Through all the boom-bust cycles in his 26 years, Savills’ managing director and head of investment and sales Peter Yuen has remained sure-footed, yet happy to take calculated risks when the time was right
In times of uncertainty, economically and politically, people tend to seek advice from the so-called prophets in the hope of finding some light.
This is happening in Hong Kong. While housing prices are showing signs of cooling with a stream of new housing expected to arrive soon, many are questioning if the right time of buying a home has come.
Unadventurous buyers are banking on an elite group of housing experts for answers, even knowing that nobody could have predicted the housing market crash in 1997, the outbreak of SARS in 2002, nor the recession in 2008, not even Richard Fuld himself.
Witnessing all the boom-bust cycles over the past two decades first-hand is Peter Yuen, a 26-year housing veteran at Savills who last year stepped up to become the managing director.
He’s perhaps the best to confirm there is no clear right and wrong answer in the ever-changing housing market that is bound to be full of surprises.
“Rather or not buying a property really
depends on one’s affordability”
It’s always good to make a purchase when you believe you’re financially ready, given that is for self-use, not for investment.”
A departure from Q1 and Q2, this season marks a moderate single-digit growth in both volume and price, he continues.
“One of the reasons is that many developers have lowered the prices in the mass market districts (Yuen Long and Tseung Kwan O), while high-end property remains in demand.”
He anticipates residential prices will settle into a stable state next year, with the second-hand market also beginning to recover after a long and sluggish period, buoyed unintentionally by the Brexit referendum, he suggests.
“There’s certainly a discount in overseas property investment after the UK’s decision to leave the EU, but it does not mean it impairs local housing demand,” he explains.
“The market is undergoing a wait-and-see period as buyers have become more prudent on buying overseas properties, because they’ve come to realise that overseas investment has a currency risk.”
Overseas investment has been cooling down for months as Hong Kong buyers are expecting a further drop on top of the 10% to 15% decline in London property prices, which is an advantage to the local real estate market, he adds.
As clued-up as he is, Yuen is nonetheless a new homeowner who had never owned an apartment until last year. This prudence is, perhaps, a product of two decades of experience over the roller-coaster ride of Hong Kong’s housing market during his tenure.
“Not long after I joined Savills, there was the Gulf War and the Japanese asset price bubble in 1991-92, the first time we saw a number of office building transactions where the Japanese were selling most of their offices in Hong Kong,” he recounts, naming Lippo Centre, known as the Bond Centre, as the most vibrant asset in volume in its portfolio.
The housing market started to take off and peaked in 1994, followed by a drop when Zhu Rongji’s macro-control was started, he recalls. It went back up at the end of 1995, until the drastic financial crisis fall in 1997.
The crisis caught the city off guard even more than SARS, he adds; another hard-fought battle that paralysed the city for about three months, and the office for days due to a suspected case.
“For example, a HK$15,000 unit at Lippo slumped to an eye-popping HK$5000 in 1998. At a time when people used to borrow 70% from the bank, you can imagine how drastic the situation was,” he says, as if the panic is still fresh.
Having survived the ups and downs of the real estate market, he knows a thing or two on rolling with the punches, which turns out to be one of his key success factors.
“I remember we were helping MGPA to sell an HK$3 billion office tower at Sheung Wan, it was a real challenge, even mission impossible during the time,” he says of his most memorable deal ever made.
“So we came up with a solution to sell the property separately with the help of soft marketing. At the end, the entire building was sold in two months at HK$3.4 billion,” he adds with joy.
“You have to stay calm and don’t panic. There are always transactions in the market no matter how bad the circumstances seem. How to grab a piece of that pie is what matters.”