Rules of the game are easy for new players

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 2008, 12:00am

Many expatriates may hesitate to acquire property in Hong Kong where prices are sky high. This is mainly because they are unfamiliar with the market or they lack adequate market information to justify the purchase.

Sitting in his 3,500 sqft office in a Wong Chuk Hang industrial building, Canadian author Chris Dillon, who has purchased three properties in the city since he came to Hong Kong in 1992 and written Landed: The expatriate's guide to buying and renovating property in Hong Kong, said it was not difficult for expatriates to buy a flat in Hong Kong since there were no restrictions, such as needing to be a citizen or requirements to have a local partner, and the legal system was transparent.

'Unless you are doing something unusual, like buying a property in the New Territories, where there are different rules and regulations, for most properties you buy in Hong Kong, it's really easy,' he said. 'There is a set process. Everybody knows what the game [of buying property] is, you just go through it.'

The writer-entrepreneur bought his first Hong Kong property, a Central office unit, six years ago when the local property market was sluggish.

In the following five years, he bought an apartment in Pok Fu Lam and half a floor in a Wong Chuk Hang factory premise.

Mr Dillon, who describes himself as a 'buy and hold' person, said he preferred to buy property located in areas undergoing change and with distinctive character.

'It's good if you could find a neighbourhood undergoing change such as Wong Chuk Hang or Aberdeen. I like neighbourhoods with characters which excite me a lot,' he said, adding he was an absolute newcomer when he bought his first property in the city in 2002.

But for speculators, it's about buying properties below the market value. 'In Hong Kong, we have a very liquid market. There are lots of people here, a lot with money and a lot of experienced investors,' he said. While buying a property has a formula to follow, renovating it is a different story. Dealing with designers and contractors could be a huge challenge for expats who didn't speak Cantonese since most designers and contractors were locals, he said.

'Even if you take the language issue out, words don't translate into pictures very well.'

A way to solve the problem, according to Mr Dillon, is to get ideas from interior design magazines and then show them to the designer and contractor as a reference.

'It's important to be clear about what you desire before starting the renovation,' he said.

'While it's hard to change after things are done, problems such as delayed schedule and over budget will follow.'

For investors who want to sell the flats in few years' time, Mr Dillon said updating the electrical system, replacing plumbing and installing double-glazed windows were crucial to preserving the value of the flat.

While he prefers the industrial segment of the market because of the vast space, he advises buyers who prefer something more conventional: 'Hong Kong is a very easy place to live,' he said. 'You can live everywhere. Don't be afraid to go wandering around and have a look.'