Young couples priced out of home market

HONG KONG: Low-income families are being left behind in the battle to buy their own homes as soaring house prices push the cost of public and subsidised flats beyond their reach.

The story of Ann Kan, a young clerk who hoped to buy a flat with her fiance, is typical.

"We are getting married in November and still do not have a flat to move into, although we began trying to buy something half a year ago," she said.

The couple had hoped to buy a flat in a private housing estate with a budget of HK$300,000 (RM119,434.06) as a down payment, she said.

"We had also applied to buy a Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) flat (which offers flats at subsidised prices through the government's Assisted Housing Scheme) in June."

"But we didn't get a chance to buy a flat because our ballot number was too low," she said. "So then we considered buying a flat in an old private housing estate — but the prices were all too high; and on top of that, we would need to pay management fees and other expenses.

"Second-hand HOS or public housing flats are now also too expensive. We could not afford to have a baby if we bought a flat, and we would rather have a baby."

The young couple have decided to apply for a public housing scheme — and until they are successful, they will live separately with their parents.

Other young couples have also found themselves priced out of the market and forced to apply for assisted housing.

"Increasing property prices have forced them to buy HOS or public housing in the secondary market recently," said Sunny Lee, a property agent who focuses on the sale of subsidised housing.

"That's why we saw so many record-breaking transactions," he said.

A 778 square foot flat in Yiu Chung House in the Yiu On Estate in Sha Tin was sold for HK$2.07 million on the open market this month, a record for a public housing flat. The vendor bought the flat for HK$1.8 million in February.

Just a few days later a new record was set when an 800 sq ft flat in Lung Wah House in the Lower Wong Tai Sin Estate was sold for HK$2.3 million. The price was equivalent to that of a small flat in an old private housing estate.

Just six years ago, public housing flats cost less than HK$1 million, according to data from property agency Centaline Property Agency.

In the first eight months of this year 172 public housing flats were resold at prices above HK$1 million, an 118% increase on the 79 deals recorded in the same period last year.

Public housing unit sales totalled HK$352 million, 13.9% more than the HK$309 million recorded in the same period last year and the highest sales volume in the 10 years since records started being kept.

Lee said many young couples were now buying public or HOS flats in the secondary market.

"Their average household income is about HK$25,000 a month and if they bought private housing their monthly mortgage payment would amount to about half of their salary," he said.

"So private housing is just too expensive for them. At the same time, it is difficult to obtain an HOS flat as there are too many applicants and a limited number of flats. This forces them to buy subsidised flats in the secondary or open market."

Monthly mortgage payments for public housing range from HK$4,000 to HK$6,000, while payments for HOS flats range between HK$5,000 and HK$6,000.

"Many young couples find subsidised housing is relatively affordable, compared with private housing. The efficiency rates of the subsidised flats are also higher than private housing."

Lee estimates the prices of HOS flats in the secondary market have risen by 20% to 30% this year.

After such a sharp increase in the prices of subsidised housing, finding an affordable flat will be tough for many low-income families. — South China Morning Post
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