The Impossible Dream of Having an Apartment of One's Own in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Skyline by Flickr Jens Schott Knudsen. CC: NC-AT

Hong Kong Skyline by Flickr Jens Schott Knudsen. CC: NC-AT

Housing in Hong Kong is the most expensive and least affordable in the world, according to the latest Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. With the housing prices on average 17 times annual income, 88 percent of young people aged 19 to 29 has lost the hope that they could afford having an apartment of their own.

The current median monthly wage, as announced by the government, is around HK $15,000 (approximately US $1,950), while the median monthly domestic household income in 2014 was HK $23,500 (approximately US $3,000). Though the figures look promising in a city with highly affordable daily necessities, what truly eats up Hong Kongers’ income is housing.

A 400-square-foot property in Tai Po, a suburban district in the New Territories, goes for approximately HK $4.68 million, 200 times the median domestic household income. In other words, an average family would have to spend all of their income for 16.5 years to buy one of the cheapest properties in town.

Even if an individual were to win the 1st division prize in the city's biggest lottery game, the Mark Six, the prize money might not manage to cover a humble apartment if he or she is unlucky and has to share the winnings with others. The 1st division prize is around HK $8 million, but if you have to share with another person, you only get half the amount.

QC, a columnist from citizen media platform, shared the feeling of hopelessness on the rocket-high property price:

對,香港已進入了中六合彩也未必可以買樓的年代。儘管你那麼幸運,以一億三千九百萬分之一的機會中了六合彩,如果沒有累積多寶獎金而幸運兒不只是你一個的話,彩金也未必足夠可以買樓。[…] 過去數十年,香港人都認為中六合彩可以改變生活,給大家一個渺茫的希望。現在連這個希望也未必存在。

Hong Kong has entered an era when winning Mark Six doesn't mean you can buy a property. Even if you are lucky enough to win against the odds of one in 139 million, if the jackpot isn't just for you, the prize money might not be enough to buy an apartment. […] In the past few decades, Hong Kongers used to believe that winning Mark Six prizes can change their life even if hope was slim. But such hope does not even exist now.

Tse Kwun Tung, another columnist from, listed three necessary conditions for young people to have an apartment of their own:


If you want to buy an apartment, you have to pass three challenges: First, you need to save HK $3,000 every month; second, you need to have a partner [to share the burden of the monthly mortgage]; third, there must be a great drop in the property price. If you can't fulfill the first two challenges, don't dream about buying apartment. If you have passed the first two challenges, you can wait for the day when the property price jumps off a cliff.

But others believed there are a lot more challenges than the three:


There are still many other challenges: not becoming unemployed, not divorcing, not having a baby, not getting sick, no rising property prices…

Another comment disagreed with the idea of finding a partner to share the mortgage:


If you find a partner, you need to save up money for marriage; after marriage, you need to support three families. Can you save any money? Even if so, how much can you save?

The pain of not having a room of one's own is not shared by the wealthy business sector. When Lau Ming-Wai, the son of a local tycoon, advised that if young people his age spend less money on movies and travel to Japan, they would be able to buy an apartment, is not hard to imagine why netizens trashed his advice. From the comments section of Passion Times’ report:


In my whole life I have only traveled once, which was to Thailand more than 10 years ago. My parents don’t go traveling at all. There are people like me who don’t go to Japan and do work hard and save money, but we still cannot afford a property.


Assuming one travels to Japan twice a year, not going to Japan means H $20,000 additional savings annually; assuming one watches two movies a week and each movie costs HK $100, not watching movies at all means HK $10,400 additional saving annually. If the property costs HK $3,000,000, you just need to save money for 98 years. What a practical suggestion!

Hoping for a big drop in the home prices may be as unrealistic as Lau’s advice, according to experts. The city's property market not only serves local demand but also a large number of wealthy mainland Chinese investors. Future land supply will be challenging due to political stagnancy as well as environmental and preservation concerns.

Soaring property prices are a significant source of social discontent in Hong Kong. When Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was running his election campaign in 2012, he vowed to keep prices low, but they continue to rocket up in the past two years. As Hong Kong politics are still dominated by the wealthiest, it is unlikely that policies that go against their interests will become reality anytime soon.

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