Spooked by protests, Hong Kongers snap up homes at Malaysia's Forest City development

Residential apartments under construction at Forest City in southern Johor, Malaysia, in a photo taken on Feb 26, 2019. Hong Kongers have snapped up about 200 apartments in the development in the past two months PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR/HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kongers have snapped up about 200 apartments in the past two months at a sprawling housing development in Malaysia, two estate agents said, a sign that some are looking for homes elsewhere due to the political volatility at home.

The latest purchases will nearly double the number of apartments held by Hong Kong residents in the US$100 billion (S$138 billion) Forest City developed by China's Country Garden Holdings on the southern tip of Malaysia.

Real estate agents expect Malaysia and Thailand to benefit the most from some Hong Kong residents' frustration over the second bout of lengthy anti-government demonstrations in five years in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The Forest City sales are among the first clear signs of large-scale purchases of Malaysian real estate by Hong Kong residents since the latest wave of protests started.

Forest City opened a sales office two years ago in Hong Kong, making it ideally positioned to benefit from increased interest in Malaysian property, agents said.

Mr Bruce Lee, a consultant for VPC Asia Pacific and an agent for Forest City, said the purchases were being made by Hong Kongers who wanted to live in Malaysia, not as investments.

"These are people who already knew about the project and made inquiries, but this event triggered them to commit to it," Mr Lee said by phone, referring to the protests.

"Every weekend, people are coming and confirming buying."

Another agent for Forest City, asking not to be named, confirmed the purchases, citing the protests as the reason for a spike in interest.

Country Garden, which plans to build accommodations for up to 700,000 people in Forest City, which straddles several man-made islands, did not respond to a request for comment.

A marketing official at Forest City declined to confirm any new purchase but said that since its launch in early 2016, up to 200 Hong Kong residents had invested in the development. The official did not want to be named.

Each of the new units sold in the project neighbouring Singapore is priced above RM1 million ($331,000), Mr Lee said.

Reuters reported this week that a Malaysian programme to attract foreigners to live in the country drew 251 applications from Hong Kong residents this year, compared with 193 approved last year from the Chinese-ruled city.

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