I visited the most expensive neighbourhood in the world's most expensive city — a billionaire enclave where where Alibaba founder Jack Ma may have bought a $191 million mansion

Harrison Jacobs/Business InsiderYou need an incredible amount of money to live in The Peak.
  • Hong Kong was named the least affordable city in the world to live in for the ninth year in a row.
  • Hong Kong‘s most expensive neighbourhood is The Peak.
  • The Peak is a gorgeous, secluded neighbourhood that overlooks Hong Kong and is home to bankers, expatriates, business magnates, celebrities, and millionaires and billionaires.
  • Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire who founded Alibaba, is said to have purchased a $US191 million mansion in the neighbourhood in 2015, but it has never been confirmed.

Every city has that neighbourhood – an address that signifies wealth. New York City has Fifth Avenue, London has Kensington, and Miami has South Beach.

Hong Kong has The Peak – short for Victoria Peak – a neighbourhood that has been synonymous with wealth, luxury, and exclusivity since the colonial era.

As the least affordable city in the world for nine years running, Hong Kong takes the cake when it comes to luxury real estate.

Hong Kong is home to more super-rich individuals than any city in the world and, as Business Insider’s Katie Warren reported, property prices have continued to climb, particularly in the luxury market.

At various times over the past decade, Pollock’s Path, Barker Road, and Severn Road – all streets on The Peak – have claimed the title of the world’s most expensive street.

The neighbourhood is home to a mix of bankers, expatriates, business magnates, celebrities, and, more recently, Chinese millionaires and billionaires looking for a place to invest or vacation away from pollution in cities on the mainland.

It’s the kind of neighbourhood that consistently breaks records for the most expensive real estate in the world. In 2015, it was rumoured that Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire who founded Alibaba, purchased a $US191 million mansion there, but it has never been confirmed.

Last year, an unidentified buyer broke the record for the most expensive real estate in Asia, purchasing a 9,217-square-foot villa on The Peak for about $US180 million, making it about $US19,400 per square foot.

I visited the ritzy neighbourhood last March to see why it continues to house some of the most coveted addresses in the world. It did not disappoint.

The Peak is the neighbourhood surrounding Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island, with an elevation of 1,811 feet. I took a taxi to get to Victoria Peak Lookout, a major tourist destination.

Most tourists ride the Peak Tram up. The Peak Galleria, a mega mall (read: tourist trap) at the top of the tramway is complete with souvenirs and a Madame Tussauds.

The Peak has been the city’s most exclusive neighbourhood for more than 100 years. Until 1947, only the British and Europeans were allowed to live there — a policy that infuriated Hong Kong’s Chinese citizens. Before the tramway, residents were carried up the mountain on sedan chairs carried by migrant laborers.

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesThe tramway and nearby buildings around 1900.

Source: Frommer’s, CNN Travel

Wealthy people first moved to the area because it was thought to be cooler than the sweaty streets in the city center. In a place as packed as Hong Kong, the neighbourhood feels a world away. It’s secluded by winding streets and thick tropical vegetation, and the view is unbeatable.

Victoria Peak is a popular day trip for people in Hong Kong. On the day I visited, it was packed with families enjoying picnics, joggers running a 5K for charity, and hikers snaking through the park’s many paths. It feels kind of like a mash-up of Central Park and Beverly Hills.

A few mansions are visible from the Circle Walk, the most popular walking path at Victoria Peak. But most are far from tourists’ prying eyes.

It’s the kind of place where flashy luxury cars are constantly speeding by. I saw numerous Porsches, Bentleys, and Mercedes-Benzes while walking around the neighbourhood.

While a luxury home in Hong Kong is worth about $US4.9 million on average, houses in the city start at $US40 million and can go above $US100 million, according to Bruce Li, a manager at Asia Pacific Properties.

Source: Mansion Global

The Peak has long been a neighbourhood that caters to wealthy expats, many of whom work in international finance, the city’s predominant industry. But even an apartment there costs a fortune, ranging from about $US5 million to $US13 million, according to Li.

Source: Mansion Global

The most expensive apartment at Twelve Peaks, an ultraluxury apartment complex that opened in 2015, sold for $US105 million. This is the main entrance to the complex.

