Rising in the EastBelieve it or not, office parks in Quarry Bay are now home to more than 300 multinational firms, including Fortune 500 corporations, such as AXA and Bank of America. With a notable surge in rental prices of grade A offices in Central, multinationals have been on the lookout for better deals in places like Island East.

No wonder young professionals seeking homes near work are also eyeing the east end, which stretches all way from Taikoo to Chai Wan. “You can go to work in Central and buy groceries at wet markets in North Point,” says financial journalist Amy Lam, a 17-year resident of Shau Kei Wan. “The cost of living is cheaper, the air is fresher and the environment is greener.”

It wasn’t until Taikoo built its dockyard in the early 20th century and trams came into service in 1904 that Island East began to prosper. Once a shantytown with squatters and slums, it is now a thriving community with a population of 600,000. Mainly a buyers’ district, the area offers housing from family apartments to small studio flats, with sizes ranging from 500 to 1,000 square feet, notes Ricky Poon, executive director of residential sales at Colliers International.

Housing in Island East is known for being more affordable for first-time buyers, especially those want to get a foot on the island’s property ladder. Prices are hovering around $9,100 per square foot compared to HK$10,600 in Central and Western district and Wanchai’s whopping $13,300 according to Midland Realty.

And blue-chip housing estates in Island East have been a relatively good hedge against inflation. This area perhaps has the largest concentration of middle-class estates on the island, from Kornhill in Taikoo to Heng Fa Chuen — all with shopping malls and clubhouses. It is reported two housing estates, Taikoo Shing and Lei King Wan, have outperformed others recording the best growth in capital values: a 17 percent increase over the year according to data from Ricacorp Properties.

Few could imagine Island East was once notorious for its poor transport network, which gave rise to a popular saying in the old days: “A hero is trapped in Shau Kei Wan without knowing which day he’ll reach Central.” But today, the neighbourhood offers residents amazing diversity and connections to heart of the city while ensuring a peaceful vibe.

To Lam, a diverse community is definitely an incentive. Unlike Island West where affluent and luxurious housing dominates, “Island East is a region with social diversity,” Lam says. “From high-end department stores to wet markets, from industrial areas to commercial centres, from modern apartments to old buildings with 40 to 50 years of history, from super high-class restaurants at Taikoo to neighbourhood eateries … It has everything you need,” she says.

Easy access to the rest of the town via MTR and a swifter cross-harbour tunnel ensures migrating east isn’t a farewell to your afterwork life. SoHo East in Lei King Wan is a recognisable wine and dine hub, with its yuppie lounges and chic cafes. The secluded dining area on the waterfront — often overlooked by tourists — is great for those who want international cuisine away from the city’s hustle and bustle. For a nostalgic bite of local snacks, explore the food heaven that is Shau Kei Wan Main Street East. This down-to-earth neighbourhood is best known for a Michelin-starred restaurant and mouthwatering street snacks from egg waffles to fried chicken at dirt-cheap prices.

Is Island East a sound investment? Looking ahead, prices will remain fairly stable amid market volatility, Poon predicts. “The limited supply of new flats is hardly enough to give the second-hand market in Island East a push.” Four new residential projects — Sai Wan Terrace, i.UniQ, 18 Upper East and a project by the Hong Kong Housing Society — will add up around 700 first-hand flats in Island East over the next two to three years. However, there’s a good reason to expect a large-scale revamp. In a study by the Planning Department, the government has expressed interest in transforming Island East into a business hub secondary to Central. To attract private investors, the study proposes to upgrade the area’s infrastructure including building promenades and an entertainment hub near the East Harbour Tunnel. A somewhat novel idea is the use of water taxis between Central and Shau Kei Wan.

What’s more, little escapes the eyes of developers. Record-breaking home prices have galvanised a new round of redevelopment. i.UniQ, a luxury residence converted from an old building has prices starting around $14,000 per square foot. A single building, 18 Upper East in Sai Wan Ho, reaches $12,000 per square foot. On the heels of the success of these projects, acquisitions of older walk-ups on Church Lane and Factory Street in Shau Kei Wan are now in full swing.

Witnessing rapid changes, long-time residents have mixed feelings. On one hand, “I feel sad with old buildings being pulled down,” Lam admits. But nothing seems to change her love for the neighbourhood, its convenience and diversity. “There are changes over the years, but they are minor. The overall atmosphere and people remain as they are … This is still the best place to live on Hong Kong Island.”