Hong Kong’s Mid-Levels Offers a Vibrant, Historic Enclave Heaped in Prestige
The district, which boasts some of the city’s most expensive apartments, is a favorite among well-heeled expatriates
BY MERCEDES HUTTON | ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MARCH 13, 2021 | MANSION GLOBAL
Hong Kong’s affluent Mid-Levels neighborhood is perched on the steep hillside that ascends from Central to Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island that is home to its most expensive properties.
The Mid-Levels was settled by British colonists priced out of Hong Kong’s most desirable addresses and wealthy Chinese families who were forbidden from living on higher land as part of the Peak District Reservation Ordinance of 1904, a zoning law that reserved most of Victoria Peak as a place of residence for non-Chinese citizens and essentially equated social status with the altitude of residents’ abodes.
Over the past century, attitudes have changed and regulations have been relaxed, but the Mid-Levels has remained one of the most sought-after residential areas in Hong Kong, at times eclipsing its loftier neighbor, the Peak, in both price and prestige.
The northern edge of the Mid-Levels runs eastward along Bonham Road, Caine Road, Robinson Road and finally Kennedy Road, until the latter meets Queen’s Road East. Lovers’ Rock, a nine-meter-high granite monolith at the end of Bowen Road marks the Mid-Levels’ easternmost point. From here, the southern border is drawn from east to west along the contour of Victoria Peak that lies at an elevation of 200 meters. The main campus of The University of Hong Kong lies just outside of the Mid-Levels, at the area’s westernmost spot.
Because it spans a relatively wide portion of Hong Kong Island, real estate agents further divide the area into two or three sub-districts: Mid-Levels West, Mid-Levels Central and, for some, Mid-Levels East.
James Fisher, COO and director of market analysis and analysis for Hong Kong-based real estate platform Spacious, provides an anecdote to illustrate the desirability of the Mid-Levels, explaining how properties outside the boundaries are sometimes misrepresented as being located within the neighborhood. “All of the agents and all of the landlords want to be labeled Mid-Levels because they know it potentially will get them more money,” he says, adding, “We are constantly arguing with agents about how we define [Mid-Levels West specifically] because they all want their properties to be there … it’s slightly sexier.”
From Jan. 1 to March 3, 2021, the average price per square foot in the Mid-Levels was HK$25,517 (US$3,285), according to data provided by List Sotheby’s International Realty. This is significantly higher than the average price per square foot across Hong Kong as a whole, which is HK$14,445 (US$1,860).
Generally, the larger the Mid-Levels apartment, the higher the price per square foot. List Sotheby’s International Realty reports that the average price per square foot for a unit that is 2,000 square foot or larger was HK$47,111 (HK$6,065) during the same period, with properties in Mid-Levels East averaging HK$70,526 (US$9,079) per square foot.
In recent luxury launches, the asking price for a 1,985 square foot apartment in Mid-Levels East’s Castle Peak Phase 1 development was HK$188 million (US$24.1 million), while the penthouse of 21 Borrett Road in Mid-Levels West recently sold for HK$459.41 million (US$59.14 million).
Increasingly, luxury developments dominate the Mid-Levels property landscape. Residents of the neighborhood’s high-end condominiums enjoy amenities including swimming pools, gyms, spas, concierge services, covered car parking, clubhouses and 24-hour security. “Residents in some trophy properties in the Mid-Levels area can also enjoy spectacular views of the iconic Victoria Harbour,” says Franky Cho, COO of List Sotheby’s International Realty in Hong Kong.
The Mid-Levels is also home to buildings designed by world-class architects, including Robert A.M. Stern Architects’ The Morgan and Frank Gehry’s first residential project in Asia, The Opus. In 2015, a 5,444-square-foot apartment in the latter sold for HK$509.06 million, making it the most expensive apartment transaction in Asia to date.
However, older, colonial-era properties are still available and, as Mr. Fisher points out, it is in these that buyers will find larger square footage, “which is rare.” Often in low-rise blocks, some complete with swimming pools and private barbecue areas, these apartments offer heritage charm and details, including original parquet flooring, high ceilings and plenty of natural light.
