Weekend Property

Rich pickings: luxury district Kowloon Tong retains its quiet, ‘old-money’ charm

Neighbourhood is largely defined by its large detached houses and remains a favourite with the wealthy, offering easy access to some of the finest schools in the city

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 11:28am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 12:20pm

Sitting halfway between Central and the border, Kowloon Tong is an ideal “compromise” for folks who work in the city, and travel frequently to Shenzhen or Guangzhou. You can reach the end of the MTR lines in both directions in around 30 minutes, without breaking your rail journey.

Laid out in the 1920s as a leafy garden suburb based on the British housing model, Kowloon Tong evolved as an upmarket, low-density residential area favoured by wealthy industrialists. Even today, after residential high-rises have sprung up all around, the district is defined by its large detached houses and townhouses, with a sprinkling of low- and mid-rise apartments.

Just as Kowloon Tong streets bearing British names are reminders of the city’s colonial heritage, the prestigious school network, which remains one of Hong Kong’s finest, is in part a legacy of the population of British civil servants who were housed there back in the day. It includes elite institutions such as La Salle College for boys, and Maryknoll Convent School for girls. The district is also home to City University and Baptist University.

The prestigious Kowloon Tong Club was formally established on Waterloo Road in 1935 to provide residents recreational and social needs, and remains a thriving venue today. The large-scale Festival Walk retail mall, developed in the 1990s, was a precursor to the modern mega mall. Once pitched at luxury shoppers, now an upper mass-market destination, it offers some 200 retail and restaurant outlets, one of the city’s largest ice rinks and a multiscreen cinema.

Recent transaction data tracked by Knight Frank suggests that Kowloon Tong still holds appeal for certain affluent buyers. A two-storey detached house at 1 Suffolk Road, with a site area of 8,410 sq ft, sold for HK$180 million, representing an accommodation value of HK$35,671 per square foot; another two-storey house at 12 Oxford Road, with a saleable area of 4,988 sq ft, was purchased by a mainland investor at HK$195 million, or a unit price of HK$39,094 per square foot.

These deals remain eclipsed by the record-breaking HK$362.9 million, or HK$82,253 per square foot, achieved in March last year for a house at 1 Ede Road, developed by Kerry Properties.

However, David Ji, Knight Frank’s head of research and consultancy, Greater China, suggests that such transactions are not happening often. “Kowloon Tong is still one of the richest areas in Hong Kong, but it’s a district with a lower profile.”

The reason, Ji believes, is that buyers may be blindsided by the aggressive marketing of many new developments, which might have more modern-day bells and whistles, but cannot compete with Kowloon Tong in terms of space and quiet ambience.

Kowloon Tong is still one of the richest areas in Hong Kong, but it’s a district with a lower profile
DavidJi, Knight Frank

“If you want low key, you will look to Kowloon,” Ji says. To be surrounded by houses, rather than high-rises, is a rarity indeed in urban Hong Kong, and the scarcity of land in the district suggests Kowloon Tong will stay that way. Where regulations allow, there are “slightly taller buildings” of five to six storeys high, Ji says, but low- to mid-rise remains the mainstay of the residential mix. “Elsewhere, you can build as high as 35 to 40 stories,” he notes.

More typical of Kowloon Tong, says Lisa Pang Man-ning, associate district manager at Midland Realty, are “rare collections” such as Eden Gate, Chinachem Group’s luxury development on Ede Road, comprising 36, four-bedroom apartments, eight special units, and three houses. Pang says such spacious homes stand in stark contrast to the “concrete jungle” high-rises packed in elsewhere, noting the district’s legislated low density ensures “that Kowloon Tong will never change”.

The area attracts residents today for different reasons, Pang says. Young couples still come for the prestigious school network; industrialists remain drawn to its convenient access to China. For that reason also, she says, Kowloon Tong has become popular in recent years as the Hong Kong residence of mainland tycoons, who have been buying up some of the priciest properties.

Supply, on the whole, is extremely limited, and there is scant opportunity for future development. Ji can think of “only a handful of developers” who hold sizeable plots of land, with few large developments scheduled before 2022.

One of just two projects under development, The Grampian at 11 Grampian Road, with a total gross floor area (GFA) 35,000 sq ft, will provide only 14 units, each of 1,400 sq ft, while the larger 38 Inverness Park on Inverness Road, developed by Chinachem (GFA 229,000 sq ft), will provide nine apartment blocks of various heights.

Kowloon Tong is not trend setting, Ji says. Its role of being a quiet, traditional luxury neighbourhood has not changed, and the district still attracts old money, rather than the nouveau riche.