Surge in Hongkongers seeking to move abroad over past two months, property consultants say

By Daryl Choodaryl.choo@scmp.com / SCMP | July 30, 2019 10:01 AM SGT
Leaving the special administrative region has always been on many Hongkongers' minds. But frustration and fear over the erosion of freedoms that have led to huge protest rallies may prove to be the final straw.
As Hong Kong's summer of discontent rolls into yet another weekend of protests, property agencies say they have witnessed a surge in demand for overseas residences over the past two months.
Golden Emperor Properties, an investment agency, will launch Park Regent, a freehold condominium project 20 minutes from the iconic Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, next weekend. What sets this launch apart is that Golden Emperor's clients are interested in the project not for investment purposes " but to live in, once it is completed.
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"[The clients] are 40-something years old, with one or two kids. They want to move the whole family," said Terence Chan, Golden Emperor's managing director.
"[The extradition bill] is like a trigger point for them. But they're not moving yet. They're preparing everything, so if something serious happens then they can move overnight."
The agency held an information session together with alternative investment services provider Asia Bankers Club on emigrating to Southeast Asia last month, which attracted 1,000 people.
"It was such a long queue with people trying to get in, it almost looked like a protest scene," said Kingston Lai, Asia Bankers Club's founder.
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Golden Emperor sold 2,000 units in Southeast Asia to Hongkongers last year and, with sales growing 30 per cent to 40 per cent each year for the past few years, it expects to sell 3,000 units this year.
Centaline, another property agency, said sales of Southeast Asian properties had shot up in the past two months, while queries about emigration to the region had also increased, by about 30 per cent.
A poll of 600 respondents conducted by Midland Immigration Consultancy this week found more than two in five Hongkongers were planning for future emigration, with nearly half hoping to migrate in three to 10 years.
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Midland too said it had received three to four times more inquiries about emigration in the past two months. Almost half of those who planned to emigrate indicated interest in Asian countries, with Singapore and Thailand among the top choices.
Park Regent - Investors in Park Regent in Kuala Lumpur are looking to live there once it is completed, in a departure from the usual practice of buying property for investment purposes.
Investors in Park Regent in Kuala Lumpur are looking to live there once it is completed, in a departure from the usual practice of buying property for investment purposes. Photo: Handout
Malaysia is also proving to be a popular destination because of its attractive visa programme, said Asia Bankers Club's Lai.
Malaysia offers a 10-year renewable visa called the "Malaysia My Second Home" (MM2H) visa in a bid to get foreigners to live in Malaysia. It allows visa holders to buy residential property that costs more than 1 million ringgit, and visa holders can work and start businesses there.
There is no minimum period of residence required for MM2H and visa holders get to keep their original citizenship.
"Hong Kong people ... want to keep their Hong Kong businesses and assets, but they want a back door. Whatever happens, they can leave for a while and come back to Hong Kong when things look settled or cleared," said Golden Emperor' Chan.
Golden Emperor and Asia Bankers Club have helped process about 60 applications for MM2H in the past month, with many more in the pipeline.
Last year, Hong Kong came in fourth place with 193 successful MM2H approvals, following China, South Korea and Japan. As of last year, 1,087 Hongkongers had received the visa, according to Malaysia's ministry of tourism and culture.