Hong Kong residents move to Singapore, buying rental homes

Suffocated by stiff Covid restrictions in Hong Kong, residents of the financial hub continue to move to its rival, Singapore.

Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

SINGAPORE – After eight years in Hong Kong, Jonathan Benarr gives up that city for a new set of attractions – in Singapore.

“Hong Kong has always been the fun place to be,” he told CNBC. “Singapore was where you went if you were a little boring or had a family.”

“Well, fast forward [two years]Singapore is a bright light, “he said.” You’ve just reopened the bars and clubs and people are being treated like adults. “

Suffocated by the stringent Covid restrictions in Hong Kong, some residents of the Chinese financial hub have moved to Singapore and there are signs of an increase in rental demand.

Private home rents increased 4.2% in the first quarter of this year, compared to a 2.6% increase in the previous quarter, according to the Authority for Urban Redevelopment.

“Anecdotally, we know that perhaps there are some of those based in Hong Kong looking to relocate to Singapore, and this is contributing to the rise in rents,” said Leonard Tay, head of research at Knight Frank Singapore real estate agency. .

To be clear, Hong Kong’s interest isn’t the only reason for the hike in rents. Rental prices in Singapore were already rising during the pandemic due to demand from various sources, including young adults moving out of their parents’ homes and people seeking temporary housing due to construction delays.

Hong Kong vs Singapore travel rules

In Hong Kong, arriving people must quarantine for at least seven days in a hotel and undergo multiple Covid tests. Singapore, however, has gradually reduced its quarantine requirements since September. From Tuesday, Vaccinated visitors will no longer have to take any Covid tests.

“[Hong Kong] he feels lonely, ”said Benarr, who is the director of the real estate group at the hospitality company The Mandala Group.

“What was once a progressive city seems to be no longer interested in being part of the international conversation,” she said.

The Brit is currently packing his bags at his Hong Kong apartment and is relocating permanently to Singapore.

In response to CNBC’s request for comment, the Hong Kong Intelligence Department indicated a Speech by CEO Carrie Lam in late Marchwhere he stated that Hong Kong must find a balance between the risks of the virus and Covid measures.

This is to “enable the city to continue addressing Hong Kong’s social and development needs and the individual circumstances of our people,” he said.

“We couldn’t be too hard on our people and people’s tolerance has always been one of the factors we need to consider in devising the best public health measure for Hong Kong.”

Increase in arrivals from Hong Kong

Visitor arrivals from Hong Kong to Singapore nearly doubled from January to February this year, according to the Singapore tourism board.

This figure increased further in March, jumping more than 110% since February, official data show.

Some of these arrivals intended to settle in Singapore and have turned to co-living spaces or serviced apartments, according to industry players.

Singapore-based start-up co-living Hmlet said there was an “exponential” increase in bookings in January 2022, “which we attribute to the demand from Hong Kong residents who anticipate the imminent tightening of security protocols. public health “.

Requests from Hong Kong increased by 25% from December 2021 to January 2022, Hmlet said.

“The pace of bookings from Hong Kong eased slightly in February and March, but remained higher than in previous months,” said Giselle Makarachvili, the company’s chief executive.

Hong Kong has a dynamic zero strategy for Covid and strict measures imposed since January in an attempt to slow the spread of the viruswhich included a ban on dining every day from 6pm.

The city tightened restrictions further in February, although they were eased slightly last Thursday.

The serviced apartments managed by Far East Hospitality also saw a spike in inquiries and bookings around the end of February, though it has slowed since then, the company told CNBC.

Permanent transfer?

According to data from Hmlet and Far East Hospitality, some arrivals from Hong Kong make reservations for less than two weeks, while others intend to stay for 12 months.

“Based on our observation, most of the bookings from Hong Kong are for permanent relocation to Singapore,” said Hmlet’s CEO.

“Interestingly, we also noticed a group of members whose original travel intent was for business but ultimately converted to permanent stays,” added Makarachvili.

About 70% of Hong Kong bookings at Hmlet Homes were for stays of three months, the minimum required. The remaining 30% of bookings were for long-term stays of between six and 12 months.

About 80% of Hmlet Homes’ customers from Hong Kong are families with young children, the CEO added.

This indicates that while guests may be relocating for work, they are looking to take their families with them as well.

Tan Chia Hui

operations manager for hotels and residences, Far East Hospitality

Far East Hospitality has received a mix of bookings, both from travelers and companies looking for temporary accommodation for their employees, according to Tan Chia Hui, chief of operations for hotels and residences.

Corporate bookings are typically for one to three months and for larger units with between two and four bedrooms, he added.

“This indicates that while guests may be relocating for work, they are trying to take their families with them as well,” he said.

Co-working company WeWork said its Singapore locations experienced an almost 13% increase in sales and inquiries from Hong Kong-based companies in the fourth quarter of 2021 compared to the third quarter.

JustCo said it has not seen a substantial increase, but that international financial institutions in Hong Kong are looking for flexible workspaces in Singapore.

Singapore return

In the past, maybe I could have entertained … by staying long enough to be a Hong Kong PR, but for now, I think with the current situation, it’s unlikely I will.

Singapore working in the banking sector

Some Singaporeans have even been motivated to return to visit their home country to see family and friends.

A Singaporean, who works in finance in Hong Kong and declined to be named, said it was a good opportunity to visit loved ones, especially when the Covid situation in the Chinese city worsened earlier this year.

He said his friends have used Singapore as a base for short-term business or personal travel to the US and Europe as Singapore does not require quarantine for fully vaccinated travelers.

Leung regularly crosses the border into Malaysia to visit family, which would not be possible if he were in Hong Kong.

Too little too late?

From Thursday, Hong Kong has started allowing groups of four to get together at any time and the restaurant’s opening hours have been extended to 10pm

But “it’s not something to celebrate,” said Leung, who works at a financial institution and returned to Hong Kong in April.

In Singapore, the limits on social gatherings have been lifted and social distancing is no longer required. Authorities also recently lifted the 10.30pm cut for alcohol sales and allowed bars and karaoke lounges to reopen.

It’s great that Hong Kong’s rules are less extreme, but it’s still there a long way to go, Leung said.

“If this continues in Hong Kong for, I don’t know, next year, I think it will be a pretty strong reason to leave,” he said.

The Singaporean who works in the banking sector and has been in Singapore for a month said he has no plans to leave Hong Kong immediately, but Covid and the political upheaval in the city have made him think about his long-term plans to stay.

“In the past, maybe I could have enjoyed myself … staying long enough to be a Hong Kong [permanent resident]but for now, with the current situation, it’s unlikely I will, “he said.

Likewise, Leung said he is in no rush to return to Singapore but is open to the idea.

“If something comes along, the numbers are right, it aligns with my career goals, why not right? It’s a good time to move,” he said.

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