Hong Kongers scout properties in Canada and UK to escape protests

Changes in Vancouver tax laws have pushed property prices lower since 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

TORONTO (BLOOMBERG) - As protests continue to rock Hong Kong, real estate brokers in Canada and the UK are fielding a flood of inquiries from investors in the former British colony who are eager to get out.

Mr Dan Scarrow, president of Macdonald Real Estate Group in Vancouver, said many of his Chinese agents saw an uptick in interest for both sales and rentals this month from Hong Kong. One of his agents is putting off her planned retirement this year to capitalise on the opportunity.

Before, it was usually a ratio of five mainland Chinese to one Hong Kong buyer coming to open houses, he said.

"It has completely flipped now," said Mr Scarrow. "Whether or not that actually translates into deals, that comes down to what continues to happen in Hong Kong."

People have begun scouting for properties in cities, including Toronto, Vancouver and London, as the unease surrounding Hong Kong's political future grows amid China's increasing influence. A drop in residential property prices is making some of these cities attractive.

"Hong Kong money could become a major source of capital," said Mr David Ho, a broker at CBRE who deals with Asian investments. "People are shocked, given that Hong Kong was always branded as a stable, rule-of-law financial hub, and now want to move their capital to other cities to mitigate the risk and also to look for other homes."

A look at few of the markets that are of interest to the Hong Kong buyers: Vancouver's Advantage Vancouver, where housing prices have been in a slump for the past year, may be the first city to benefit from the upheaval in Hong Kong.

Changes in Vancouver tax laws have pushed property prices lower since 2018, Knight Frank said in a report, adding that investors will also benefit from currency-adjusted discounts of 17 per cent over the last year.

Luxury homes were hit hardest by property tax changes, causing the price of mansions to fall in the last few months and leading to more incentives for buyers. With the city being home to a large Asian population, Vancouver is an appealing choice for many Hong Kong buyers.

"The tsunami tide of capital coming from overseas in the last 10 years displaced a lot of old Hong Kong money," CBRE's Mr Ho said. "Now, Hong Kong capital is looking at the price correction in Vancouver as an opportunity to get back in the market."


Mr Ho's team is working on more than C$400 million (S$416 million) worth of potential deals for the likes of high-net-worth individuals and publicly listed companies seeking stability and attractive yields from the city's real estate boom.

Canada's biggest city is emerging as a popular choice for commercial and residential property investors, given the strength of its housing market, which is partly driven by growth in technology and financial services industries. A weaker Canadian dollar may also mean attractive yields on some deals.

"People are looking at the future, especially people who are young professionals in their late 20s or 30s," Mr Robert Veerman, a CBRE sales representative who works with Mr Ho, said. "They still have 50 or so years of professional life ahead of them essentially and the question is, where are the market, jobs, growth going to happen?"

Demand from Hong Kong for the top 5 per cent most expensive London residential properties has surged this year, representing about 6 per cent of all prospective purchasers registering in the market, according to Knight Frank.

Investment from Hong Kong is bound to grow in the next 12 months as more clarity around Brexit emerges, the property consultancy firm said.

"We have suddenly had a lot interest from our clients in Hong Kong," Mr Joe Bond, an FX Counsellor at Citigroup, said at a luxury property event hosted by Harrods Estates, Taylor Wimpey and Citigold Wealth Management in London earlier this month, noting that the recent instability encouraged potential buyers to make offers.

Thanks to uncertainties around Brexit, including a weak pound and cheaper prices, London offers the greatest residential price discounts relative to the other major markets reviewed by Knight Frank. Prime residential costs in London are 28 per cent lower for Hong Kong buyers than they were five years ago.

"Just eight months ago, Hong Kong clients were telling me Brexit Britain was too unstable to buy in," said Mr Bruce Dear, head of London Real Estate and Institutional Investment at law firm Eversheds Sutherland. Now, "a swan-diving pound, mass marches and a pillaged Legco have made British bolt-holes compelling again."

Sydney and Singapore are also attractive bets for investment as government cooling measures have limited price growth, providing opportunities for Hong Kong buyers to jump in, Knight Frank said.

Increased supply in Manhattan's prime housing market has also stunted price growth and investors can find discounts in that space over a longer-term basis, the consultancy said.

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