property frenzy we read in the papers is true, although we are not sure if it is a chicken and egg issue. Hard to imagine there were only two rental units available in one of Hong Kong’s biggest housing estates.

It’s the best of times for property owners who must be happily counting how much they are worth at this point in their lives, but it is also the worst of times for people who have no choice but to raise the incomes of their landlords.

One observation: I have many friends who were once living in heaven but chose to cash out and are now struggling in hell. The thought of having their property agents rubbed out must have crossed their minds. 

With the property market reaching a record high, and flat sales reaching a 10-year peak, how can one not miss former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa who single-handedly burst the property bubble and caused prices to tumble 50 percent?

And whoever speculated that CY Leung, who is unfriendly to some property tycoons, could cause housing prices to crash every year missed out on a 50 percent increase in their net worth.

Come on, Hong Kong’s current leader is a former surveyor who knows the beauty of making more money in a booming market.

So shall we take Norman Chan Tak-lam seriously? The Monetary Authority chief vowed to take action should the prices of small and medium-sized flats continue to go up and reach a dangerous level, hinting a mortgage tightening might be forthcoming. 

Even pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po warned a typical family cannot afford a flat of over HK$20,000 per square feet because household debt as a proportion of GDP has surged to an uncomfortable 64 percent. 

Now, does that make you wonder why Hong Kong cannot curb soaring property prices as effectively as China?

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BK/JP/CG

EJ Insight writer

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