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In Hong Kong, a home can make – or break – a family

Everyone in Hong Kong has a property story, but few are as woeful  as that of Ng Kwok-leung, a 70-year-old widower.

Ng has found himself shut out of the flat he lives in – a sad but not unusual case, when an unfortunate tenant finds him or her self the victim of an evil landlord.

But Ng’s case is different. An old Chinese saying goes, “Every family has a skeleton in its cupboard,” and for the Ng family, that rattling skeleton is property ownership: it was Ng’s two sons who booted him out of his residence.

According to the senior Ng, his two sons are only the nominal owners of his apartment.  Back in 2009 when he bought the flat, Ng, then 61,  could not get a 30-year mortgage. So, he and his wife agreed to make his two sons – John Ng Yu-hin and Ng Yu-kwong now 34 and 32, respectively – the owners of the flat.

In his self-written filing to high court, Ng said he asked his sons to pay him HK$5,500 (US$701) per month: HK$3,000 being the rent and HK$2,500 for expenses. He said they had an oral agreement that the money was not for mortgage payments, and that the flat was not for them, but for his retirement home.

All went well until a week ago. He found the lock had been changed and the title sold without his knowledge.

“I never thought my sons would be lacking in morals and snatching away the property where I planned to spend the rest of my life,” he said, according to his court writ. “I’m old and jobless, I’ve placed my life savings in the property, and I don’t have the money to hire a lawyer and am forced to do this myself.”

The Ng family had bought the flat in 2009 for HK$4 million. The sons sold it for HK$11 million after nine years of steep appreciation.

Property price rallies make Hong Kong one of the least affordable places for living on the planet. That affects familial relationships.

Because of the high entry price, a new social phenomenon has emerged, in which parents give a down payment to their children for their first flat, and let them take care of monthly mortgage payments.

A home, after all, signifies independence and may even be a prerequisite for happy family.

According to a survey by Hong Kong Romance Dating, 63% of women expect their men to own a home; more than 65% say owning property is a necessity.

Ditto for men, some 70% of whom believe that owning a property makes it easier to find a woman – and the larger the property, the more likely their chances of winning the heart of a girlfriend.

This is reflected in financial planning. Over half of the women would make a down payment if they had more than HK$1 million in savings; some 35% of males would do the same.

All this indicates that, for Hong Kongers, home is not just where the heart is, but also where the money is.

Meanwhile, the legal battle between Ng and his sons continues.

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