Source: South China Morning Post

The price for a townhouse is about $US20 million. One resident described living on The Peak as “very pleasant” to Engel & Volkers, a real-estate company. “The higher up you get, the quieter it gets,” they said, “and the air is noticeably cooler.”

Source: Engel & Volkers

Security is tight in The Peak. Barbed wire lines the top of fences, security guards sit in guardhouses at the front of every apartment complex, and houses are set far away from the road behind large security gates.

Despite the neighbourhood’s secluded mountaintop location, there are a few commercial areas for residents, as well as private schools and parks. This supermarket looked as if it were plucked right out of Whole Foods.

The cars in the parking lot of the supermarket weren’t too shabby either.

The neighbourhood is one of two that are home to Hong Kong’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens, including CY Leung, Hong Kong’s chief executive from 2012 to 2017 — this is his house.

In most cases, the houses and apartment complexes are set so far into the mountain and off the main roads that all you can see are the gates.

When I tried to find what lay below at King’s Court, a complex of townhouses and apartments, all I could see was a series of winding roads. But the view, stretching clear to the water, was spectacular.

“Privacy and the view from The Peak make it sought-after,” Zackary Wright, a senior vice president at Christie’s International Real Estate, told Mansion Global. “There is a long winding road up to The Peak and many homes are hidden behind trees, which impart a sense of remoteness, even though this is a large and exclusive community in the hills.”

Source: Mansion Global

While The Peak has always been highly sought-after — and as Hong Kong as a whole is exorbitantly expensive — the market has been pushed to new heights by a wave of purchases by business magnates from mainland China. In 2016, Chinese buyers bought an estimated $US514 million worth of property in the neighbourhood.

Source: Mansion Global

In 2016, Chen Hongtian, the chairman of the real-estate development firm Cheung Kei Group, purchased a 9,212-square-foot mansion at 15 Gough Hill Road for $US270 million, or about $US29,300 per square foot.

Source: South China Morning Post

Chen’s new abode, where he intends to live with his family, is being redeveloped. Of the exorbitant purchase, Chen told the South China Morning Post: “It’s not for speculation … You can hardly make any profit from properties like this.”

Chen also owns a 5,154-square-foot apartment at Opus Hong Kong, an apartment building designed by the American architect Frank Gehry at The Peak. The last available unit sold in 2015 for $US66 million — making it the most expensive apartment in Asia at the time by price per square foot, according to Wright.

Source: Mansion Global

One of the most famous and historic houses at The Peak is that of the chief justice of Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. The house, built in 1893, is known as the Clavadel. It was one of the first houses built on The Peak.

The security at the Justice’s house was top-notch. In addition to the high spiked fence and cameras, guards were standing around the property.

This house nearby at 28 Gough Hill Road was very regal.

These modern townhouses are at 37 Severn Road, once considered the most expensive street in the world.

Source: Business Insider

But nearby Pollock’s Path overtook Severn Road in 2013, according to Wealth-X.

Source: Wealth-X

Last year, the Hong Kong billionaire Yeung Kin-man purchased No. 1 & 3 on Pollock’s Path for $US361 million. Yeung’s company, Biel Crystal Manufactory, makes screens for two out of every three iPhones in the world.

Source: South China Morning Post

The record price for real estate in the city was broken in December when Lin Zhongmin purchased two apartments spanning 8,821 square feet in No. 8 Mount Nicholson for about $US150 million, or $US17,000 per square foot.

The Wharf (Holdings) Ltd.

Source: South China Morning Post

The record was broken again last month in the same development. An unnamed buyer spent about $US180 million on this 9,217-square-foot villa featuring a swimming pool and an elevator.

The Wharf (Holdings) Ltd.

Source: Bloomberg

The house Jack Ma is believed to have bought is at 22 Barker Road. It sold for $US191 million, but it appeared to be under construction when I walked by. Little has been written about the property since the sale.

It’s not hard to see what Ma — or any of China’s uber-rich — sees in the neighbourhood. The landscape is unreal.

The hustle and bustle of the city is light years away. And yet, I walked down to central Hong Kong from Ma’s supposed property in an hour. Not bad.

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