While America, and more recently Canada, have both had their ups and downs with housing bubbles, nothing in the world compares to what is going on in Hong Kong, that mecca of overpriced real estate: overnight the Rating and Valuation Department announced that Hong Kong’s private home prices rose 1.7% in May, 15% higher from a year ago. This was the 19th consecutive record price, and a non-stop advance since April 2016.
“Hong Kong’s home prices have smashed records every month this year and we do not see the increase ending any time soon,” said Derek Chan, head of research at Ricacorp Properties. “One record high after another is making people panic.”
The unprecedented surge in prices, means that Hong Kong has persistently been among the cities identified by UBS as being in a real estate bubble.
It is also the world’s most unaffordable city: the same UBS report found that a skilled service worker would need to work 20 years to buy a 650-square-foot (60 square meter) apartment near the city center.
This is because real incomes have virtually stagnated in Hong Kong for many years, with UBS noting that “housing is less affordable here than in any other city we considered, and the average living space per person amounts to only 14m2 (150 sqft).”
So if it is not rising median wealth, what is behind this torrid demand for HK real estate? According to UBS “the latest boom stemmed from strong investor demand, general positive sentiment and the “fear of missing out” on capital gains. This is reflected as well in a frozen secondary market in which people hold on to their properties, expecting prices to rise further.”
In its latest attempt to moderate the housing bubble, on Thursday Hong Kong’s Executive Council approved several proposals, one of which includes introducing a vacancy tax on newly built flats that remain unsold, to cool down the overheating property market. Additionally, it is expected that Hong Kong’s flat-hoarding developers will face an annual vacancy tax amounting to double a property’s annual rental income.
However, according to analysts and agents the policy is not a long-term fix to the city’s housing crisis and urged the government to boost land supply.
“The extra supply of 9,000 [vacant] flats is even less than one third of the annual housing supply expected to offer by developers,” said Vincent Cheung, deputy managing director for Asia valuation and advisory services at Colliers International. “It would only work together with other mid- to long-term policies, such as reducing land premium and increasing the ratio of public land supply to private land supply.”
Until a solution is found, amid this “frozen” bubble of a housing market where normal buyers and Chinese oligarch sellers can rarely if ever that scenes such as the following are a common occurrence: watch as Hong Kong real estate agents literally throw punches, kick each other to the ground and otherwise pull their best kung fu moves as they brawl with one another to get a client’s business.