Hong Kong in Despair as Housing Prices Crash
Hong Kong's property bubble has burst and there is no bottom in sight for a market that boasted some of the most expensive homes in the world eight months ago.
Prices have plunged by up to 50 per cent since October when Asia's financial turmoil swept over the former British colony, triggering a property and stock market crash.
The once-proud residential sector is now in despair.
The lines of flat-hungry customers that used to form outside private developers' offices the night before sales opened have been replaced by scores of clean-cut touts in suits.
Armed with brochures, these property agents mob passing cars and the thin trickle of walk-in customers.
Lee See-ming became a proud homeowner when he bought a 600 square-foot flat in Kowloon at the height of the market boom in mid-1997 for pounds 285,000.
The car agent, who needs to pay a monthly mortgage of pounds 1,876, has been told by his boss he will be laid off.
Thousands of people have been laid off in recent months as the regional crisis bites deeper. The unemployment rate of 3.9 per cent, while minuscule compared to other countries, is Hong Kong's worst in 14 years.
"I just can't afford it any more," the father of two said. "I think I'll just stop payments and let the bank take over the apartment."
Lee is not alone. There are hundreds like him, and many more with slightly different problems arising from the same cause.
Many have joined forces to form the Hong Kong Alliance for Dismayed Homeowners and staged protest marches to get the government to do more.
The alliance's spokesman Li Choi-wing bought a pounds 334,000 flat last year but its value has since crashed to pounds 212,000. …