Mainland money backs Taiwan development

Taiwan's first housing project to be built with mainland investment is due to open in 2014, and is attracting buyers from around the world

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 4:31am

A developer from Beijing is working on Taiwan's first housing project with investment from the mainland. Two towers, with a hot-spring clubhouse and views of the ocean, are being built in the mountains just north of Taipei despite the island's wariness about opening its property market to a long-time political foe.

Vantone Capital and its Taiwanese partner, Southern Land Development, expect to open the twin 29-storey towers in June 2014. They say the 294 flats are 70 per cent sold.

The project, expected to cost NT$250 million (HK$66.7 million) will sit next to Southern Land's super-high-end "Elite 360" project at the foot of a national park overlooking a sliver of the Taiwan Strait and parts of the urban Taipei basin. Elite 360's 38 units, one per floor, have nearly sold out at prices starting at NT$330,000 per square metre and will be occupied from April.

The new project is drawing ethnic Chinese from around the world, attracted by Taiwan's use of Mandarin, its medical system and its political stability.

Ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and the United States have bought all the flats sold so far at the 594,900 square metre project, Vantone Taipei 2011.

"The Chinese who have lived overseas particularly approve of this model, since they don't like the pressured atmosphere of big cities," said sales manager Kidd Lin.

Vantone founder and chairman Feng Lun knew that in Taiwan he could own the land rather than lease it long term from the government, as he would have to on the mainland. He visits Taiwan 20 to 30 times a year, including once on a round-the-island bicycle tour.

Feng easily reached a deal with Southland, said Yang Lee-chieh, a member of the Taiwanese developer's board. Southland had held permits for the land since 1995 and developed townhouses on a parcel next to it.

"We just hit it off," Yang said.

"Given the daytime view, the night view, where you can see mountains and Tamsui [on the coast], this kind of space, chairman Feng thought it was right to build here," Lin said. "And when this project is finished, he will stay and look at other pieces of land."

The mainland has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the 1940s, leading the island to restrict its much larger neighbour's influence on its market. But in 2008, Taiwan's conciliatory President Ma Ying-jeou began talking trade, investment and economic co-operation with Beijing.

To head off real estate speculation that could keep homes out of the reach of ordinary Taiwanese, the island's government bars mainland investors from buying property unless justified by unrelated business on the island.

Construction is also generally closed to mainland firms, said an official with the Taiwan Investment Commission.

Beijing Vantone Real Estate got to build in Taiwan by registering in Singapore the company that is behind Vantone Taipei 2011, Lin said. New Taipei city's Department of Public Works did not investigate Vantone's China connections before issuing permits in 2011.

"As for whether the developer, Vantone, had any mainland investors behind the scenes, as long as the company in question has a registration in the Republic of China [Taiwan], according to our rights and responsibilities, we would not go check into the question of its funding," said department publicist Hsia Min-hua.

The second to 25th floors of one building will be sold to a commercial operator for use as serviced apartments, catering to overseas Chinese with short-term or mid-term interests in Taiwan. The Regent Taipei and Jones Lang LaSalle have talked to the developers about operating the apartments, but no formal bids have been made.

Visitors are often surprised that such tall buildings are allowed on Taipei's mountainside - nearby structures seldom exceed one-third the height - but make reservations to tour it to see the details and ask about prices.

"You don't have to be one of the wealthiest people in Taiwan to afford these," Lin said.