ESTATE agents say the general recovery in the residential property market and the recent mortgage wars have renewed interest in buying older homes. As prices have risen, more owners of older properties have put them up for sale. Banks, while still not keen on mortgaging older properties, are so flush with cash that they have taken a more lenient attitude to financing such purchases, according to estate agents. While you probably will not be able to qualify for the standard 70 per cent mortgage, it should be possible to get near 50 per cent, according to many agents. But do not be surprised if banks will only give you a five-year mortgage. Many agents advise that flat-hunters are better off buying 20 to 30-year-old properties for their own use rather than as an investment. They say the factors which attract a certain type of buyer - such as unusually large balconies, spacious interiors and high ceilings - do not necessarily appeal to all tenants and translate automatically into higher than expected rents. While most of these older style units measure more than 2,000 square feet, there are many tenants who prefer the latest conveniences in smaller, more modern flats, they said. Estate agents generally agree that while there is a plentiful supply of older-style flats on the market, they vary widely in the quality of their interiors. Some have been well maintained and improved upon, while others look their age. Jan McNally, head of residential sales with Richard Ellis, said that while she had not detected any large swing in the market with people suddenly looking to purchase older flats, they certainly attracted a loyal following. Probably the strongest attraction is the price. In a city where it is not uncommon for an ordinary house to cost $30 million, these older units seem a bargain. In Mid-Levels, it is possible to find flats of more than 2,000 sq ft costing $4,000 to $5,000 per square foot, or about $9 million. According to many estate agents, that kind of money would get you a new flat half the size in a poorer location. Another reason for the popularity of older homes is - as estate agents admit - 'they just don't build them like that anymore' in Hong Kong. Older properties offered a space efficiency of over 90 per cent. New developments have an efficiency of between 75 per cent to 80 per cent, according to estate agents. However, home-buyers and investors must realise there are also some drawbacks involved in purchasing an older flat. Not the least of them are the fixtures and fittings. Depending on the previous owners or tenants, buyers may find fixtures in bathrooms and kitchens are not up to modern standards. There may also be problems with the wiring and plumbing. According to a number of estate agents, this is one good reason why buyers should hire a good agent. They can check details such as the age of the home and find out what repair and construction work has been undertaken. For the buyer thinking of undertaking large-scale renovations, the cost of owning such a unit can be prohibitive. While it might cost under $50,000 to put in new sinks in the bathroom or the kitchen to improve the flat, wholesale changes can run into the millions. Estate agents said it was not uncommon for new owners to gut their unit and spend another $2 million on updating the interior. At the end of the day, buyers must also consider the resale value of their home. Perhaps only in Hong Kong would a 20-year-old property depreciate as quickly as a second-hand car. Agents said the next buyer would probably be unlikely to get a mortgage on such a property. On top of this the resale value of the home would be substantially reduced.