What Makes it Unique
“Mid-Levels is one of those neighborhoods that should retain its status,” Mr. Fisher says, “it’s almost like a brand name.” Mr. Cho agrees, describing it as “a quiet, relaxing neighborhood only a few minutes’ drive to a global financial center.” Much of the Mid-Levels district is actually green space, and its proximity to walking trails and broad-leaved forest, make it particularly desirable.
Tranquility is one reason why Mid-Levels is such a sought after area, another is its history, which is essentially synonymous with that of the former British colony. Streets are named after ex-governors, and heritage buildings, such as the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum, which was built in 1914 as the home of Hong Kong tycoon Ho Kom-tong, recall not only the Edwardian architecture of early 20th British settlements but the influence of the Chinese on the city.
The Mid-Levels is also home to the city’s Jewish community and two of Hong Kong Island’s most attractive parks, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens and Hong Kong Park, the former of which has been welcoming visitors since the mid-19th century.
A number of prestigious secondary schools are located in the Mid-Levels neighborhood, including St Paul’s Co-Educational College, St Paul’s College for Boys, St Stephen’s Girls’ College and Ying Wa Girls School. There are also international schools under the English Schools Foundation, such as Island School, as well as the International Montessori School of Hong Kong and the Woodland Montessori Academy as kindergarten options.
Private hospitals in the area include Canossa Hospital and the Matilda International Hospital.
Because the neighborhood is less than six minutes by car to Central and about 20 minutes by foot, with each street connected by the Central-Mid-Levels escalator, which is the longest covered outdoor escalator in the world, it is easy to take advantage of Hong Kong’s celebrated restaurant scene.
The Central district has excellent eateries, including Michelin-starred Punjabi restaurant New Punjab Club, modern Australian fare from celebrity chef Shane Osborne at Cornerstone, and high-end Chinese food from the Michelin-starred Mott 32. There are also a number of bars in the area, such as those recognized on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, The Old Man, The Wise King and The Pontiac.
Grocery stores selling international produce are peppered throughout the Mid-Levels, and there are smaller scale specialty stores such as Pacific Gourmet, which imports meat and seafood from Australia and Norway and sells select wines from around the world, and Italian deli Il Bel Paese.
Mid-Levels residents are predominantly expatriate professionals and affluent Hong Kong locals. “When I think of someone who lives in the area, I picture an expat family on an expat package or a wealthy local family that has a few apartments in Hong Kong but chooses to live at the one in Mid-Levels,” Mr. Fisher said.
According to media reports, Hong Kong actor Nick Cheung Ka-fai owns property in the luxury Grenville House development in Mid-Levels. Tung Chee Hwa, the first chief executive after the handover of power from Britain to China, also lives in the building.
Taiwanese actor Shu Qi also owns property in the neighborhood. In 2018, local media reported she had bought a 2,499-square-foot duplex in Yoo 18 Bonham.
Over the past 18 months, Hong Kong’s property market has suffered from political turmoil and the coronavirus pandemic. “In 2019, Chinese investor demand went away,” says Mr. Fisher. That was followed by a difficult year for the luxury market as border closures hindered potential buyers and capital inflows.
However, agents are confident that it can weather these storms, and Mid-Levels is one of the areas that could even emerge unscathed.
“There has been strong growth in the number of purchase and rental transactions in the Mid-Levels after Chinese New Year,” Mr. Cho said. Mr. Fisher explained that the period between Christmas and the Lunar New Year holiday is traditionally the quietest of the year, but transactions for January were unusually high, something he attributes to pent-up demand brought on after months of Covid-19 restrictions. “The good thing for Mid-Levels is that there is rarely new supply, so it holds its value well,” he added.
“We are also experiencing a much stronger demand from List Sotheby’s International Realty clients for both housing and investment purposes,” Mr. Cho said. “We expect that there will be a steady growth of capital gain of 5% to 10% over the next 12 months.”