Buildings lie empty as owners refuse to sell

HONG KONG: A handful of buildings are lying empty in some of the city's most prime locations. They are vacant not because they're difficult to sell — far from it. The buildings' owners simply don't want to sell.

Caine Terrace, a luxury residential complex on Kennedy Road in Mid-Levels, is one such property. It's been vacant for about 20 years, according to Ricky Cheung Wai-kei, Ricacorp's Wan Chai manager.

A company called Colworth bought the property in 1993 for HK$240 million (RM95.89 million), according to a Land Registry search. Cheung said he contacted the company three weeks ago but was unable to persuade the firm to sell. "Their reply was that they don't have any plans to sell at the moment," Cheung said.

Ken Lam, who lives at Merry Garden on Kennedy Road near the empty complex, is keen to see it come to life again. "It would be even better if it was redeveloped; that would lift the price of my home," Lam said. "Caine Terrace is a very nice location. Sometimes I walk past, the gate is always open."

Also eerily quiet is a nine-storey building at No 22 Leighton Road, in the heart of bustling Causeway Bay.

Mona Kwok, an agent with Ricacorp, has had the building in her sights for years. She said a company called Laypark has owned the property — which has been vacant for more than seven years — since 1987.

Despite offers from investors, the wealthy family behind Laypark has held onto the property, Kwok said.

Kwok's colleague, Eric Yuen, said one of the family members behind the company wanted to keep the property for his grandson, who is 10.

"The owners don't need money. They don't mind leaving the building to gather dust," Yuen said.

As well as dust, the Causeway Bay building has been gathering a collection of fliers, posted on its windows by agencies. Kwok said property agents had put up the fliers as a gimmick to reel in customers.

"The building owner has been kind enough to allow us to post these fliers even though they don't seem to have any plan to sell or rent the property. So when potential clients calls us, we show them other buildings instead," Yuen said.

Alexander Chang has run an Indonesian restaurant, IR1968, next to the building since 1979. He said he last saw a family living in the building in 2001. Before that, there was a lighting shop and a pub on the ground floor in 1994. "As a long-time neighbour, of course we would like the building to be renovated or even rebuilt to make it lively again rather than leaving it empty and dilapidated," Chang said. "The building is on such a prime and eye-catching site that it would spruce up the whole neighbourhood if it were turned into something nicer."

With the property market booming, flats change hands easily. As long as sellers don't set the price too high, apartments are usually offloaded within a month, said Simon Ng Siu-ho, district manager for Mid-Levels East and Happy Valley at Ricacorp.

"Demand for a good location is far greater than the supply," Ng said.

He put the value of the Leighton Road and Kennedy Road properties at more than HK$10,000 per square foot.

While some owners don't want to sell, Kellett Court on Baker Street in Hung Hom has a different problem. The complex has been vacant since it was built two years ago.

Owned by Yu Tai Hing, the block is located in a neighbourhood of funeral parlours. The firm changed its plan for Kellett Court after it was built, turning it into serviced apartments, a spokesman for Yu Tai Hing said.

The developer had tried to sell the whole block, but did not receive a satisfactory offer. So the property has remained vacant and was recently put up for sale as flats.

But only two flats have been sold since it went on the market last month at around HK$5,000 per square foot.

It is still vacant as it will take another couple of months for the transactions to be completed, the spokesman said.

Ricacorp district manager Ng said that even during a property boom it could be difficult to get owners to sell. He said a 1,800 sq ft flat in a 44-year-old walk-up building on Briar Avenue in Happy Valley had just sold for HK$34 million. "Some might say this is rather expensive for a walk-up flat. But some owners insist on keeping their properties — no matter how attractive the offer. You just can't predict which way people will go." — South China Morning Post
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