Hong Kong British expatriates are currently the biggest overseas buyers of British provincial homes following concerns about the 1997 changeover and recent events in the Taiwan Strait. Estate agents said they had received many enquiries from expatriates concerned about their future in Hong Kong and attracted by an upturn in the British market. Alison Hammerbeck, Hong Kong director of estate agents John D Wood and Company, said she had received 'lots of phone calls' from expatriates keen to move home because of current political uncertainty. Michael Chetwode, director of home-finding firm County Homesearch Company, said he had been deluged with enquiries from expatriates looking for homes in Britain. Agents said while expatriate interest in British properties was rising because of the pending handover of Hong Kong to China next year and the upturn in the British housing market, Hong Kong Chinese investors appeared unruffled. Ms Hammerbeck said Hong Kong expatriates were the most important group of overseas buyers in the British country house market. Sellers were hiring agencies with Hong Kong offices in preference to those who did not have that facility because they were desperate to attract the territory's expatriates. Colin MacKenzie, head of Hamptons' country house department, said there was a resurgence of expatriate interest in December, when 29 per cent of all enquiries received by the agency emanated from British people living in Hong Kong. Domestic buyers were returning to the provincial home markets after staying away in 1995. This signalled an upturn in capital values, agents said. Hamptons saw an 80 per cent jump in demand for country homes from domestic buyers in January compared to the same month last year, Mr MacKenzie said. Russel Tire, Hong Kong manager of Brighton-based RDA Estates, said business in the first two months of this year had more than doubled compared to the same time last year. Most renewed interest was concentrated in towns and villages within easy commuting distance of London. Caroline Fisher, Hong Kong representative of estate agent Strutt & Parker's, said her company's offices in Newbury, Ipswich, Chelmsford and Market Harborough reported strong demand for properties from both Hong Kong residents and expatriates. Those towns were within easy commuting access of London, Ms Fisher said, although there was a dearth of properties on the market in the region. At Market Harborough, Leicestershire, prices for three-bedroom cottages and five-bedroom houses rose 52 per cent between 1991 and 1995 - the highest increase recorded nationally by Strutt & Parker - to GBP152,000 (HK$1.8 million) for a three-bedroom home and GBP381,000 for five bedrooms. Nine-bedroom houses had risen 32 per cent in value to an average of GBP761,000 over that period. Apart from its excellent road links to both London and Birmingham, Market Harborough was a popular location because prices were historically cheap compared to other parts of the country, Ms Fisher said. According to Mr Tire, property in another London commuter town, Brighton, was also in strong demand. Prices had risen by up to 15 per cent over the past two years. A growing number of Hong Kong Chinese investors were joining expatriate buyers, because high returns were obtainable on Brighton's mass market properties, he said. Studio flats at GBP20,000 generated returns of up 18 per cent. He expected capital values to rise substantially in the next few years because prices remained well below their peak levels of 1989. A three-bedroom flat which was sold for GBP110,000 in January 1989 was back on the market for GBP69,000.