Real Estate

Nisha Gopalan is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering deals and banking. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones as an editor and a reporter.

It takes around 35 years for a median-income household to buy a 90-square-meter (970 square foot) apartment in Hong Kong. So, by 2052 in other words. That makes the former British colony the world's least affordable city, according to Oxford Economics. Now, with Chinese buyers forking out ever-higher amounts for land sold by the government and outbidding domestic stalwarts, prospective home buyers are going to have to wait a whole lot longer.

Hard Slog
It takes a household with local median income 34.95 years to buy a 90-square-meter apartment in Hong Kong versus 33 years in Beijing and just over 16 in New York
Source: Oxford Economics, Numbeo

A stamp-duty hike in November to 15 percent for all non-first-time home buyers and to as much as 30 percent for foreigners hasn't dulled the market. Secondary home prices surged almost 40 percent between July 2012 and the end of last year, Centaline Property's Centa-City Leading Index shows, just 1.8 percent shy of their September 2015 record.

Up, Up and Away
Despite curbs like higher down payments and extra stamp duty, Hong Kong real estate just keeps rising

Although the increased levies helped put a lid on sales volumes, there's still more end-user demand than supply, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Patrick Wong. First-home buyers, being exempt, remain a force while existing homeowners always seem to find ways to circumvent the rules in their hunt for yield. Hong Kong's relatively low unemployment rate also means lots of people are willing to take the real-estate plunge.

Added pressure, meanwhile, is coming from China. Mainland purchasers, keen to buy property in the city as a hedge against a weaker yuan, have long been imaginative when it comes to evading foreign-exchange curbs. Now developers are getting more aggressive.

At a time Beijing is clamping down on speculative buying, Hong Kong offers a chance to diversify. Although land is more expensive than on the mainland, funding costs are lower. The Hong Kong interbank offered rate has averaged 1.01435 percent this year while the People's Bank of China benchmark lending rate for individual housing loans of up to five years is 2.75 percent.

Buyers from China accounted for almost half the value of all land sold by the Hong Kong government in 2016, up from 30 percent in 2015 and less than 5 percent in 2011, research from CIMB Group Holdings Bhd. show. That Chinasation of the market, as CIMB calls it, may increase prices 10 percent by 2019.

Some impact is already being felt. China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd. sold all 188 apartments at a project on the site of the city's former airport on day one last week. The units were offered to Hong Kong residents only.

And while the city's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying may bemoan the large amount of parks and green spaces that could be put to better use, mainland buyers did help the government chalk up record revenue from land sales in the first nine months of the 2016 fiscal year.

With so many cash-rich companies across the border and even firms like HNA Group Co. joining the bidding party, the tensions pooling in Hong Kong real estate aren't about to go away. All too soon, taking 35 years to buy a shoebox may seem pretty decent.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Nisha Gopalan in Hong Kong at ngopalan3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katrina Nicholas at knicholas2@bloomberg.net