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Friday, January 6, 2012

HK property market tipped to fall

HONG KONG: The real estate market here is tipped to extend recent falls this year, analysts said yesterday, as property transactions dived to a five-year low in 2011 after a slew of measures to curb prices.

Leaders in the southern Chinese city have been trying to control prices, which have become a major headache for the government amid growing disquiet among its seven million population over the rocketing cost of owning a home.

The government has imposed new taxes and staged a series of land auctions to boost supply and bring down prices - helping to tame one of the world's least-affordable housing markets.

A total of 108,814 properties changed hands in 2011, down 33 per cent from 162,739 a year earlier, according to official data released by the government's land registry yesterday.

The volume was the lowest since 2006, when 99,087 deals were recorded.

"The policies were meant to curb speculating activities but they are now hurting the market," Wong Leung-sing, research head at Centaline, one of the city's largest real estate agencies, said.

He also cited rising mortgage rates and weak global economic sentiment for the fall, but said prices fell only about five per cent on average from their peaks seen in June last year - due to owners' reluctance to sell.

Property prices rose 11 per cent in the first 10 months of last year, Dow Jones Newswires reported, citing government statistics.

Buggle Lau, chief analyst at property broker Midland Holdings, said prices were likely to see a correction this year, and the slowdown could turn worse if global economic sentiment weakened further.

"Prices are likely to remain flat overall, there will be a price adjustment - about five to 10 per cent correction," he said. "If the eurozone debt crisis deteriorates, definitely it will have some overall impact in the market but what is more important will be the Hong Kong government's policies."

Despite the expected slowdown in the secondary home sales market, the primary market is likely to see an uptick with the launch of an estimated 16,000 new housing units this year, Lau said.

"After all we are going to have a new chief executive this year, we are not sure whether the housing policy and some restrictive policies will change," said Lau, referring to Hong Kong's leader Donald Tsang, whose term expires in June.

Wong said authorities should consider relaxing some restrictions to "let the market return to its normal activity".

Property prices in Hong Kong, famous for its sky-high rent and super-rich tycoons, have surged over the past couple of years due to record low interest rates and a flood of wealthy buyers from mainland China.

Following the slew of measures to curb prices, several government land sales last year were below market expectations, suggesting a cool down in the market.

Tsang pledged in October to tackle the city's housing woes, acknowledging that "people have become frustrated" at the difficulty in affording a home.

He also announced the resumption of a subsidised housing scheme for low-income residents, and promised to deliver 17,000 subsidised flats for sale from 2016 to 2019.


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