Hong Kong’s mini apartments boom as property prices soar

With its marble-clad lobby, sweeping balcony views and sleek, modern decor, Donny Chan’s apartment building would seem the kind of upscale tower most young Hong Kong professionals aspire to live in.

But not for Chan, 39, who avoids spending time in his 19th-floor apartment because it measures just 193 square feet (about 14 feet by 14 feet or 18 square meters). His parking space-sized studio in the grandly named High One building is part of a growing trend for so-called micro apartments that are diminutive even by the standards of space-starved and densely built Hong Kong.

“Every time that I step back into this (apartment) I kind of feel like a cat squeezed into a box,” said Chan, an art director at a medical equipment maker. To avoid returning to his cramped and claustrophobic apartment before bedtime he plays basketball or badminton, goes to the movies or karaoke bars, and gets together with friends and family.

“I go walking in shopping malls until the last minute when they close,” he said.

Hong Kong’s property developers are scaling down, way down, for younger, middle-class buyers, offering micro-sized upscale apartments with eye-popping price tags. The apartments, dubbed “mosquito-size units” or “gnat flats” in Chinese, are drawing online ridicule and underscore worries over the Asian financial hub’s overheated real estate market and widening inequality.

Hong Kong is often ranked the world’s costliest housing market.

Its micro-flat boom parallels tiny house and minimalist living trends seen in the U.S. and other developed countries. The difference is that in Hong Kong, few make the choice willingly. Chan moved in last year after splitting up with his wife. He viewed 20 other apartments over three weeks but they were all more expensive, in worse condition or farther from his job.

When they first appeared, micro-flats were mostly snapped up by investors renting them out for above-average returns. The government has moved to cool such speculation, and…

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