Cross-border calm a refuge from exploding casino economy 'I moved to Zhuhai from Macau 16 years ago,' says Mr Leu as he rotates skewers of mutton and eggplant over hot coals. 'I was one of the first. Now, everybody is coming here from Macau.' Mr Leu's street-corner barbecue business is picking up, helped by the spike in Macau visitors flowing across the border into Zhuhai. He even accepts Macau patacas for his sizzling sticks of lamb that he sells for one yuan or one pataca. Indeed, Macau's exploding casino economy is putting enormous pressure on prices across all property sectors in the island, especially residential units. As a result, a tide of Macau migrants is seeking refuge in Zhuhai's relatively balanced property market. Many now live full-time in Zhuhai but commute daily to work in the newly integrated resorts of Macau, while wealthier Macanese keep flats for their family in Zhuhai for weekend retreats. 'According to our office index, the capital value of Macau commercial property and residential property has risen 31 per cent since 2006,' said John Nichols, a senior manager with Jones Lang LaSalle. The rapid rise in home prices, said observers, lay behind the findings of a report issued last year by the Macau Society of Social Sciences, which said that since 1999 up to 20 per cent of Macau's 500,000 residents had migrated over the border, with the majority settling in Zhuhai. According to Huafa Century Property, there are large concentrations of Macau residents living in the Gongbei border area, the hotel-laden Jida district, or further to the north at Xiangzhou. One drawcard is the lower price of property in Zhuhai. Listings with Century 21 show that residential properties in Macau sell at between HK$3 million and HK$5 million for units ranging in size from 100 square metres to 150 sq metres. By contrast, most new similar-sized flats in Zhuhai sell at an average of one to two million yuan each. In Zhuhai's rental market, 2,000 to 3,000 yuan per month could rent a new 100 sq metre ocean view flat, said Huafa property agent Michelle Lei. In contrast, in Macau that sort of rent will at best get you a shabby 20 sq metre flat with 1960s plumbing and no views. Groceries are also cheaper in Zhuhai, which is why it is not uncommon to see Macanese day-trippers re-crossing the border on their way back home with giant bags of rice slung over their shoulders. In fact, many of Macau's residents who have moved to Zhuhai are profiting by reselling mainland goods in Macau. Zhuhai is also becoming a bedroom community to the thousands of new workers staffing the hospitality and retail sectors of the integrated resorts. 'We have observed an increase in non-skilled workers seeking residential property in Zhuhai, but not an increase in skilled workers or indeed business relocating to Zhuhai,' Mr Nichols said. Still, at the weekend Zhuhai's broad, freshly paved roads host scores of Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs from Macau, bearing dual licence plates. Many of the drivers own high-end properties or maintain two homes in each city. Last year, residential prices doubled in upmarket districts such as Gongbei owing to interest from big spenders in Macau, said Carry Wang, a property consultant with Centaline China. The current market price for units averages as low as 12,000 yuan to 13,000 yuan per square metre, but can run as high as 20,000 yuan, he noted. Prices are a little lower up the coast in Jida and Xiangzhou at 10,000 yuan and 8,000 yuan per square metre, respectively. At least a dozen luxury apartment buildings are due to open in Gongbei and Jida this year and in the next, with more Macau buyers expected to snatch them up. Almost 40 per cent of the 3,000 luxury flats at the Grand Panorama in Jida have been bought by Macau residents, says agent Rita Fei, and the development is not even finished yet. Another sign of the demographic shift is the decision by Pinnochio, the well-known Taipa village Macanese restaurant, to open a second venue in Xiangzhou to cater to Macau visitors. Quality of life issues are among the factors that residents of Macau are weighing when choosing Zhuhai. Shamma Hsiao-Klein, the director of admissions at Zhuhai International School, said parents in Macau had contacted her about their facilities. The interest has been so strong that the school is expanding its boarding facilities. 'We're seeing a lot of Macanese parents who don't think casinos are a healthy environment for kids to grow up in,' she said.