A major residential project in the northwestern district of Yuen Long received a disappointing market response on its first day of sales yesterday, just two days after Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, warned the city was in its worst economic trough in 20 years and that the downturn in the property market would be worse than during the 2003 Sars epidemic. A spokeswoman representing The Spectra, which will eventually provide 912 flats in four towers when completed, declined to provide official sales figures. But market sources on site told the Sunday Morning Post only between 80 and 130 flats out of 338 units released ended up being sold. Before Li’s comments on Thursday, there had been 1,700 “registrations of intent” to buy flats at The Spectra. Stakeholders had said the project might be four times oversubscribed. Deposit cheques tied to the registrations had amounted to HK$170 million. But yesterday, of the already paltry number of 40 registered group buyers – who had stated they intended to buy two units or more – only six showed up, with each taking just two flats. The turnout rate among balloted buyers was 70 per cent, with most of those being intended occupants rather than investors. The response compared poorly with those for other projects in the neighbourhood, despite The Spectra being closest to the MTR and its developers offering 20 per cent discounts through avenues including tax rebates, shopping coupons and financing options. Major buyers were known to have taken a dozen flats in one go at nearby Twin Regency, a recently released residential project by Sun Hung Kai Properties. Many took between four and five flats each at Yuccie Square, a project by Li’s Cheung Kong Property Holdings, sources said. The Spectra is jointly developed by K Wah International, Sino Land and the MTR Corporation. After the price reduction, the mainly one- and two-bedroom units sold for between HK$10,000 and HK$14,000 per square foot. A third of the 338 flats available were three- and four-bedroom units, which the sources said were barely looked at. “People are not making their purchase decision on size, layout or the view. It was a pure price decision, starting from the cheapest unit from the lowest floor and from there up. It is as Mr Li said; the economy is at its worst in 20 years. His words are probably not actually that powerful. But the market is really bad,” one source said. “Speculators would rather go up to the mainland ... rather than buy in Hong Kong. What would they buy flats here for – to lose money on them?” He predicted prices in Hong Kong would fall by 5 per cent in the second quarter.