The unlikely London suburb where fleeing Hong Kongers are starting new lives

“I’m enjoying it here, but it’s not easy to find accommodation now,” says Sin-Chung Lee, who moved to Sutton with his wife Cherry in the past year. “You can see there are plenty of Hong Kong people here, so many of us will look for accommodation elsewhere.”

The couple, who are renting a semi-detached house, have just bought a home 40 miles away in Bishop’s Stortford, on the other side of London.

Local schools rapidly running out of places is only exacerbating the need for new arrivals to look elsewhere.

According to HKB’s Chan, other areas on London’s outskirts being scouted out as alternatives include Kingston, Harrow, Ealing and Barnet. Towns further afield but within easy reach of the capital – such as Reading, Southampton, Brighton and even Milton Keynes – are also proving popular.

Savvy developers are following the money. High house prices in Hong Kong – which had a world-beating average property value of around £1m in 2020 – means some new arrivals are well-positioned in the UK property market. Many end up bidding well over the asking price, according to Guildford-based Nicholas Yuen, international business development manager at Foxtons.

For housebuilders, overseas buyers often have the added attraction of boosting forward sales. Many Hong Kong residents keen to secure a safety net in the UK are willing to put down deposits on unbuilt properties and pay the full sum over several years.

As soaring inflation and an intensifying cost of living crisis puts the brakes on the UK property market boom, Hong Kong buyers could prove a key source of business.

Yuen, whose parents met in Hong Kong, says: “There are a number of developers, especially housebuilders in the home counties, who have identified the Hong Kong market and are now actually less nervous about the situation and can retain the prices.”

For Julian Chan, the recent influx also comes with dangers. “The last thing we want is all Hongkongers concentrating in one particular location, pushing property prices up,” he says. “That wouldn’t go down very well among locals.”

Chan adds his group will be closely monitoring whether expats are buying properties for residential use, or merely investing their spare cash.

For many, however, the quiet suburbs provide a necessary escape from the draconian lifestyle in their home city.

“Honestly, I do not trust rule by law in Hong Kong anymore,” says Mavis Leung. “In the UK, at least everyone can follow the rules. Under the rule of law we can enjoy rights and responsibilities equally and we can enjoy respect and freedom.”

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