Where could Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam have lived with a budget of HK$15 million?
Real estate transaction data suggests chief executive had plenty of options
Soaring property prices and a scarcity of land have long made Hong Kong one of world’s least affordable places to buy a home, and it seems even the city’s leader has faced the same challenge.
“I went to see some flats because I was expecting to retire without a place to stay,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said during a television interview on Monday, talking about the time before she ran for Hong Kong’s top job.
“I would still be able to afford a three-bedroom flat last year, but in the New Territories … [and] that would be about HK$15 million (US$1.92m).”
Watch: Why is Hong Kong housing so expensive?
But real estate transaction data shows Lam’s budget would have left her plenty of options to choose from, even in the urban areas. So where could she have lived with a budget of HK$15 million?
Hong Kong Island
Midland Realty’s residential chief executive Sammy Po said Lam had “lots of choices” with such a budget, whether it be new flats or on the second-hand market.
Looking at transaction data from Centaline Property Agency last October, about the same time Lam went flat hunting, she could afford flats in the urban areas, but they would either be smaller in size or older.
On Hong Kong Island, she could buy a 922 sq ft flat at Harbour View Gardens in Tai Koo with HK$14 million, while a 631 sq ft flat at Centrestage in Sheung Wan went for HK$13 million. The two-tower development has 409 units ranging from 500 to 2,538 sq ft in size and was built in 2006 by Henderson Land Development.
On the Kowloon side, the same budget would have got her a 669 sq ft flat at Mantin Heights in Ho Man Tin if she were in the market for a new-build. If Lam wanted somewhere larger, this would be available if she were prepared to buy an older property.
“Back in October, she could buy three-bedroom flats at about 1,000 sq ft in Kowloon, but those would be flats about 30 to 40 years old,” Po said, citing examples such as traditionally high-end areas like Kowloon Tong or along Boundary Street.
A 1,088 sq ft flat in Eastbourne Court in Kowloon Tong sold for HK$14 million last October. The development has only 72 units and was built in 1965.
Data showed that in the New Territories, flats sold for HK$15 million were all upscale developments built by major property developers.
“With HK$15 million, she could afford to buy luxury flats in Sha Tin or Tai Po,” Po said.
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A 901 sq ft flat in Castello, a development built by Sun Hung Kai Properties in 1999, sold for HK$11 million last October.
Among the newer developments, Lam could also have afforded a 949 sq ft flat with a private balcony at The Golden Gate in Tai Po. The three-year-old estate, built by developer ChinaChem Group, has only 127 flats that range from 645 to 2,036 sq ft in size.
Affordable housing stands at the forefront of Lam’s policy goals for her five-year term. She is one of the few top government officials who does not own a property, although her husband has a flat in Zhongshan city in Guangdong province.
Her last position before she left the civil service was permanent secretary for home affairs, in which she earned HK$190,050 a month in 2007, according to the Civil Service Bureau (CSB).
In December last year, then chief executive Leung Chun-ying shocked the city when he announced he would not seek re-election. In a U-turn, Lam, who was chief secretary and considering retirement at the time, announced she would run for the top job.
If Lam had retired, she would have received a monthly payment under the CSB’s old pension scheme on top of her lump sum pension of HK$7 million.
Po said that if Lam’s budget was lowered to just her one-off pension, she would be able to afford only a two-bedroom flat in the New Territories or a 600 sq ft flat on the second-hand market.
Political commentator Chung Kim-wah said: “She, of course, does not face the same situation as ordinary people. Ordinary people would not normally have such a large sum of money to spend, neither would they have the same mortgage repayment ability. Not to mention how her husband can chip in as well.
“So what she says normally isn’t really on the same page with ordinary people.”