Good village relations are key
Buying a village house is quite a different process from buying an apartment in Hong Kong. While apartment purchases are quite standard, and the process is well-established, there are more variables involved in acquiring a village home.
The first important consideration is the village itself. Some outsiders who move into Hong Kong villages advise people considering a purchase to rent in the village first, to see if they like it. That can be a risk-free way of getting a taste of village life.
'Because you are living in a village house, the most important thing is your relationship with the villagers,' Simon Tsang, a broker with the Oriental Property Agency, says. 'They have their own culture. If you can join their culture and you respect them, then the villagers will be very friendly and very welcoming to you.'
Conversely, if you end up having an adversarial relationship with your village neighbours, life can get very complicated indeed.
'The relationship is very important, and your neighbours are very important,' Tsang explains. 'It is not a good way to do it if you do it the hard way.'
Some 'villages' have been built expressly with property sales to non-villagers in mind, meaning they may be better planned. They may look like housing complexes and are hard to differentiate from villa developments, with security, public gardens and landscaping. Other villages really are authentic villages and have developed organically - and at times chaotically.
It is not unusual to find village houses crammed together so that one home may be surrounded on all sides by other houses. Access is then a problem. It's also not unheard of for villagers to lay a claim to a portion of another home's driveway, preventing the owners from accessing it. Another common problem is car-park space, which you may need to rent from the village management or from individual villagers.
'There are some where you buy a house but the land around you belongs to other people, and in that kind of case you may have to make sure you have a road back to your house otherwise you can't get a mortgage,' Tsang cautions. 'Normally we will see whether there is a right of way that is signed and registered in the [Lands Department].'
The Lands Department has put out a pamphlet, 'The Purchase of a Village House in the New Territories,' that walks prospective buyers through the process. The pamphlet, originally produced in 1998, is available online at www.landsd.gov.hk/en/legco/purchas.htm#1
Homes that have been developed properly should have a certificate of compliance stating that the house complies with regulations on the use of the land and the structure of the house. In certain special cases, no certificate is issued but the government should still issue a letter saying it has no objection to the building being occupied.
There are now tens, even hundreds, of thousands of 'villagers' eligible to build small houses - estimates of the exact count vary. The government has responded to the heavy demand by restricting the flow of plots, in a bid to avoid flooding the market with new village homes. That has resulted in a backlog of applications for village plots at the Lands Department, which has thousands of applications that are pending, with some of the applications taking years to process.
One advantage of buying a village home is that the size is standardised. Unlike private apartment blocks, where buyers should find out the net area of the apartment and calculate the efficiency ratio of any purchase, village houses have an efficiency ratio of 100 per cent, only the walls are non-usable space.
There are no 'public areas', clubhouses or lift lobbies to consider in the gross square footage, which is almost always maximised at 700 sq ft per floor.