Buyers have Georgia on the mind

HONG KONG investors are following on the heels of their mainland counterparts and are showing renewed interest in the American property market. Atlanta, the site of the 1996 Olympics, is one area which could produce some handy returns.

Deputy chairman of investment managers Connaught Strategic Holdings Mike Smith said: ''Prices in some areas in the United States are up to half what they were a few years ago, and many Hong Kong investors believe the US property market has bottomed out.

''They also feel that the local market is too hot to handle, and this has led to increased interest among both local Chinese and expatriates in buying property abroad.'' Connaught believes the residential sector in Atlanta, Georgia, is particularly promising for investment property.

The company is offering 476 residential apartments as part of a US$30 million deal that has just been signed by Connaught's parent company, Hong Kong-based M.A.C.C. Holdings, and America's biggest residential property developer, Trammell Crow.

Mr Smith said: ''We will be marketing the property around Asia and expect a lot of interest. The units will be sold at a price of between US$400 and $500 per square foot, and should offer an annual return of up to 10 per cent. There will be guarantees pertaining to the income on the property in addition to sales guarantees.

''The residential market is regarded as offering the least risk for an investor interested in US property.'' Many Chinese investors have already committed themselves to property development in the US. China Construction America, a subsidiary of Beijing's China State Construction and Engineering Corporation, has already made a foray into the Atlanta property market, picking up a retirement complex.

Located at the heart of America's Sun Belt, Atlanta is being seen as the city likely to lead the US out of recession. The southeast is regarded as an international economic hotbed.

Its quality infrastructure and comparatively low taxes and overheads mean many companies have Georgia, and Atlanta specifically, on their minds. The preparations for the Olympic Games alone are expected to generate a US$3.5 billion economic boost for Atlanta's economy and create more than 83,000 jobs.

Atlanta is the home of Coca Cola, Ted Turner's Cable Network News, and Delta Airline. The city's business influence is also expanding. In 1991, Atlanta was rated by Fortune 500 magazine as the best place to do business in the US.

It is no surprise then that almost all of the Fortune 500 companies now have operations or offices in the city, and more than 1,400 foreign-owned companies have set up shop in Atlanta and the state of Georgia.

Georgia has attracted more Japanese companies and investment than any state in the US except California.

The city's Hartsfield International Airport is the third busiest airport in the world.

Fortune 500 attributed Atlanta's attraction to a number of factors, among them the city's flexible, high quality workforce, its proximity to markets, strong local pro-business attitude, infrastructure and low costs.

For Connaught's Mr Smith, the low costs at latter is all-important.

''In the increasingly cost-conscious times in which we live, Atlanta will prove particularly attractive to business. Investors can ride on the back of the wave with the residential property market,'' said Mr Smith.