Some property and migration consultants are seeing a rise in inquiries about Singapore as turmoil grips Hong Kong. Interested Hongkongers are attending webinars amid the coronavirus pandemic to learn more about living, working and investing in the city state Singapore tends to attract high net worth individuals, migration and property consultants say.
Beijing on May 22 announced plans to impose a national security law in Hong Kong, sparking mass protests over the erosion of the city’s rule of law and “one country, two systems” policy, and prompting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to declare Hong Kong had lost its autonomy. The new law, endorsed on Thursday by the Chinese legislature, would prohibit acts of conspiring with foreign parties and allow mainland agencies to operate in Hong Kong as needed.
These developments have prompted renewed interest by Hong Kong residents seeking to relocate or invest in property in Singapore, some migration and property consultants say. John Hu, founder of John Hu Migration Consulting, said his agency had received a five-fold increase in inquiries among Hongkongers who were looking to relocate since Beijing’s announcement “They say they want to leave Hong Kong now,” Hu said, adding that he was receiving about 100 inquiries a day. “It’s a matter of a sense of security and safety, and they want to have a secondary visa on hand just in case they want to leave Hong Kong.” Most of the callers were families with young children, and they were looking at English-speaking countries such as Australia, Britain and Canada, he said.
Those asking about Singapore tended to be “high net worth individuals” who could afford to invest at least S$3 million (US$2.1 million), he said, noting that the city state appealed due to its sound legal system and simple tax system. Hu said about 10-15 per cent of inquiries usually led to an actual move.
According to data from Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, Hongkongers bought 36 non-landed homes in the second half of 2019 – after anti-government protests erupted in the city – up from the 14 units from January to June last year. In the first quarter of this year, 10 such deals were made. Property agents in Singapore noted, however, that some Hong Kong residents who have moved to Singapore could have their nationality classified as Chinese. Chinese buyers in the city state bought 592 non-landed properties in the second half of 2019, and 202 in the first three months of 2020.
Christine Sun, the head of research and consultancy at OrangeTee & Tie, suggested that Singaporeans living and working in Hong Kong were also interested in moving back home. There are an estimated 15,000 Singaporeans in Hong Kong. “The social unrest in Hong Kong has perhaps cast a spotlight on Singapore again to be a good alternative investment destination,” she said.
Media reports have suggested wealthy Chinese in Hong Kong may divert their funds to Singapore if the national security law would pave the way for mainland authorities to track their money, while also noting there was little evidence to show that investors and expatriates were leaving the city.
But Hongkongers’ concerns over their city’s future, especially in light of the deepening rift between the US and China, have prompted Singapore property agents to ramp up their outreach to potential clients. For example, Clarence Foo, an associate division director of real estate company ERA, will be hosting a webinar on Saturday to share information about Singapore, ranging from employment prospects and property options to details about its population. Some 30 Hongkongers had signed up for the webinar, Foo said, adding that they were mainly white-collar workers eyeing property worth at least S$2 million. “Singapore is not an unknown place to Hongkongers, but there are a lot of facts and figures that the common man will not look into,” he said. Foo said the anti-government protests were the primary trigger for the crowd’s interest and that “those who were sitting on the fence are now more certain that things are not going to get better” following Beijing’s new law for Hong Kong.
Ong Kah Seng, a Singapore property analyst, said he expected an “incremental increase” in Hongkongers looking at homes in the city state due to the “increasing social turbulence”. But as relocation would entail “a whole range of uprooting [and] life-changing concerns”, it would occur at a more gradual rather than rapid pace, said Ong, a director at R’ST Research. He added that while Hongkongers buying Singapore properties were predominantly high-earning professionals looking at moving to the city state for the long haul, there was also a separate group of upper-middle wealth property buyers looking to seize the opportunity to invest as Singapore progressively reopens its economy
This means the profiles of Hongkongers snapping up Singapore property would also include investors who “foresee Singapore could be well poised for economic stabilisation”, he said.
“In the months ahead, we can expect more Hongkongers who have been actively virtually viewing Singapore properties to gradually crystallise their buying decision,” Ong said.