Home run

Weekend Glitz | Lisa Kao 29 May 2020

Victoria Allan started off in real estate because she believed it would allow her to work anywhere in the world.

But during her journeys, the Australian was drawn to Hong Kong's allure and decided to settle down here.

Working in the industry for more than 25 years, the Habitat Property founder still finds her job interesting. To her, it's more than buying and selling - it's also changing and reforming.

Although her father worked in heavy engineering, touring properties was a weekend family activity.

"Even when I was just three, he would ask for my opinion," she said. "My family often talked about property at the dinner table."

Having earned a business administration degree in real estate, a career in the property sector seemed like a natural path for her.

But her main motive was the job's adrenaline rush. "Family friends working in property told me that the great thing about their jobs is being able to work in a lot of different areas, from liaising to sales and management," she said.

"And you can travel with the knowledge. You can easily get a job around the world."

With that in mind, Allan started traversing the globe through a real estate work exchange program after she graduated.

"I moved from one country to another for a year, from two weeks to one month at a time," she said. "Italy, Germany, Sweden, France, Canada, the United Statesa lot of different experiences in different companies."

Allan then moved on to a full-time job in the United States and Canada, and was looking forward to exploring and experiencing more countries and cultures.

But when she landed in Hong Kong in 1997, she did not want to leave the vibrant city.

"Hong Kong is a dynamic place. The more I am here, the more I like it," she said.

Another reason she stayed was a window of opportunity she discovered here, which she eventually based her business on. "I found that a lot of properties on offer here were not that unique."

She was looking for gardens, terraces and big balconies, but couldn't find them from the local agencies. "So I thought, why not start my own company?"

In 2001, Allan founded her house-flipping company Habitat Property.

The exciting part of her business is not just introducing unique flats to clients, but also rejuvenating old buildings.

Tung Fat Building in Kennedy Town is one of the properties she gave new life to.

"After running the business for two years, I realized that the market was lacking the cool, luxurious spaces that we could get in London, New York or Australia," said Allan.

"So I looked around to see if I could convert something into a high-end property."

She discovered the aged tong lau by the Kennedy Town waterfront and decided to do it up into New York-style loft apartments.

"It took a while. Five years to buy up the whole building and 10 more years for replanning and renovating."

It was a true labor of love - from 2004 to 2018 - but the building came out with a cosmopolitan design and went for a good price.

Allan's home in Stanley is another project that received a successful fresh makeover.

"It had small windows even though the view outside was good. The kitchen and bathroom were terrible, the two bedrooms were tiny," she said of the old house. "Over 40 clients passed it."

But Allan saw its potential and bought it herself. "Many buildings in Hong Kong might look ugly on the outside, but they just need some planning and redesign."

By moving the living room to the upper floor, she could capitalize on the picturesque sea view. The windows were also opened up and the whole space was replanned, resulting in a total transformation of the apartment into a cozy Australian-style space for the family.

With property prices seemingly unreachable for young people nowadays, Allan says she had a unique method to save up money. "Until 35, I shared flats with friends. It was fun and helped keep costs down."

With her savings, she first invested in Australian homes, which gave her enough capital to buy Tung Fat Building. "I sold Tung Fat and that helped me buy the Stanley house. One rolls into the other," she said.

With business declining amid the coronavirus crisis, Allan prefers to look on the bright side. "It is a great time to buy. Some buyers are taking advantage of it. Some are moving to save, while others are moving to better places for the same price."

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