Hongkongers turn to virtual reality to speed up UK property purchases as Covid-19 pandemic rules out in-person viewings

·3-min read

Buyers from Hong Kong are snapping up property in London at a faster pace to take advantage of the UK’s citizenship offer, with developers and agents garnering more sales from clients with the aid of virtual technology.

Live video tours, video conferencing and virtual augmented reality apps were assisting Hongkongers to pick their property amid travel restrictions, they said, adding that this has allowed many to buy their homes before moving, helping them to save money on rent.

“Recently we’ve seen an uptick in Hongkongers using virtual tools, and in the past six months we have successfully helped over 50 Hong Kong families to buy and rent their new homes in the UK by using this method,” said Laura Chan, sales director at Manchester-based Urban Life Property.

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Sales can be finalised by signing electronic documents using online services such as DocuSign that can be certified over virtual meeting apps, according to Knight Frank.

Since the UK announced the a visa programme for British National (Overseas) passport holders in July last year, some 2,203 homes in London worth £1.1 billion (US$1.5 billion) have been snapped up by Hongkongers up to April, according to London-based property agency Benham and Reeves. Buyers from Hong Kong accounted for about 4 per cent of total home purchases in the British capital compared to 1 per cent in the same period a year earlier.

The UK government has made it easier for three million Hongkongers who qualify for a BN (O) passport and their dependents to relocate to Britain and stay and work or study for extendable periods of 12 months, creating a path to citizenship. The move came immediately after China officially imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong on June 30 last year.

An estimated 123,000 to 153,700 BN (O) passport holders in Hong Kong and their dependents are likely to come to the UK in the first year of the application and between 258,000 and 322,400 over five years are likely to purchase a home in the UK, according to estimates from the British government.

Demand from Hongkongers for British homes is likely to increase in the coming months. More than 34,000 have applied for the right to stay long-term in Britain under the BN (O) programme, with 7,200 already approved in May, government data shows.

“We use virtual tours, online meetings and video tours via Zoom for international buyers,” said Stuart Leslie, international sales and marketing director at developer Barratt London, part of the Barratt Developments group. “We utilise iPad apps, CGI [computer-generated imagery] and local area tours to demonstrate the lifestyle qualities of our developments and the surrounding areas.”

At Silkash development in Greater Manchester, “over 10 per cent” of homes have been sold to families from Hong Kong via virtual viewings, according to Anita Jolley, senior sales manager at developer Northstone.

Even students from Hong Kong are using virtual tools and apps to find accommodation, according to Danielle Britt, head of lettings at Manchester Apartments.

“We offer 3D tours of all of our apartments, and on top of this we offer a full video tour of any specific flats a student may want to see in more detail,” she said, adding that the number of Hong Kong students with BN (O) visas living in their properties has increased by about 20 per cent since last year.

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