Hong Kong residents move to Singapore by renting a house

Strangled by Hong Kong’s strict Covid restrictions, residents of the financial center continue to move to its rival, Singapore.

Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — After eight years in Hong Kong, Jonathan Benarr is giving up the city for a new set of attractions — in Singapore.

“Hong Kong has always been a fun place,” he told CNBC. “Singapore was the place to go if you were a little bored or had family.”

“Well go ahead [two years]“Singapore is a shining light,” he said. “You’ve just reopened bars and clubs and people are being treated like adults.”

Strangled by Hong Kong’s strict Covid restrictions, some residents of the Chinese financial hub have moved to Singapore and there are signs that rental demand has picked up.

Rents for private homes rose 4.2% in the first quarter of this year, compared with a 2.6% increase in the previous quarter. according to the city’s beautification department.

“Oddly enough, we know that perhaps some of those who live in Hong Kong want to move to Singapore, and this contributes to higher rents,” said Leonard Tay, head of research at real estate agency Knight Frank Singapore.

To be clear, interest from Hong Kong is not the only reason for the increase in rents. Rental prices in Singapore have already risen during the pandemic due to demand from various sources, including young people moving out of their parents’ homes and people looking for temporary housing due to construction delays.

Travel Rules for Hong Kong and Singapore

In Hong Kong, arrivals must quarantine at the hotel for at least seven days and take several Covid tests.. However, since September, Singapore has gradually lifted quarantine requirements. From Tuesday, vaccinated visitors will no longer need to take Covid tests.

“[Hong Kong] just feels left behind,” said Benarr, director of real estate at hotel company The Mandala Group.

“What was once a progressive city no longer seems interested in being part of an international dialogue,” he said.

The Brit is currently packing up at his Hong Kong apartment and moving permanently to Singapore.

In response to a CNBC request for comment, the Hong Kong Information Services Department pointed to speech by CEO Carrie Lam at the end of Marchwhere she said Hong Kong needed to balance virus risks and Covid measures.

This should “allow the city to continue to meet the social and development needs of Hong Kong, as well as the individual circumstances of our people,” she said.

“We couldn’t be too harsh on our people and people’s tolerance has always been one of the factors we need to consider when designing the best public health measures for Hong Kong.”

A surge in arrivals from Hong Kong

Visitor arrivals from Hong Kong to Singapore almost doubled from January to February this year. according to the Singapore Tourism Board.

That figure rose even further in March, up more than 110% from February. official data show.

According to industry players, some of these arrivals intend to settle in Singapore and move into co-living or serviced apartments.

Singapore-based cohabitation startup Hmlet said January 2022 saw an “exponential” increase in bookings, “which we attribute to demand from Hong Kongers anticipating an imminent tightening of public health protocols.”

Inquiries from Hong Kong jumped 25% from December 2021 to January 2022, Hmlet said.

“Booking rates from Hong Kong declined slightly in February and March, but remained higher than in previous months,” said Gisele Makarachvili, the company’s chief executive officer.

Hong Kong is pursuing a dynamic zero strategy for Covid and has introduced strict measures since January in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, including a ban on lunch from 6 p.m. daily.

The city further tightened restrictions in February, although they were eased slightly last Thursday.

Serviced apartments operated by Far East Hospitality also saw a surge in inquiries and bookings around the end of February, although it has slowed since then, the company reported to CNBC.

Permanent move?

According to data from Hmlet and Far East Hospitality, some arrivals from Hong Kong are booked for as little as two weeks, while others intend to stay for 12 months.

“Our observation is that the majority of bookings from Hong Kong are for a permanent move to Singapore,” said Hmlet CEO.

“Interestingly, we also noted a group of members whose initial purpose was to travel but eventually turned into a permanent stay,” Makarachvili added.

About 70% of bookings from Hong Kong to Hmlet Homes were for a three-month stay, which is the minimum requirement. The remaining 30% of bookings were for longer stays of six to 12 months.

The CEO added that about 80% of Hmlet Homes customers in Hong Kong are families with small children.

This indicates that while guests may be moving for work, they also want to bring their families with them.

Tan Chia Hui

Operations Director for Hotels and Serviced Residences, Far Eastern Hospitality

According to Tang Chia Hui, head of hotels and serviced residences, Far East Hospitality has received many orders from both travelers and companies looking for temporary accommodation for their employees.

She added that corporate bookings typically take between one and three months, as well as for larger apartments with two to four bedrooms.

“This indicates that while guests may be moving for work, they also want to bring their families with them,” she said.

Co-working firm WeWork said its Singapore offices experienced sales and inquiries from Hong Kong businesses up almost 13% in the fourth quarter of 2021 compared to the third quarter.

JustCo said there is no significant growth, but international financial institutions in Hong Kong are looking for flexible jobs in Singapore.

Returning Singaporeans

In the past, maybe I could have fun…stay long enough to be a PR person in Hong Kong, but right now I think with the current situation, it’s unlikely that I’ll do that.

Singaporean working in banking

Some Singaporeans were also interested in returning to their home country to see family and friends.

One Singaporean who works in finance in Hong Kong and declined to be named said it was a good opportunity to visit loved ones, especially as the Covid situation in the Chinese city worsened earlier this year.

She said her friends used Singapore as a base for short-term business or personal trips to the US and Europe, as Singapore does not require fully vaccinated travelers to be quarantined.

Leung regularly crosses the border into Malaysia to visit family, which would be impossible if he were in Hong Kong.

Too small, too late?

As of Thursday, Hong Kong has begun allowing groups of four to gather at any time, and restaurant hours have been extended to 10pm.

But it’s “not something to celebrate,” said Leung, who works for a financial institution and returned to Hong Kong in April.

Singapore has lifted restrictions on social gatherings and no longer requires social distancing. Authorities also recently lifted a 10:30 pm ban on the sale of alcohol and allowed bars and karaoke rooms to reopen.

It’s great that Hong Kong’s rules will become less extreme, but still there are a long way, Leung said.

“If this continues in Hong Kong, I don’t know, within the next year or so, I think that will be a good enough reason to leave,” he said.

A Singaporean who works in banking and stayed in Singapore for a month said he had no plans to leave Hong Kong immediately, but Covid and the political turmoil in the city have made him reconsider his long-term plans to stay.

“In the past, maybe I could have fun…stay long enough to be a Hong Konger. [permanent resident]but for now, I think, in the current situation, it is unlikely that I will do it,” he said.

Similarly, Leung said he was in no hurry to return to Singapore but open to the idea.

“If something happens, the numbers are right, it aligns with my career goals, why not? Now is a good time to move,” he said.

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