Heaven and hell in property sales

Editorial | Mary Ma 21 Oct 2020

It's unheard of for properties to fail to attract buying interest when even flats with a history of a suicide have a ghost of a chance of selling in the past. Much less discounted Home Ownership Scheme units.

But that is what we are seeing with the newly launched Green Form Subsidized Home Ownership Scheme projects in Chai Wan and Tsing Yi.

The poor sale results for both developments could have far-reaching implications.

Units in Dip Tsui Court in Chai Wan and Ching Fu Court in Tsing Yi have been up for grabs for quite a while now precisely because progress in offloading them has been snail-like

They are limited to public housing tenants in the official hope that the rental units they occupy would be freed up for reallocation once they have a HOS roof over their heads.

That policy rationale is sound, but things aren't going to plan.

Over a 3-month spell, 80 percent of the family-based green form subscribers have been invited to select their homes and, you guessed it, only some 40 percent of the 3,600-plus units have been taken up.

The Tsing Yi project is faring a little better at 43 percent, compared to 37 percent for the more urban Chai Wan project.

Now doubts are also being raised as to whether these people who have made their choices will all complete the purchase by the time the properties are ready for occupancy in two years.

In contrast, the private market has been doing much better. For example, New World Development said its flats in a Tai Wai project were being snapped up as soon as they were released.

It's clear that ordinary people, not investors, are feeling insecure.

As job figures point to a rising trend in unemployment, people are increasingly concerned about their own situation. The impact will become more obvious as the pandemic persists and forces employers to embark on layoffs in a desperate bid to survive.

Green-form buyers are end users, and they are the most vulnerable in a recession.

If the sale of upcoming green form batches continues to draw a sluggish response, this concern should ring alarm bells.

In contrast, many of the buyers spending millions to snap up the Tai Wai homes are believed to be investors taking advantage of the low interest rate environment. As the cost of borrowing remains low, those with the means would find it cheap to expand their portfolios.

Certainly, there is a potential downside to investing in any market as long as the economic outlook stays uncertain.

Nonetheless, the impact is topdown for the property sector in the event of any major recession: things will get ugly for luxury premises first before it all trickles down to the rest of the market. The segment for the mass market - small units - should be the last to feel the impact.

Amid this murky economic environment, it's no wonder that a substantial portion of tenants are finding the idea of giving up their low-rent public housing units in exchange for the uncertainties of completing their quest for home ownership under the green-form scheme less than alluring?


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