CHEAPER property prices and a lower cost of living - with savings on everything from dim sum to maids - are prompting a growing number of Hong Kong people to live on the mainland and commute to work. More SAR residents have bought homes in Shenzhen in the past year than ever before, and they are living in the flats instead of treating them as holiday getaways or long-term investments, estate agents say. Last year, 130,000 square metres of the border city's residential property was sold to foreign buyers, 90 per cent of whom were Hong Kong people, according to official statistics. That was double the volume of property sold to Hong Kong people in the previous year. Terence Chong Chak-bo, a marketing manager for Centaline Property's Shenzhen branch, said between 30 and 40 per cent of the home buyers were living in the flats, compared with just 20 per cent in the past. 'It's due to a change in attitude and it's partly due to the handover,' Mr Chong said. 'People are getting to know the mainland better and they're feeling more comfortable with the idea of living there. They can watch Hong Kong television over there and shop in Wellcome and Park'N Shop.' Entire families, who used to live in Hong Kong, had moved to Shenzhen and were commuting to work or school each day, said Calvin Lau Chi-chung, project manager for Midland Realty. 'Many of these families cannot meet the downpayment in Hong Kong. They tend to work in the northern New Territories near the border, in places like Fo Tan, so it's quite convenient for them to live in Shenzhen,' Mr Lau said. Many people are also renting. Statistics on how many Hong Kong people live in Shenzhen are not available, but commuters say the larger crowds of early-morning commuters crossing the border into Hong Kong are a good indication of the swelling population. A majority of the people who have moved to Shenzhen are men who have married mainland woman. It makes sense for them to live across the border because their wives must wait years for permission to emigrate to Hong Kong. But, contrary to common belief, many of the men are not anxious to move their wives and children to Hong Kong because the cost of living is so low in Shenzhen. Martin Ching Wai-man, an underwater engineer, said he would not trade his life in Shenzhen even if his wife was allowed to come to Hong Kong. They have not applied for her entry. 'I make $20,000 a month and we're able to save $10,000. If we were living in Hong Kong, I'd definitely not save any money. Rent would take up most of my pay cheque,' Mr Ching said. He pays $1,500 a month for a spacious three-bedroom flat - an unheard of price in Hong Kong. He and his wife are also reaping savings from cheaper groceries and entertainment expenses. Commuting from his front door to work in Causeway Bay takes, on average, an hour and 20 minutes, including passing through two immigration checkpoints. Property agents and others said the completion of the West Rail in 2003, which would take passengers from Shenzhen to Central in half an hour, would spur more people to relocate. But living in Shenzhen is not for everyone, despite the savings. Michael Cheung, who is married to a mainland woman and owns a flat in Shenzhen, regretted the move. 'There are lots of pickpockets on the buses and purse snatchings by motor cyclists right off the streets. There's crime even in my housing estate. The security guards don't do anything,' said Mr Cheung, who used a pseudonym to avoid any problems with the estate management. 'I've complained many times about the security guards and poor shuttle bus service. But it's useless.'