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Small Flats Cannot Solve the Long-Term Housing Needs of Hong Kong

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Sustainability of small flats remain doubtful if they are built to a size not functional for normal living.

column_headshot-dorothy_chow.pngDorothy Chow writes: Developers in Hong Kong have always been very responsive to market changes. Building smaller residential flats is one of their recent reactions to market trend, but it is dubious that building too small flats is a sustainable way to satisfy the long-term housing needs.

The Census and Statistics Department projected that average household size would decrease from 2.9 to 2.7 persons in the 30 years following 2014. The projection was based on the demographic trends of increase in never marriage rates and divorce rates, as well as decrease in fertility rates and improvement in life expectancy. In tandem with the smaller household size, the proportion of smaller households (i.e. one to three persons) was expected to grow from about 68 per cent in 2014 to about 69.9 per cent in 2019 and about 71.4 per cent in 2024.

This trend in the demographic fundamentals logically leads to the expectation that the demand for smaller housing units will go up.

Apart from the fundamentals, the measures imposed by the government to cool down property prices have also indirectly pushed up the demand for the smaller units.

People in Hong Kong always aspire to own their flats, to climb up the ownership ladder and improve the quality of life by living larger and newer. These aspirations have been the key driving forces of the economic growth and high productivity of the local workforce. People still strive to buy flats despite affordability coming down alongside the surge in property prices in the past few years. Though the price to income ratio has increased from 15.27 to 15.60 in the last three years according to JLL, the aspirations to buy flats have become even stronger rather than lesser.

Meanwhile, the various cooling measures introduced by the government since 2011 have circuitously constrained the supply of flats in the second hand market. It is because not only of the 15 per cent ad valorem stamp duty incurred in the acquisition of a flat by an existing flat owner, but also the lowered loan-to-value ratios. It becomes difficult for flat owners to move up the ladder for changing to bigger or more expensive flats as great transaction costs are now added to the process. Acquisition of first hand flats would be the way out for many first home buyers or flat changers, as first instalments are more affordable and there are more flexible financing and payment arrangements offered by the developers.

Developers are matching the market needs by offering smaller flats in the first hand market. It is revealed from our analysis of data published in the Building Digest that the average flat size in the new residential projects commencing work is getting smaller. … (read more)

via South China Morning Post

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