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Piers Brunner of Colliers International says investors are looking for attractive opportunities outside Hong Kong. Photo: Edward Wong

Property investors switch focus from East Asia to the West

Buyers in region eye US, Australia and Britain amid strong liquidity and low interest rates

The exodus of investors from Hong Kong's property market - sparked by the government's measures in February to curb speculation - is continuing, with buyers now seeking alternatives in the West.

Against a backdrop of strong liquidity and low interest rates, investors are hunting for opportunities outside of Hong Kong, says Piers Brunner, chief executive of Asia at property consultancy Colliers International.

"We also see the same trend in Singapore and from China," said Brunner.

"The trend was ongoing before the government measures, but now is exaggerated."

The three markets have seen a slew of cooling measures to suppress demand and tackle soaring property prices.

In its latest round of such measures, Hong Kong in February doubled the maximum stamp duty payable on the sale of residential and non-residential properties valued at more than HK$2 million.

That came on top of curbs such as the additional as stamp duties levied on foreign and corporate buyers.

On the mainland, a pre-announced 20 per cent capital gains tax on secondary home sales that was not being strictly enforced was implemented.

In Singapore, the government has has been rolling out measures since 2009 to curb high property prices. These have included raising taxes on foreign and corporate homebuyers as well as on industrial property transactions.

Even so, the property curbs have not been strong enough to drive down home prices, Brunner says, citing supply and low interest rates as more important factors.

He says property prices could decline if supply were to increase and interest rates rise.

Currently, Colliers International sees good investment opportunities in London and Melbourne's property markets, and it has been getting more inquiries about the opportunities in gateway cities in the United States, Brunner says.

He says the investors include individuals and wealth management companies, while investment opportunities range from single apartments to en-bloc commercial buildings and residential sites.

Investors with stronger financial clout have investment budgets of US$50 million to US$70 million, with some willing to invest as much as US$100 million, Brunner says.

Given the current market trends, Colliers will try to exploit the global money flow and strengthen its revenues from businesses such as leasing, property management, and property consultancy services.

Richard Kirke, a managing director at Colliers Hong Kong, says the consultancy successfully brokered the sale of commercial properties in London worth £250 million (HK$3 billion) to Hong Kong buyers in the past two weeks.

"In the last six weeks, we saw capital leaving Hong Kong. Our team in Hong Kong selling residential properties from London is very strong at the moment," Kirke said.

Hong Kong investors, Kirke explains, are interested in offshore commercial properties after the government moved for the first time to cool the non-residential market by doubling stamp duty.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Curbs turn investors' focus to West