L & D Associates, a household name in property in Hong Kong, is also big in Beijing where it handles about half of all transactions, according to its chairman Paul Deng. 'The Beijing market is still the best in China,' he said. Mr Deng said high-quality apartments were selling for US$1,000-2,500 a square metre. Office space was selling for $2,100-$3,300 a sq m and shopping space, $4,000-$6,500 a sq m. 'According to our records, over the past 12 months pre-sale apartment prices have come down by about five per cent but rent and completed apartment prices are up. The reason is the supply of pre-sale projects compared with the supply of completed units, while rent has been going up all the time.' Mr Deng estimated that about 70 per cent of L & D's Beijing sales were made to local and overseas clients in Beijing, with the remaining 30 per cent sold in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. The company employs 500 people in Beijing. Mr Deng said business was split evenly between Hong Kong and Beijing but he expected Beijing to become the biggest contributor to profit by the middle of the year. Income last year was about $15 million but Mr Deng expected this year's figure to be double that. 'We are hopeful of $30 million. In April alone, we have done over $2 million and in May we expect to break our record because there are a lot of big deals under negotiation.' About 90 per cent of the company's business in Beijing involves high-end residential projects. Mr Deng said there had been a revival in interest in villa properties this year. Villas were generally built faster than flats, with corresponding rental savings to foreign buyers. L & D uses a different commission system in Beijing compared to the maximum two per cent rate it charges in Hong Kong. Commissions in Beijing range from a minimum three per cent to more than five per cent. The company has been doing business in the mainland capital since 1992. It has a full real estate agent licence and does agency work, development, consulting, management and architecture. L & D's first development in Beijing was Rose Garden Villas, a clubhouse project which offered a guaranteed rental return of 10 per cent. It is handling the strategy and marketing for many other projects, including Longcheng Villas, State Guest Garden, Xidan International Mansion, Towercrest Plaza, Golden Land Building, Vantone New World Shopping Mall and the prestigious Investment Plaza in Beijing Finance Street. The Hong Kong-based L & D has come a long way since Mr Deng set it up with two partners in a tiny Wan Chai office in 1984. It now has 40 branches around the world. In China, it has offices in Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as Beijing. Mr Deng said he was not a follower of the 'connections' business philosophy so popular with many mainland business people. Instead, he relied on integrity and business acumen to build up his business. 'When I came up here, I was alone and knew no one,' he said. 'At the end of 1993, I had 20 people. That grew to 400 in 18 months.' Mr Deng said he believed L & D had an unassailable position as the dominant foreign real estate broker in Beijing because of its track record. 'It is too late for competitors now,' he said. 'We are the only foreign company with a full real estate licence; the others just have consultancy licences. And the others have less than 15 people, while we have 500 and are well known in Beijing.' According to Mr Deng, last year L & D had a third of all Beijing property projects assigned to it as agent and was responsible for about half of all transactions. The achievement was due to experience and track record, he said. 'There are 200-300 companies doing consulting work here but we are the only one with experience as a developer. We encountered a lot of difficulties with our Rose Garden [villa] project. That experience is not shared by our competitors and developers like to share in it.'