Asia has some of the most expensive real estate markets on the planet. In fact, the continent now hosts half of the world’s costliest cities to buy property.
I’m not saying that a costly market is a good one to invest in. The contrary is often true. But some of Asia’s megacities have a reputation for stability and safety – especially the region’s financial centers.
Rich buyers are choosing to store their wealth in the form of property in places like Singapore. This is happening as other types of investment, such as stocks, are near all-time highs with unattractive valuations in some countries.
Many of these wealthy offshore real estate owners are Chinese and see the writing on the wall. For the past few years, China has increased capital controls to stop money from flowing out of the country. Beijing doesn’t want their citizens investing abroad.
Of course, having lived under a highly authoritarian regime (at least until the 1980s), the Chinese know why you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket better than anyone. They understand the benefits of offshore diversification and why not to rely on just one nation for growth.
A few places on this list are expensive for that very reason: they’re bastions of stability at a time when it’s needed. These property markets probably won’t see rapid growth. However, they’ll at least hold their value as long as demand for low-risk, tangible investments stays strong.
Asia’s most expensive cities might not be for you if your goal is capital appreciation. There’s few better places to store and protect your assets for the very long-term though. Some of them even have decent rental yields.
1. Hong Kong
Hong Kong retains its spot at the top of the list of Asia’s most expensive cities. The Chinese Special Administrative Region has ranked first for over a decade. Even if prices cool down a bit, it’ll probably remain there for some time as well.
The reasons for Hong Kong’s costly real estate market are numerous. For starters, its free economy and strategic location off China’s coast gives the city an advantage. Not just in terms of global trade, but also letting it soak up capital flight from the mainland as per the trend explained above.
Granted, wealthy Chinese will only keep bringing money into Hong Kong as long as they deem it safe and independent. Recent events are forcing some investors reconsider whether the city can stay free from Beijing’s grasp.
For now, Hong Kong remains financially separate from the mainland and one of the most capitalist jurisdictions on earth. There’s no reason this will change either. After all, rich Chinese would just start investing elsewhere if they couldn’t do so in Hong Kong.
Beijing knows this too. Why stop a good thing?
Singapore is second on the list of Asia’s most expensive cities. It’s also the fastest-growing economy among the top three. Its GDP rose by 2% in 2016, which isn’t bad for a developed nation. It’s sure higher than in the United Kingdom, United States, or Canada.
You might be familiar with Singapore’s transformation from a malarial swamp into one of the world’s richest cities. Its economy grew by over 10,000% (yes, seriously) between its independence in 1965 and 2015.
Nowadays, 1 in 6 Singaporean households have over US$1,000,000 worth of assets. The country scores high on livability rankings too. It’s widely considered to be the most attractive expat destination in Asia.
Putting its rapid development and great standard of living aside, Singapore property is expensive for the same reason as Hong Kong. The Chinese are buying here to preserve their wealth.
However, it can be argued that real estate prices in Singapore have more room to grow.
There’s a better case for capital appreciation compared to other places on this list. For example, property values are around half of Hong Kong’s despite Singapore being richer.
You might want to consider investing in Singapore property if you have a couple million dollars to spare, want to preserve your wealth, but are also seeking capital growth.
Despite a weak yen, Tokyo ranks third on the list of Asia’s most expensive cities. Seoul looks like it’s about to catch up. Yet Japan’s capital still keeps its spot in the top three for this year.
Tokyo’s high prices are because of different reasons than the other two places on this list. Foreigners aren’t causing values to increase. It’s sort of a pain to get a visa and buy real estate in Japan, so few expats bother investing here. Plus, the Chinese hate Japan.
Instead, property in Tokyo costs around as much as it should without any foreign investor-fueled boom. Japan has a high standard of living, good quality infrastructure, and a GDP per capita of about US$40,000.
Buying a house or apartment in Tokyo costs as much as in other world cities with similar standards of living and levels of income. Properties in London, New York, Paris, and Vienna all cost approximately the same on a per sqm basis.
With all that said, Japan’s future doesn’t look good. Declining population growth and a terminally-weak economy mean Tokyo should see less demand for real estate. Any property “investment” here probably won’t appreciate in value much.
Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo top the list of Asia’s most expensive cities. The better question is: are they actually worth investing in?
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