HONG KONG (NYTIMES)- In many places, US$664,000 (S$920,313) can buy you a nice house. For that price in Hong Kong, you can buy a slab of concrete, roughly 17 feet long and 11 feet wide, to leave your luxury car.
Hong Kong is now home to a very expensive parking lot, the latest sign of a property market run amok. Even in a city well accustomed to costly real estate, the price spiral has confounded the most experienced observers.
"This is basically the price of one flat in Hong Kong," said Lennon Choy, an associate professor of real estate and construction at the University of Hong Kong. "This is crazy, actually."
The buyer was listed as Kwan Wai Ming, whom local news outlets identified as executive director of the Huarong Investment Stock Corp. His company declined to comment.
That price, paid for a spot in an apartment complex on Hong Kong Island, was a new local record, breaking the previous US$615,000 paid for a slightly smaller spot last year.
The huge price paid for a single parking spot illustrates the broader rise in real estate values. By some measures, Hong Kong is already the world's most expensive housing market per square foot.
While the run-up has enriched property owners and developers, it has led to widespread worries that a generation of young residents will be unable to afford a home. The unaffordability of housing played a role in protests three years ago and has spurred leaders to try to address the problem.
A number of causes explain the run-up. A dense city spread over rocky islands and a peninsula that borders mainland China, Hong Kong has had a surge in investment from mainlanders looking for a relatively safe place to park their money. City officials tightly control the market for new land parcels, exacerbating supply limits.
As mainland developers have increased competition with longtime Hong Kong property giants, land prices have set records. And property developers are encouraging potential buyers by directly offering mortgages in competition with local banks.
New fees on out-of-town buyers and tighter rules on money leaving mainland China have done little to contain the rising prices.
The run-up is leading to worries about a damaging crash. Last month, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, which acts as the central bank, tightened mortgage lending rules in an effort to tame the market.
"The risk of overheating in the property market in Hong Kong continues to increase," Norman Chan, the authority's chief executive, said in a statement last month. He added, "I would like to remind the public that, for most people, buying a property is not only one of the most important decisions in life, it is also a financial transaction entailing significant leverage through borrowing."
For his money, Kwan may get convenience. He already owns property in the same apartment complex where the parking spot is situated, called the Upton, in the Sai Ying Pun district. He previously bought two apartments for US$9.7 million and two other parking spots in the complex for US$995,000, according to the Hong Kong land registry.
Such an expensive parking spot may seem excessive in a city where transportation can be cheap. Hong Kong has a world-class mass transit system, and a passenger can cross Hong Kong Island for US$1.30 on the subway, or - with a little patience - 30 US cents by tram.
But some wealthy residents revel in the recognition that comes with a Lamborghini or even a coveted licence plate. Last year, a plate carrying the number 28, which sounds like a phrase for "easy money" in Cantonese, sold for a record US$2.3 million at auction.
Of course, Hong Kong may not be unique. One New York City developer once asked US$1 million for a place to park.