HK home prices crashed
Posted November 9, 2008on:
HONG KONG – THE window displays at the Hong Kong property agency where Mr Stephen Poon works are bursting with cut prices, last minute reductions and cash incentives.
But buyers were still few and far between, as the stumbling global economy has cut dead the city’s five-year booming property market.
‘It has been very quiet,’ said Mr Poon, a property agent for Midland Realty, a large city firm.
‘Before September our branch was making two to three million Hong Kong dollars (S$383,000 to S$576,000) every month, but now it’s only around 50,000,’ he said, describing a 98 per cent drop in revenue.
‘I have six kids, three are at university in the UK where fees are high,’ said Mr Poon, whose commission has inevitably suffered.
‘It’s my mission to make sure I can put them through school, but it is now also my cross to bear.’
The global financial crisis is rapidly stunting Hong Kong’s office, luxury and residential property markets after they hit a peak in the early summer.
Signs outside agents have shown discounts of more than HK$1 million in recent weeks and analysts said they expected prices in every sector to drop by an average of 20-30 per cent before next July.
With sellers reluctant to lose value and many potential buyers holding off amid stock market turmoil and tightening lending conditions, many agents in the territory have already lost their jobs.
Nearly 5,000 agents in Hong Kong and China have left the city’s biggest property group Centaline since June as the company struggles with plummeting commissions, Centaline’s chairman Shih Wing Ching told wires agencies.
‘(Before the slowdown) 10,000 to 12,000 units were being sold in Hong Kong each month, but October saw half that amount,’ he said.
Anyone buying in the hope that property values will appreciate over the next year is ‘juggling with knives and razorblades,’ said Mr Chris Dillon, author of a recently published guide for buyers in the territory.
‘Nobody can call bottom in this downturn yet,’ he said.
‘Anyone who says they can is bluffing.’
The malaise has hit the luxury sector particularly hard. Plunging values saw a house near Victoria Peak, one of Hong Kong’s most prestigious addresses, selling for less than half its asking price of HK$190 million in recent weeks, local media reported.
‘The (overall) market has seen dramatic change in the past month alone,’ said Mr Simon Lo, director of research at Colliers International, adding that five percent was wiped off the entire market in September.
‘This kind of cycle could last for two more years,’ he said.
The current downturn ends a property boom that began after the SARS crisis in 2003, when Hong Kong’s economy slumped due to worries over the deadly disease.
In the following years, the city’s financial sector boomed, attracting wealthy overseas bankers and boosting the income of those already here.
They fought over the city’s prime addresses, squeezing supply and forcing rents to balloon more than 100 percent.
But uncertainty has since ripped across Asia, hitting every market that has boomed in the past five years.
Prices of private homes in Singapore fell for the first time in four years in the third quarter, government data showed, while China, India and Bangkok markets have all suffered.
The key difference between today and the post-SARS downturn is the fact that the current crisis is global, says Mr Lo, with greater uncertainty as to when the downcycle will shift upwards.
Yet observers say that it is only a matter of time before buyers have the confidence to jump back in, particularly in Hong Kong.
With most mortgages requiring deposits of at least 30 per cent in Hong Kong, the market is regarded as more robust than in the stricken United States, analysts say.
‘Supply is tightly controlled by the government meaning that Hong Kong values will not plunge as dramatically as those in the United States or Europe,’ said Centaline’s Mr Shih.
Hong Kong buyers are also likely to benefit from low mortgage rates, as the city’s currency is pegged to the US dollar. As a result any cut in the Federal Reserve lending rate, likely in the next few months, will be matched.
The author Dillon said the tumble has created a great opportunity for long-term buyers.
‘Lots of people here are cashed-up and waiting quietly on the sidelines looking for bargains. I’m one of them,’ he said. — AFP