BUYERS on the ball

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 May, 2011, 12:00am


Decrepit low-rise buildings bordering Central are a boon for savvy investors who spot an opportunity where others see the wrecking ball.

Kennedy Town, Sai Ying Pun and Sheung Wan are home to a blend of former shop houses, crumbling low-rise residential buildings, a smattering of high rises and small Western and local businesses.

With an MTR station extension on the way, developers have bought property to build more modern structures for offices and residents. But, at the same time, those with an eye for preservation of the original structures are buying in, creating homes or businesses with unique charm that blend with the original, neighbourly character of the area.

As such, New York-style lofts and multi-storey family apartments have popped up, alongside Western-style cafes and food stores, tapping a more affluent market.

For residents, the many quiet lanes and shady cul-de-sacs are appealing to those seeking solace while still being close to Central, and many are prepared to spend top dollar to rent or buy a renovated space.

A renovated former shop house in Sai Ying Pun is now home to logistics manager Brooke Babington, her husband and young daughter, and has been what she describes as a 'fantastic investment'.

After searching for months, Babington discovered a walk-up property on a quiet lane that retained its original assets.

'I saw it and I said, 'I love this building'. It was decaying, but you could still see the old windows and high ceilings,' Babington says.

'There were cats everywhere and no electricity, but we got out the flashlight and I could see the potential.'

This was two years ago, and the property cost HK$7 million, a sum Babington had to jump through a few hoops to arrange to finalise the purchase.

She spent about a year renovating, without the help of an architect. However, it wasn't all smooth sailing with contractors.

'It was a real lesson [as] the contractor gave up on the job and I lost money on him. I ended up using local builders that the guys from my old building knew ... I was begging them to find someone to finish the job,' she says.

These builders did just that, which she describes now as 'old-style', keeping the original Chinese facade and using replica window frames. She also retained the 1950s doors on the internal staircase.

The renovation cost about HK$1 million and gives them 1,500 sqft of space.

'I could sell this now for double [the purchase price], but I really like living so close to Central.'

For Victoria Allan, managing director of Habitat Property, being in the real estate business gave her added insight into what was available within the Central-bordering areas some years ago.

Allan found a building in Kennedy Town, next to Sai Ying Pun, accumulating floors there as far back as 2004.

'I purchased the top seven floors at one time and then, over the next four years, purchased the two remaining floors in the building [the first and ground floor],' she says.

Luckily, she timed the main purchase of the building in 2004, when prices were significantly less.

Despite her knowledge of the business, this hasn't meant the renovation process has been a walk in the park.

Still, Allan forged ahead, and says each floor has 1,450 sqft of living space. Each loft-style flat will have two bedrooms with a large open-plan living area.