Freedom to travel adds to lure of Athens flats for wealthy Hongkongers
Deep-pocketed Hong Kong investors could be surprise beneficiaries of Greece's attempt to woo wealthy mainland investors with promises of visa-free travel in Europe.
In the basement of a Causeway Bay hotel yesterday, London-based property developer Euroterra Capital was doing the hard sell on a seven-storey block of 14 flats in central Athens.
Managing partner Pantazis Therianos said it was a sign of a new chapter as the Greek economy, long a byword for Europe's woes, shows modest signs of recovery, with forecast growth of 2.9 per cent next year.
While mainland investors were key targets - the marketing materials were in English and simplified Chinese - Therianos said five of the first six flats sold went to Hong Kong buyers, with one investor from Singapore. The one and two-bedroom homes are priced from €180,000 (HK$1.7 million) to €300,000.
"We were very surprised," Therianos said of the early sales, adding that potential buyers had also come from Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
"At the moment, prices are low and people believe it's the bottom of the market."
The five Hong Kong buyers included private bankers and a hedge-fund manager.
Early next year, the Greek government will relax the rules on a scheme that gives foreigners a renewable five-year residency visa if they invest at least €250,000 in property.
It is one of the cheapest so-called "golden visas" that allow holders to travel freely throughout the 26 European countries that have implemented open borders.
The permit only extends to the property owner's spouse and children aged up to 18, but from next year it will also include the investor's parents, children up to 25 years old and in-laws.
Therianos said the Greek scheme was "better than Portugal or Spain", referring to similar investor programmes there. Cyprus and Malta also have comparable schemes.
After yesterday's presentation, a potential investor from New Zealand, who declined to be named, said the exit strategy of selling to Chinese investors for a profit was more appealing than a residency permit.
"From an investment perspective, maybe there's an opportunity to sell it to potential Chinese buyers who want it and can't get it, but you can sell it on because you don't need it for a visa," she said.
One couple, who also wished to remain anonymous, said they were most interested in the residency permit.
"We just started a family so we're looking at our options," said the US-born architect, who just had a baby with his Hong Kong-born wife and was considering long-term plans.
"We love Greece and we were both there for part of our honeymoon, and we always said if we were to invest it may be there."