The frenzied buying activity in Hong Kong's residential market continued yesterday, when almost all 713 flats offered at the Villa Esplanada development in Tsing Yi were snapped up by end-users and long-term investors on the first day of sale. Agents said the enthusiastic response would boost growing buying sentiment in the mass housing sector, which had started to pick up since last month, following a short-term correction in April. The development, in Nga Ying Chau, Tsing Yi, is 55 per cent owned by China Resources Enterprise. Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) and Cheung Kong (Holdings) each own 22.5 per cent of the balance. Villa Esplanada will comprise three phases of 10 residential towers, providing 2,736 flats with a total floor area of 2.4 million square feet. Phase one will contain 792 units. SHKP did not announce the sales result last night, but estate agents expected almost all 713 flats offered yesterday to have been sold. The developer initially launched the first batch of 160 units in phase one to test the market. The strong response encouraged it to release more flats, bringing the total number to 713. The last batch of units was priced at $7,838 per square foot, up 15 per cent from the first batch at $6,787 per sq ft. With sizes ranging from 637 sq ft to 1,011 sq ft, the units were priced from $3.4 million to more than $8 million. Centaline Property Agency (Tsing Yi district) assistant sales manager David Lau Ming-wai expected nearly all the flats to be sold because of the strong buying sentiment of end-users. He believed most of the buyers were end-users and long-term investors as there had been no transactions of sales coupons - which give preferential rights to prospective buyers - at the sales office. Mr Lau said: 'The sale has not attracted any speculators who want to make a quick profit from the project as resale activity is not allowed until the phase one development is completed in mid-1998.' Registered buyers with coupons numbered higher than 700 were still selecting flats last night. He said almost none of the registered buyers gave up their chance to buy the flats on offer as the market expected the developer to sell the second batch at least by the end of this year. Midland Realty (Tsing Yi) sales manager Spencer Tse said he also expected all the flats to have been sold by the end of yesterday. He said registered buyers who were 300th in line or higher were forced to choose flats facing streets, though this did not seem affect their decisions to buy. Some agents said the strong buying response had been expected, taking into account the large number of applicants recorded by the developer. The developer registered 30,400 prospective buyers over a three-day period, which ended last Wednesday. With such a large number of applications, the project locked up initial deposits worth $10.64 billion, the highest recorded in the territory's property sales history. Mr Lau said prices of flats in the secondary housing market in Tsing Yi and Tsuen Wan had increased since the project's marketing campaign. Based on the sales price of an average $7,000 per sq ft, the whole project would raise about $15 billion, while the developer's total investment in Villa Esplanada would be around $6 billion.