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Luxury Residential Market from Handover to Today and Forecast for the Future

Oct 9, 2007
The Hong Kong luxury residential market has undergone a number of distinct cycles since the Handover in 1997. Following the difficult period which the market underwent between 1998 - 2003, in which the luxury residential sector was successively impacted by the eruption Asia financial crisis, implosion of the bubble and the outbreak of SARs, commencing in year-end 2003 the emergence of closer cooperation between Mainland and Hong Kong governments has ushered in a period of buoyant economic growth in the local economy.

This factor, coupled with strong growth for both leasing and purchasing luxury residential units and the continuous shortage of supply of high-end units have stimulated appreciation in the prices of luxury premises. In particular, values of luxury residential properties in non-traditional areas like the New Territories have recently witnessed the most dramatic appreciation.

In early 1997, prices of residential properties reached a peak, before experiencing a sharp decline in the second half of the year, hit by the Asian Financial Crisis. In mid- 1998, there was a mini-recovery in the luxury sector due to some speculative investment activities. However, the unfavorable economic situation clouded the market for both investors and end users.

In 2000, the bubble burst further weakened investors' confidence, with both the local stock market and property markets continuing to retreat gradually in the following two years.

With the outbreak of SARS in early 2003, the luxury property market index reached a ten- year low. The Bel-Air project which was by coincidence launched in this period recorded an average transaction price of $4,500 per sq. ft., the property's weak price initial performance being symptomatic of discouraging market sentiment surrounding the luxury market sector at the time.

The property market finally witnessed a strong rebound in year-end 2003, attributable mainly to the benefits resulting from closer cooperation between the Mainland and Hong Kong Governments, with the launching of Individual Visit Scheme making the largest single contribution to the local economy.

At the same time, the Hong Kong Government's decision to implement a 'High Land Cost Policy' through using the Application List System so as to maintain land values at a premium level proved to be a successful strategic move in moving the local property market back onto a path of stronger growth.

During the five difficult years, developers' land banks became greatly reduced due to their hesitation about entering the land market. However, as the economic environment improved after 2004, many developers were compelled to acquire more sites to replenish their land banks, a phenomenon which eventually led to fierce competition in the land auctions, pushing land prices higher.

Despite the hike of U.S. interest rates in 2005-06 which has pushed up the prime rates to 8% in March 2006, the impact of interest rate uncertainties was fairly minimal on the luxury property sector as luxury buyers were generally better positioned to afford the uptick in interest rates.

Stimulated by the record land sale of the Mount Kellett Road site in December 2006, average price of the luxury properties located on Hong Kong Island has surged 27% since then. Most recently, Nam Fung acquired an existing building at No. 11 Coombe Road for over $550 million or $27,500 per sq. ft, for purpose of redevelopment, a fairly aggressive market move which further acted to stimulate the market sentiment.

Luxury properties in the New Territories have emerged as a favorite choice amongst this newly affluent middle class group and this most recently emerged market segment has proven to popular with the higher income group as well.

On the supply side, the number of new luxury residential units in the New Territories has increased incrementally each year, rising from 203 units in 2003 to 371 units in 2006.The increasing supply pattern reflects that the New Territories' luxury residential market is becoming a fast growing segment in the property market.
About the Author
Wantanee Khamkongkaew is an independent author evaluating and commenting on leading International Property Consultants in Asia and Greater China , especially CB Richard Ellis.
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