For a lot of mainlanders buying an expensive home in Hong Kong is more than just about money. It is a symbol of status and success. Some view luxury properties as collectables and are eager to include them in their investment portfolios.
Until last month, mainlanders could buy HK$6.5 million worth of property in the city as qualification for emigrating to Hong Kong under the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme. However, this avenue has been suspended by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in his Policy Address as a measure to stabilise the property market.
But experts believe the policy change is unlikely to have a major impact. Investment bank Credit Suisse points out that mainland purchases through the scheme are only about 1 per cent of market transactions. However, the total number of mainlanders buying properties account for about 10 per cent of all transactions.
'Changes in the investment immigration policy will not dampen mainlanders' interest in purchasing Hong Kong properties,' says Buggle Lau, chief analyst at Midland Realty.
'For those seeking permanent residency, they will have to buy property to settle down in Hong Kong in any case. More often than not, right of abode is not on the mind of most mainland buyers, as some of them only learned about the immigration policy after investing in several properties here.' Mainland capital is chasing quality homes in traditional and newly developed luxury residential districts. Prime properties at The Peak, Mid-Levels and Island South are the main targets, and Residence Bel-Air in Pok Fu Lam is one of them.
'At present, mainlanders account for as much as 20 per cent of homebuyers in Residence Bel-Air,' says Patrick Lam Siu-lai, district associate director for Residence Bel-Air at Centaline Property Agency.
'About 90 per cent of apartments there enjoy sea views, while the clubhouse offers personalised services such as private jet, yacht and dream car services.'
'What I like most about this home is when I wake up in the morning and I look out. I see the sea and the ships,' the owner of a top floor, 4,091 sqft duplex with a sea view terrace at Bel-Air Phase 1 tells LuxeHomes.
The retired businessman, who also has homes in Singapore, Australia and Switzerland adds: 'The Hong Kong property market is fascinating, nobody knows when prices will peak and when prices will bottom.
'Owning a property in Hong Kong is a bit like owning a property in Singapore. Both cities are the most stable economies in their neighbourhoods, offering strong property protection with the rule of law. So people know properties are safe if they buy in Hong Kong.'
On the other side of Victoria Harbour, high-rise luxury residential projects above Kowloon Station, such as The Cullinan, The Arch, The Harbourside and The Sorrento, and other developments at Olympic Station, such as The Hermitage in West Kowloon, have become a major destination for mainlanders looking for prime apartments. Among the recent transactions involving mainland buyers is a 1,454 sqft flat at The Cullinan which changed hands for HK$38.09 million. A mainland buyer paid HK$17.34 million for a 1,326 sqft flat in The Hermitage in West Kowloon. The mainland owner of a 1,443 sqft apartment in The Harbourside reportedly sold the unit for HK$31.8 million - a profit of HK$8.2 million.
The planned development of the Hong Kong terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link at West Kowloon will further strengthen the area's attraction to wealthy mainlanders, as the travelling time between Hong Kong and major mainland cities will be substantially shortened in a few years.
'Many mainlanders buy luxury flats in Hong Kong as second or holiday homes.
'These cash-rich buyers have strong holding power and do not like to rent their properties out even if they are not moving in immediately. They don't care about the potential rental income,' says Thomas Lee, regional sales director for Tsim Sha Tsui and Kowloon Station at Centaline
He notes that for The Cullinan project, for instance, at least one-third of the units were snapped up by mainland buyers. 'But many of these units are unoccupied, so a large portion of the twin towers in the development remains dark at night.'
The trail of mainland buyers' footprints have reached as far as Sheung Shui and Yuen Long.
In prestigious locations in the New Territories, many mainlanders have opted for new detached houses. Country houses at the Valais in Sheung Shui and The Vineyard in Yuen Long are two of the popular projects dominated by mainland buyers.
Coleman Poon Ho-man, assistant associate director for Palm Springs and Fairview Park at Midland Realty, says about 30 to 40 per cent of buyers of Valais houses are mainlanders, many of whom are already Hong Kong identity card holders. They favour bigger houses and are buying for their own use or investment. 'They are going after top-quality, spacious garden houses and they are willing to pay more if the property is unique,' he says.
Louis Ho Siu-tong, director of Centaline's Stately Home, says there has been a stream of financially strong mainland buyers from cities and provinces such as Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Chongqing, and most are purchasing Hong Kong assets for their own use or long-term investment.
'As a result of the wealth effect across the border, we have seen an increasing number of mainland tycoons buying into the luxury residential market in Hong Kong. They are not here to flip properties for quick profits,' he says.
According to Ho, many mainland buyers of luxury homes, especially those in prestigious locations on Hong Kong Island, are those who come and settle down after studying or living abroad. They are well-educated, speak fluent English and see things from an international perspective.
'For the superrich, they favour the top brands when buying luxury homes. Money comes as a secondary consideration. Superdeluxe houses such as those huge mansions on The Peak are among their favourites. Also, some of the buyers are mainland corporations that acquire properties to enlarge their asset portfolios in Hong Kong,' Ho says.