Property

Getting More Bang for Your Buck

It’s been said time and again that salaries, expenses and the cost of living are relative, and that one could live like a king off American minimum wages in, say, Burundi.

But life is not relative and we all have budgets and limits. In any currency, $10 million is a fair amount of money, and one that should get home seekers a fair amount of space. Ten million Hong Kong dollars translates into about US$1.3 million, AU$1.7 million, CA$1.6 million, €1.1 million and £880,000. The Hong Kong dollar hasn’t had this much buying power in a long time, but right here at home, it doesn’t stretch as far as it could.

According to the 2016 Knight Frank Wealth Report, US$1 million – just under that local $10 million threshold – will buy you roughly 215 premium square feet in Hong Kong, second only to Monaco, where the same amount gets you 183.

Things are better in the mass market, as Metro Town in Tseung Kwan O, the Cairnhill in Tsuen Wan and Laguna Verde in Whampoa all offer 900 saleable square feet for that price. For those frustrated with Hong Kong, a look across the water in any direction may prove fruitful.

“The weakness in the European currency, coupled with the historic stability, means there is a great deal of interest in spending the Hong Kong dollar overseas, rather than locally,” says Mark Elliott, associate director of international residential property services at JLL.

“There seems to be more value and opportunity elsewhere at the present time.”

Classics
“While London will always be the go-to for Asian investors looking for relative stability and transparency, of course, it really depends on your investment goals. There are some fantastic opportunities in mainland Europe, Germany mainly, especially the banking city of Frankfurt,” Elliott notes.

With a UK exit from the EU looming should the June 23 referendum vote “Brexit”, there is the potential for European banks to rethink London as a head office, making mainland Europe the obvious choice. A historically low Euro and strong HK$ make European properties more affordable.

“There are, therefore, some great opportunities for international investors with liquid cash to take advantage of the currency [and] the relatively affordable housing situation, but also potentially reap the rewards if there is a UK/Euro break up in the next few months,” Elliott theorises.

Nonetheless, Elliott admits there is a spike in sales in so-called second tier cities in the UK. Rooted in affordability and solid rental returns, “An investor with HK$10 million can buy three, four or even five apartments in Manchester or Birmingham as opposed to one, maybe two in London,” he says.

As Elliott sees it, savvy investors are looking at alternatives further afield.

Which doesn’t mean London has fallen off the radar. Set in London’s SE16 district, near Canary Wharf, Southwark and Whitechapel, London Square Canada Water is a new project comprised of one to three-bedroom homes 10 minutes from the Tube and good connectivity to the rest of the city.

The heavily anticipated Crossrail will be open by 2018, and the development features the hallmarks of London Square’s design such as its outdoor space and landscaped courtyards.

The district is a “fantastic regeneration area and a good opportunity to enter a market which is still set to benefit from billions of pounds worth of further investment in the coming years,” says Gareth Hart, director of international properties at Colliers International in Hong Kong.

“A three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit with a terrace and water/Canary Wharf views is £950,000 or just over HK$10 million. Canada Water has excellent rental prospects due to the easy commute to both Canary Wharf and the city.”

Across the river is Lombard Wharf at Battersea. Developed by Barratt London, Lombard Wharf (technically in SW11) is a rare Thames-side property in an architecturally striking tower (by Patel Taylor) that connects to the surrounding riverside by a landscaped plaza.

“Lombard Wharf gives you a rare chance to live on the banks of the famous River Thames,” says Knight Frank partner Seb Warner.

Lombard Wharf comprises 134 one to three-bedroom apartments and penthouses, “with stunning views across London. All apartments benefit from wraparound terraces, a residents’ fitness suite and 24-hour concierge”.

Units start well below HK$10 million – £600,000 – and are a short walk to Battersea Park and nearby boutique shopping and dining.

Outliers
Similarly, Sydney remains one of the hottest markets in Asia Pacific, and though prices are rising, there is value to be found in Australian real estate.

Also through Colliers is Amari Bondi, right on top of one of the world’s best beaches. Set for completion in 2017, the Amari residences are only five kilometres from central Sydney in a leafy, café precinct on Ocean Street. Incredible views are a given.

“The water view apartments start from AU$1,675,000, which is just under HK$10 million. The developer is offering 4% gross rental guarantee for some apartments for a 10-year period with a 7.5% management fee and 2% annual increases,” Hart says.

“This is a great rental return for Bondi and the entry point prices are very competitive.”

Piper Property Group’s Amari comprises one to three-bedroom boutique apartments sitting inside a nine-storey building designed by Architects Nicholas + Associates.

Though some metrics suggest overseas ownership in France in real numbers is down, March data from Knight Frank indicates sales rose a respectable 12.5% last year.

“With favourable mortgage rates of around 2.3%, prices stabilising in most prime markets and the euro weak against the pound and the US dollar, buyer confidence has strengthened,” noted Knight Frank’s Mark Harvey, head of sales for France in a statement.

Activity was strongest below €5 million, and revenue-generating properties were in highest demand: vineyards, olive groves and holiday homes. The impending referendum in the UK is being felt across the Channel, but only marginally.

“Across Italy, France and Spain, we are seeing prime prices stabilise and although the pound has weakened against the euro in recent days, it remains a long way off the GBP/EUR exchange rate of 1.02 seen in December 2008,” Harvey says.

HK$10 million will buy investors a classical eighth or modern third arrondissement income-generating apartment from Knight Frank right now – and more luxury than it will buy here at home.