For Chan Tak-chan, there was only one part of Hong Kong that made sense to call home. 'In Tai Po, the air is fresh and the area is quite attractive,' Chan says. 'Prices are a little bit higher, but in this area the environment is good.' There's also enough space for a family - Chan lives with his retired parents, and his brother and sister. So six months ago, Chan paid HK$8 million to buy a three-storey, 2,100 sqft village house at Hilltop Garden, a development perched on green, rolling hills overlooking the Wilson Trail. He likes the project because it has security, a shuttle bus to the Tai Po Market MTR station and easy access. Hilltop Garden is populated almost exclusively by outsiders, many taking refuge from higher prices on Hong Kong Island or Kowloon. Chan is not alone in looking to the New Territories town for greater space in a still-convenient location. Brokers say they often see renters relocating from Clear Water Bay and Sai Kung, where they may have been priced out of the market and unable to buy. 'Some people have got enough money to buy a property, but on that side the prices are rising too much, so they can only afford a small unit,' says Jonathan Ho, a broker with Kai Shing. 'These days, people really care about the quality of living. So, if they need a garden, they move here.' Tai Po is halfway up Hong Kong's east coast, roughly equidistant between the outskirts of Kowloon and the border with the mainland at Lo Wu. It's a town and a district and, although Tai Po Central is mainly made up of high-rise apartment blocks, there are plenty of higher-end villa developments and village houses in the more rural parts of the district. It proves popular with people who have to commute regularly to the mainland for work and with city-dwellers looking for more space. Ease of access to the Chinese University, a short drive towards Sha Tin on Tai Po Road, makes the area popular with academics. 'We get a lot of professors. They like the environment in Hong Lok Yuen, where it is very quiet and spacious,' says Ivan Chan, a broker with the Centaline Property Agency branch at Hong Lok Yuen, an upscale development built in the 1980s. 'We get professionals, doctors, and I would say around 70 per cent work in China.' Chan says prices have risen 20 per cent to 30 per cent in the past year. The smallest houses in Hong Lok Yuen are 1,660 sqft, and most owners looking to sell are asking prices that start at HK$13 million. Rents start at about HK$30,000 per month. This has made Tai Po one of the most expensive residential areas in the New Territories, with prices almost on par with Clear Water Bay. Ho, who also sells property in Hong Lok Yuen, notes that at the top end of the market there were two significant transactions recently: a 3,500 sqft house with a 8,000 sqft garden on 15th Street sold for HK$49.5 million, while another similar-sized property on 24th Street fetched HK$48 million. Such properties were only selling for HK$22 million two years ago, and Ho says mainland buyers have been driving up the price. Though Tai Po has long had a KCR station - now part of the MTR - at Tai Po Market, access has been improving. The Sha Tin Heights Tunnel opened shortly before the equestrian Olympic events in Sha Tin. That cuts driving time on the Tolo Highway to Hong Kong Island or Kowloon to 30 minutes. It is also easy for Chan Tak-chan to commute to Guangdong, where he works as a factory operations manager. 'There may be houses in Fan Ling or Sheung Shui, but [they are] far from the city. In Tai Po, all the connections are quite good,' Chan says. 'I don't think there's any space with the same kind of living standards in Sha Tin or other areas. Maybe on Hong Kong Island there's this kind of space, but it would be so much more expensive.' Prices in the New Territories didn't recover as rapidly as they did on Hong Kong Island after the financial crisis, but they have been making up for lost ground this year. Still, they're a far cry from the island - apartments in Constellation Cove, a large apartment development just off Tai Po Road, fetch HK$5,000 to HK$6,000 per square foot, where a similar development in the city may command twice that rate. Nearby Deerhill Bay is one of the more expensive developments in the area at about HK$8,473 per square foot, according to Centaline data. Simon Tsang, a broker with C&D Associates, agrees prices have risen 20 per cent to 30 per cent this year. 'When compared with Sai Kung or Clear Water Bay, Tai Po still has some room for a rise in price,' he says. But other parts of the New Territories have been growing faster, off a lower base. 'In Yuen Long, the prices have almost doubled already,' he says, from HK$4 million to HK$7 million or HK$8 million. There are few new developments in Tai Po, although work is under way for a new project along the water at Tai Po Kau. A road connecting that area to Tai Po Road is almost complete and has driven up prices for houses in the small village of Cheung Shue Tan, from HK$4 million to HK$8 million, Tsang says. The Beverly Hills, which has opened in phases since 2008, is one of the few new developments, fetching HK$6,000 to HK$8,000 per square foot, although some property watchers have faulted the units for being clustered together. Ho believes there may be a bit of a breather in sales activity in Tai Po, thanks to a project elsewhere in the New Territories. Sun Hung Kai Properties started marketing The Valais in Sheung Shui, where there are 300 houses for sale over two phases. The development is much closer to the mainland border than Tai Po, and the property developer sold 132 houses earlier this month. 'The Valais will be one of the biggest housing estates to go on sale in 10 years,' Ho says, and highly priced, with the smallest house selling at HK$30 million, or HK$12,000 per square foot, for a 2,600 sqft detached house. If those kind of prices spread to Tai Po, it's possible the district won't seem as attractive. But for now, it compares well to more densely packed parts of the city.