Alpha territoriality in Hong Kong and London: The local implications of transnational real estate investment by the super-rich

Principal Investigator:

Rowland Atkinson


January 2014 - February 2015

A significant proportion of the 'super rich' are based in cities like Hong Kong and London, but we know little about the residential investment strategies of this group or the local impact of these investments in the cities touched by them. The central aim of this research is to undertake a study of the way that the super-rich invest in, and live in, London and Hong Kong. The project has three key objectives:

1. The segregation of the rich

While we know a lot about concentrations of poverty less attention has been given to the spaces, or territories, of the rich. Both Hong Kong are highly unequal and yet economically dynamic urban centres. Some commentators argue that it is the ability to attract international investment from the super-rich that assists in this form of economic success but the precise levels of segregation and isolation in centres like Hong Kong and London are not well understood.

2. The transnational character of super-rich residential investment in property

Studies show that the super-rich invest a considerable part of their private capital in real estate and that this has been largely unaffected by the Global Financial Crisis. Our work will consider the extent and form of transnational real estate investments in recent years and how this has shaped the way that property markets work in these two cities. Our main objective here is to understand how these inward flows of capital are mediated and enabled by real estate agents and by other intermediaries that help to select suitable investment properties where the super-rich often spend little time each year because of their lifestyle.

3. Local effects of transnational real estate investments by the super-rich

Following on from the second objective we can see that, in a context of social stress and anxiety about inequality, the flows of capital from the super-rich into large sections of the London and Hong Kong housing markets is not simply a one-way gain to these regional and national economies. Among other notable effects we will seek to explore, via extensive interviews with local and international key actors, the social hollowing out of super-rich neighbourhoods, the exclusionary impact of expensive property and the broader questions that arise around issues of urban sustainability, competition for scarce housing resources and the wide 'footprint' of super-rich residential investment. We anticipate that there will be significant differences between these impacts between the two locales and that this will assist us in identifying policymakers in thinking about what appropriate forms of intervention or support might be put in place for investment that may move between being virtuous or disabling in its impacts.


Economic and Social Research Council and Hong Kong Research Grant Council