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Outpriced, Hong Kong Home Buyers Look Abroad

Outpriced, Hong Kong Home Buyers Look Abroad
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In Hong Kong, one of the world’s most expensive property markets, housing prices have doubled since 2009.

Chris Parker, who has lived here for seven years says housing costs are a cause for worry.

“This is where I want to be now. I certainly don’t want to go back to the UK," he said. "So I don’t see me ever leaving Hong Kong per se, but I do feel that there will come a point where I am struggling to find a place to live either here or in some other place. I might have to make a change in location.”

Last year, home prices surged a record 13 percent. A 100 square-meter apartment in the center of town has an average cost of $2.3 million. Earlier this year, the government took measures to cool the market for fear that an influx of mainland Chinese buyers may be inflating prices - creating a bubble.

Buyers of properties valued up to $902,000 must make larger down payments, and mortgage rules for second-home purchases have been tightened. Those measures and a cooling economy in China have some property analysts predicting a crash in Hong Kong real estate, but others anticipate just a market slow down.

Joseph Tsang Hon-Ping, managing director of real estate investment company Jones Lang LaSalle, says the government's measures have helped prevent a bubble, in part because buyers can't overload on debt.

“When people talk about bubbles they always talk about 1997, that was 15 or 16 years ago. At the time the interest rate was roughly around 13 percent," he noted. "Today we’re talking about 2 percent. That’s a big difference. The second thing is the loan-to-mortgage ratio. The amount that you can borrow for mortgages is down to 40 or 50 percent, meaning that it’s a very low debt situation, Hong Kong.”

But the high prices are inspiring some people to invest abroad. Swire Properties, a Hong Kong property developer, recently offered Hong Kong buyers properties it has built in Miami, Florida.

“South Beach [in Miami] is the number one beach in America, and it has over 50 skyscrapers currently being built today," explained Maile Aguila, of Swire Properties. "It also houses one of the largest art deco collections and sport franchises such as the Miami Heat, the Dolphins, the Marlins and the Panthers.”

Many of the Miami apartments are on sale for less than $1 million, and, for Hong Kong buyers, that is a bargain.

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