Research

Alpha Territoriality in Hong Kong and London: The Local Implications of Transnational Real Estate Investment by the Super-Rich

Professor Ray FORREST, Dr Bart WISSINK and Dr KOH Sin Yee1 of the Urban Research Group from the Department of Public Policy are currently working on a scientific research project Alpha Territoriality in Hong Kong and London: the Local Implications of Transnational Real Estate Investment by the Super- Rich. This project is funded by the United Kingdom and Hong Kong research councils (ESRC and RGC, respectively). While the abovementioned scholars study the situation in Hong Kong, a UK team (based at the University of Leeds and Goldsmiths, University of London) is working on research in London.

Rationale

Economic elites, and the impacts of their residential real estate investments on local housing markets, have recently received much attention in the media, yet academic knowledge about the phenomenon is limited. The project aims to help fill that gap. Meanwhile, one of the aims in this project is to grapple with what might be described as the "problem" of these super-rich neighbourhoods— sometimes called "alpha territories"—and to undertake research that will help us understand more about the advantages and disadvantages of these kinds of property investment. This project will generate insights into how super-rich neighbourhoods operate, how people come to live there, and the social and economic tensions and trade-offs that exist as such processes are allowed to run. As many people question the role and value of wealth and identify inequality as a growing social problem, this research will feed into public conversations and policymaker concerns about how the social vitality of cities may be maintained when capital investment of this kind may undermine such objectives on one level (the creation of neighbourhoods that are both exclusive and often "abandoned" for large parts of the year), while potentially fulfilling broader ambitions at others (over tax receipts, for example).

Major findings

The project is still in full swing and interviews are still being conducted. Meanwhile, some conclusions may be made. The research team found that there are distinct differences between groups of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWIs): some are very locally grounded, while others are very mobile. UHNWIs are concerned about efficiency and privacy. These are two very important criteria for the organisation of their daily lives. They have various spatial strategies for achieving these goals: meeting at home, travelling by private vehicles, etc. In the meantime, the home plays an important function for their social meetings, and homes are generally divided into public and private areas. Intermediaries that service economic elites play an important role, not just in servicing UHNWIs, but also in structuring potential products and thereby cities. The real estate investment decisions of UHNWIs fall into different categories: some residential properties are purchased for personal use in different cities around the world; while others may be part of their investment portfolios. The UHNWIs will be highly involved in decision-making on residential properties; but more distant on investment properties.

Publications and achievements

The team is currently busy writing up the outcomes of the project. They have one chapter in press and are working on an edited book:

  • Koh, S. Y., B. Wissink and R. Forrest. (Forthcoming) 'Reconsidering the Super-Rich: A Literature Review'. In J. Beaverstock and I. Hay (eds.) International Handbook of Wealth and the Super-Rich. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
  • Forrest, R., B. Wissink and S. Y. Koh. (eds.) (Forthcoming) Cities and the Super-Rich: Real Estate, Elite Practices, and Urban Political Economy. London, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.

1 Current affiliation: Institute of Asian Studies at Universiti of Brunei Darussalam.