Slice of Life: Overvalued everything
“No, absolutely not,” proclaims Hannah, my Pepper Potts-like pretend PA for the day. Poking my head through the enormous doors she has just entered and instantly exited, I scan the spectacular 3,500 sq ft apartment, noting its sleek design and floor-to-ceiling views of the skyline, doing all I can to remain impassive. Turning towards the elevator, I shoot our estate agent a grimace, my expression silently saying everything: “How dare you try to show me such diminutive quarters; I feel as if I might vomit.”
“My employer likes to entertain,” says Hannah, speaking for me, as she has been all day. “We need to go bigger, much bigger. Can we please see the penthouse?”
The agent, a ta-tai type dressed in thigh-high yellow suede boots, slinky black pants and a mink shawl (she’s pushing 60, but is dressed like she’s 27), suddenly grows weirdly excited and terrified at the same time. “You usually need to have a special appointment to see the penthouse, but let me make some calls.”
Spectacular real estate can be found the world over, but at present, no city’s luxury market is more preposterously overvalued than Hong Kong’s. Along with everyone else, I’ve dutifully read the news of record-breaking prices, the tepid effects of “cooling measures,” and the supposedly insuperable demand for lavish living quarters by Mainland nouveau riche tycoons. While the multi-hundred-million-dollar end of the property spectrum is rather hypothetical from my own modest sub-1,000 sq ft vantage, I’ll admit that I’ve often wondered what the “world’s most expensive apartment” actually looks like.
So here Hannah and I are, after some frantic phone calls, riding the private elevator to the 7,100 sq ft penthouse of 39 Conduit Road. Before trying to arrange a viewing at this property – which readers may know for its supposed sale of a 6,158 sq ft apartment for a record-breaking HK$439 million, and the subsequent suspicions that the developer, Henderson Land, bought the apartment itself through a shell company in an attempt to inflate the price of remaining units – we assumed we’d be subjected to some sort of screening process and decided we’d need a cover story. I would be an early investor in Groupon, now looking to move my Sean Parker-esque lifestyle to Hong Kong. To prove my eccentric billionaire status, I would ask whether my collection of exotic great cats could reside with me in the building; and I would tell Hannah to scream from the master bedroom while I stood in the foyer checking whether the sound carried outdoors.
Remarkably, none of this proved necessary. Not only did the realty company not request any evidence of my wealth, they didn’t even insist on a business card. A phone call later, and we were standing on the huge rooftop of the most expensive apartment for sale in Hong Kong.
Can you imagine being able to waltz into a US$80 million apartment in New York without providing any evidence as to who you are? Obviously, our overheated luxury real estate market has already gone as cuckoo as my preposterous cover story. Indeed, the views and sprawling spaces at the top of 39 Conduit Road are as superlative as the supposed price, but the true value of it all remains very much up in the air.