Spotlight on StanleyStanley’s village vibe continues to attract visitors, expats and sun-worshippers

Holidaymakers take the long, bumpy ride to Stanley for good reason. So do homebuyers. For those nostalgic for country living and some holiday fun, Stanley seems about the only place to call home in our suffocating city. A small fishing village long before it became an interim administrative centre in the early colonial days, Stanley still largely retains its “villagey” atmosphere, yet that retro vibe is blended perfectly with plenty of modern amusements.

One of the biggest charms of the area is its relatively low-density residences at flexible rents, ranging from $12,000 to $150,000. “There are modern developments just on the outskirts of Stanley from The Manhattan to Regalia Bay. Then you have low-rise houses like Banyan Villas and Ho’s Villa,” says Anne- Marie Sage, head of residential leasing and relocation services at Jones Lang LaSalle. Small five-storey apartments sitting atop narrow alleys of the busy market area are offered at low budget rents from $12,000 to $18,000.

Villas in Stanley, which can range up to 4,000 square feet in size, are tempting for those who dream of a private yard in the city, where a shoebox apartment is worth several million dollars. In the luxury market, a 2,800-square foot townhouse at Stanley Court can fetch $60 million, or HK$22,000 per square foot on average. “Houses in Stanley are [priced] about 30 percent lower than those in Repulse Bay and 10 percent for apartments, thanks to its isolated location,” states Ricky Poon, executive director of residential sales at Colliers International Hong Kong.

A little farther to the south of Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay, the relatively isolated neighbourhood sits on a peninsula that juts into the South China Sea. “The bay view at Stanley is more peaceful, unlike the busy harbour view you get at the Mid-Levels,” notes Poon. Beaches in Stanley aren’t Hong Kong’s best for swimming, but they are ideal for city dwellers, especially water sports enthusiasts and wind surfers. The sandy Stanley Main Beach is home to the annual Stanley dragon boat races in June. Just by standing at one’s front door, the option of indulging in sun, sea or sand presents itself.

The tranquil charm of Stanley is contrasted with its bustling bazaar. The Stanley Market, which can feel busy as Mongkok when the tour buses roll up, has a selection of street stalls flaunting local handicrafts, souvenirs, beachwear, ski gear and overrun fashion at low prices — and the market by and large has lent Stanley its identity. Now with Stanley Plaza reopening in December, all the basics will be found in the newly refurbished mall owned by The Link REIT: supermarket, wine shop, banks, boutiques and salons, as well as a children’s playground and a community amphitheatre at a seafront piazza, and the redesigned mall also boasts what could be referred to as Hong Kong’s only dog park. Stanley Plaza, with a Classified, Rapee Living, G.O.D. and Chez Patrick Deli has signalled a move towards the upmarket. The combination of market and plaza makes the area a self-contained community. Time will tell whether residential developers take note of that trend.

Moving to isolated Stanley is by no means a farewell to your social and/or nightlife (and a hello to a tedious commute). While Central is a manageable 30-minute drive away, the American Country Club in Tai Tam is right next door. An efficient fleet of buses and minibuses run from the Stanley bus depot to several downtown locations such as Central, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, and the rides along the winding mountain roads can be as exciting as any roller coaster ride.

Alternatively, staying in Stanley for an evening isn’t going to be a bore. The simplest start is grabbing a beer and soaking up the friendly atmosphere in the area. Dubbed an expat enclave — 60 percent of the area population are foreign nationals — Stanley has a gorgeous strip of alfresco cafes and bars that are lively on weekends, all within a 10-minute walk of each other and the plaza. The historic landmark, Murray House, and the waterfront promenade along Stanley Main Street are a culinary United Nations where you can sample Vietnamese, French, Indian, American and Italian cuisine just to name a few.

Looking into 2012, the luxury housing supply in Stanley will be limited. “About 12 houses along Stanley Village Road will be completed in 2012,” Sage remarks. The latest luxury development SCape by in adjacent Chung Hom Kok will add another eight villas. Yet a scarce supply isn’t going to push up prices in the district. A decreasing number of expats relocating to Hong Kong triggered by Europe’s debt woes will lower luxury rents by 6 to 8 percent and housing prices by 13 to 15 percent in the next 12 months, Poon predicts.

Despite a market slowdown, Poon is optimistic nothing really changes people’s affection for the holiday town or eliminates the quest for spacious living. “Stanley still remains a prime luxury residential area popular among expats and executives on Hong Kong Island. Paying rents slightly lower than the Mid-Levels, you enjoy the real village feel of remote Sai Kung.” It’s official: Stanley’s not just for tourists anymore.