As new homes in Hong Kong shrink despite costing more, private developers are adding gimmicks to sell their smallest flats. The latest feature: a tiny patch of garden.
More of these shoebox homes, usually just 200 to 300 sq ft in size, have been built in recent years, even in low-density residential areas in the New Territories.
The public sector has also joined in, building more tiny homes referred to as nano flats.
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The trend has persisted even though the government has acknowledged that cramped living space is a “pain point for society”. It is considering setting a minimum size for homes built by the private sector and has pledged to increase living space in public housing in the long term, beyond 2030.
At #Lyos, a project in Hung Shui Kiu in the New Territories developed by CK Asset Holdings, 58 ground-floor flats – mostly studios and one-bedroom units – come with a garden, which is not included in the saleable area of homes.
The nano flats have private gardens of between 53 and 295 sq ft.
The development is the first new project in northern Hong Kong to come to the market since city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor unveiled the ambitious Northern Metropolis blueprint in her policy address last month.
Of the 341 flats in #Lyos, 184 range in size from 202 to 292 sq ft. The project will be completed in 2023.
All 40 of the ground floor nano flats that came with gardens were snapped up within a day when they opened for sale in two batches earlier this month.
A property agent at the project’s sales office in Hung Hom told a Post reporter posing as a prospective buyer that it was rare for studio or one-bedroom flats to have a garden.
“When you live in the city with lots of high-rise buildings, you are boxed in by four walls and sometimes it feels like you’re in a jail cell,” he said. “It’s nice to have a space to call your own so you can step outside for fresh air, have a cup of coffee and relax. I don’t think you’ll be able to plant trees, but you can definitely grow some plants if you want.”
Most of the flats with gardens sold at a higher price per square foot.
For example, a 217 sq ft studio with a 201 sq ft garden cost about HK$4.7 million (US$603,000), or HK$21,645 per sq ft, whereas the 206 sq ft unit one level up cost HK$4.14 million or HK$20,073 per square foot.
Nano flats often are 200 to 300 sq ft, but can be even smaller. Many do not have an enclosed kitchen or bedroom, or a window in the bathroom.
Some industry observers say Hong Kong’s skyrocketing property prices and tightened mortgage measures led to developers building tiny flats, as most buyers could not afford anything bigger.
Francis Lam Ka-fai, chairman of the Institute of Surveyors’ housing policy panel, said the #Lyos developer included gardens to lure buyers to small ground-floor flats, which were usually not popular.
“Lots of people don’t like to live on the ground floor, because others can look in,” he said. “The garden gives the occupant extra space and offers more privacy.”
Most residents, if possible, will ‘choose’ a bigger indoor space … because in reality, those balconies are not really ‘extra’. Residents need to pay more or sacrifice indoor space
Chan Siu-ming, City University
An architect, who declined to be named, noted that the developer could have used the garden space as a common area for all residents.
“Instead, it cleverly put those spaces with the flats to sell them more expensively,” he said.
The Post has contacted CK Asset for comment on whether it plans to build more nano flats with gardens.
Private developers have built 10,900 nano flats smaller than 260 sq ft over the past decade, according to Liber Research Community, a civic group that focuses on housing and land issues. It found that nano flats made up 10 per cent of the new homes last year.
In another recent project, the Met. Azure by Wang On Properties in Tsing Yi has 320 nano flats between 181 and 257 sq ft, some of which have balconies. In a 203 sq ft flat – the smallest with the feature – the balcony takes up 22 sq ft of the saleable area.
At Manor Hill by Kowloon Development in Tseung Kwan O, studios and one-bedroom flats ranging from 203 to 300 sq ft make up about 90 per cent of the 1,556 homes in two towers.
With flats between 203 and 428 sq ft going for an average of HK$20,921 per square foot, it is the most expensive new launch at Lohas Park, Hong Kong’s largest private housing project.
The developer said the clubhouse and garden, which covered 49,000 sq ft, provided facilities “comparable to five-star hotels”, giving residents a “staycation-like” experience.
But living in shoebox homes can take a psychological toll. A study published last year and covering different kinds of housing found that living density had a significant impact on Hongkongers’ anxiety and stress levels.
Chan Siu-ming, who led the study and is now assistant professor of social and behavioural sciences at City University, said a garden was no compensation for cramped space.
“This type of nano flat just pushes residents to lower their expectations of living,” he said.
He added that having a balcony would be better for mental health but said there was also a trade-off: “Most residents, if possible, will ‘choose’ a bigger indoor space … because in reality, those balconies are not really ‘extra’. Residents need to pay more or sacrifice indoor space.”
Hong Kong has been ranked the world’s most unaffordable housing market for the 11th year in a row, and it would take 20.7 years on average for a family to afford a home in the city, according to the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability study.
Development minister Michael Wong Wai-lun recently said the government was considering introducing a minimum size for new private flats. He said he would take a leaf from the Urban Renewal Authority, which once required its projects to have flats of no less than 260 sq ft. The authority upgraded that minimum to 300 sq ft in 2018.
The government has also said it aimed to increase sizes of public housing by 10 or 20 per cent in the long run.
However, the size of subsidised Home Ownership Scheme flats has shrunk over the years, with flats as small as 278 sq ft appearing in the programme for the first time in 2018.
There were 622 homes below 320 sq ft in 2018, or 14 per cent of the batch sold in that year. Flats smaller than that made up 22 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively, in 2019 and 2020.
Between 2014 and 2017, the smallest home was 368.1 sq ft.
Anthony Chiu Kwok-wai, executive director of the Federation of Public Housing Estates, described the trend as the “nanoisation” of public housing and urged authorities not to sacrifice living space in their haste to build more flats.
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