SYDNEY IS A city renowned for its spectacular views, clean air and expensive property. Prices for residential premises have consistently rated among the world's 10 highest. However, two factors have combined to create what many believe to be perfect conditions for Hong Kongers to buy Sydney property.
The first of these is, of course, the recent Olympics. 'The biggest party in the world' was a wildly successful event for Sydney and worked wonders for the city's profile. By marketing Sydney as a modern 24-hour international metropolis and Sydneysiders as a bunch of fit, tanned party-lovers, Australian Olympic organisers turned the feel-good factor up high. The rest of the world lapped it up and Sydney became the new place to be seen.
The second factor is more mundane, but certainly more important. The Australian dollar has been in the doldrums for weeks, reaching record lows against the US dollar. Reasons for this trend are varied but most agree that the currency has been 'shorted' by traders taking quick profits. With the aussie down 20 per cent from its level 12 months ago, the savings for overseas buyers of property are significant.
Peter Chan is managing director of Westpac (Asia), a private banking group. The company specialises in selling Sydney residential property to Hong Kong residents and has an alliance with Australian firm McGrath Estate Agency. He believes the low dollar means that Sydney property now offers unbeatable value.
'The timing now is better than ever,' said Mr Chan. 'The weak Australian dollar has created a really unique opportunity.'
The attractions for buyers are obvious. Australia has enjoyed strong economic growth and shows little sign of experiencing a major slowdown. Moreover, many expect the Australian dollar to recover to previous levels over the next year.
'If the currency recovers to previous levels, you gain 20 per cent,' said Mr Chan. 'Add 10 per cent for property appreciation over a three-year period and you can gain 30 per cent.'
Sydney's property market is also attractive to end-users. Mr Chan believes these fall into two categories: Australian expatriates working in Hong Kong and Hong Kong Chinese who have either emigrated or are looking to emigrate to Australia.
They choose the city because 'Sydney is a major international city', according to Mr Chan. 'It is within easy reach for Hong Kong residents and offers a truly multi-cultural environment.'
John McGrath, chief executive of McGrath Estate Agency, expects demand for top-end Sydney property to rise in the coming months.
'Generally, Hong Kong people are interested in premium properties, on the harbour-front or in the better suburbs,' said Mr McGrath. 'Demand will only rise in the near future.'
He believes there are other reasons for this, in addition to the city's heightened profile and low-currency value. One of these is the role of the Internet.
'The Internet makes it very easy for Asian buyers to research Sydney property and decide what to buy,' said Mr McGrath.
Perhaps most crucial is the quality of the property itself. Edmond Lai, manager of Australand's Asian marketing, explains that Sydney has an edge over other major cities.
'The price is far lower than New York or London. I wouldn't use the word 'bargain' but it is definitely very good value.'
A quick glance through some of Australand's available Sydney properties appears to confirm this. One development to be completed early next year is Governors Court, a collection of 27 townhouses in Marsfield. Each townhouse has three bedrooms, a terrace and many mod cons, including security parking for each house. In the area is a national park, a golf course and an Olympic swimming pool. The units sell from A$386,200 (about HK$1,602,730).
Other desirable areas offer similarly good value. A flat in the luxury King Street Wharf development, situated on Sydney harbour, retails for as little as A$381,900. A two-bedroom flat in Bondi Junction, in the heart of the Eastern Suburbs, will cost A$571,000. The North Shore, a particularly popular area for Hong Kongers, offers luxury units from A$350,000.
The prices are appealing, particularly given the present nature of Hong Kong's property market.
'Hong Kong is a very sluggish market - a lot of people have lost confidence,' said Mr Lai. 'People are looking at overseas investments because of that.'