The Mainland invasion, hairy crabs and hamburgers

Mainlanders are pushing up the price of real estate in Hong Kong – and that’s not all writes Mark Douglas from the island.


When a lawyer marries a doctor in Hong Kong, what do you get?
Answer: A 1,000 square foot apartment without a view.

So goes the, admittedly not very funny, joke in this ludicrously expensive part of the world. Soon, given recent trends in the rapidly overheating property market, the answer will have to be amended to a slightly smaller sized apartment in an even worse part of town.


Home ownership in Hong Kong is no birthright – it’s an inheritance. Even more than in Australia, it is a dream evolving into a nightmare. And as the recent shenanigans surrounding the sale of the world’s most expensive not quite- penthouse apartment showed, it’s time a few people woke up.

The Mid-Levels apartment in question has sparked huge debate in Hong Kong after word leaked out it had sold for an eye-popping HK$439 million – close enough to A$63 million.

Forget Sydney Harbour. This is no historic mansion with lawns running down to the water and a private pier. There’s no horizon pool, tennis court, helipad or guest cottage attached. This price was paid for a 6,158 square foot apartment which isn’t even on the top floor. The “88th Floor” apartment, in fact, isn’t even on the 88th floor – it’s dozens of storeys lower down – with the developer skipping over this inconvenient truth to give the apartment a lucky number.

And it isn’t actually 6,158 square feet either. It is considerably less once you take out common areas like car parks, lift wells and lobbies and clubhouse space. In any event, the final bill for the mainland buyer has been calculated at HK$88,000 per square foot. Now that’s a lucky number.

This example of extraordinary extravagance from mainland buyers is only the tip of the iceberg with more than one in five luxury property deals in Hong Kong recently linked to mainland money – which buys you not only a house, but a right of abode as well. This has pushed prices for upper end properties through the roof and prompted the government to change rules about deposit amounts to try to take some heat out of the market.

The nouveau riche of the north continue, however, to pour billions into Hong Kong with stories rife of many of these investors turning up with suitcases stuffed with cash to buy property. This has prompted warnings of a dangerous asset bubble from the Chief Executive, the Asian Development Bank and China’s top banking regulator, with fears that the bubble it is creating will engulf the whole city. At least that might keep some of the pollution out.

ABF media


In the last “View from the Peak” I wrote about how the return of pollution to Hong Kong was being used as a sign of an improving economic climate – cloudy but fine. This time another excellent local portent of our financial future has come to my attention – the hairy crab. These delectable if hirsute freshwater crustaceans are imported in their tens of thousands from the lakes west of Shanghai from October to December and feature in many top dollar annual dining feasts for the financial sector feting high money clients.

Last year crab cash was in short supply and the crab market suffered a marked downturn, dropping 40 percent in early trade. This year, crab is back on the menu, and their sweet and plump flesh and plentiful golden roe is apparently a sign of good times ahead. Good news again. Although maybe not for the crabs.

A recent Big Mac Index confirmed the crabs’ position – it costs only the equivalent of US$2.23 for the calorie dense burger in Hong Kong compared to US$4.90 in the Euro area – but it is still HK 40 cents more expensive here than on the mainland. Perhaps that’s where they’re saving the money to buy up all Hong Kong’s prime real estate?

*Mark Douglas is an Australian journalist and corporate media adviser based in Hong Kong. Contact the author at:


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