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Included with your next apartment: VR pods and e-sports arenas

Developers in the world’s most expensive housing market rely on high-tech clubhouses to attract home-buyers.

A woman is watching a VR movie in

If I ask you to picture a clubhouse in an apartment building, a plain room with a few chairs might come to mind. Maybe you’ll picture a gym or swimming pool.

But in Hong Kong, the world’s most expensive housing market, residential clubhouses are nothing but ordinary. In a city where the average family needs to save for more than 20 years to afford a home, property developers are resorting to various high-tech gimmicks to entice buyers to part with their life savings.

Cue The Campton, a swanky new apartment complex in the once gritty neighborhood of Cheung Sha Wan. Boasting a 25,000-square-foot clubhouse, the development contains, among other flashy facilities, what it calls an “e-sports arena”—a game room featuring bright green lighting and plush gaming chairs parked in front of Razer laptops, keyboards, and mice.

It’s hardly a state-of-the-art stadium, but the developer believes the unconventional facility will help “build up a gaming community among the residents and get them closer,” said Quincy Chow, executive director at real estate developer Vanke. He cited the inclusion of e-sports as a demonstration sport at the 2018 Asian Games, saying the developer wants to ride on “one of the hottest trends in the world.”

To say they have high hopes might be an understatement.

“Hopefully, there would be an e-sports team dedicated to The Campton in the future,” Chow said.

Not far away from The Campton is The Addition, a project launched last year by one of the city’s biggest developers, Henderson Land. It offers smaller apartments ranging from 199 to 479 square feet in size, which have become increasingly common as soaring home prices render larger units unaffordable for regular people.

According to the sales brochure, Club Addition features two Virtuix Omni simulators, among other facilities, in an area of just under 3,300 square feet. The simulators are 360-degree treadmills that gamers can use with a VR headset while strapped into a harness. It’s designed to produce a fully immersive virtual gaming experience.

Across the Victoria Harbor in Sheung Wan, Henderson Land’s similarly sized One ArtLane offers yet another virtual reality contraption. The clubhouse has what is called a “VR Game Station” consisting of two egg-shaped motion seats, each wired to a pair of VR goggles and joysticks.

It’s unclear how much of a home-buyer’s decision will rest on the availability of cutting-edge clubhouse entertainment, but a representative from Henderson Land said these gadgets are considered a selling point.

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“Since VR is a rapidly growing segment, we believe bringing it to our clubhouse will be an attraction to our younger generation of residents,” said Mark Hahn, general manager at the company who oversees One ArtLane, adding that buyers have said they like the feature.

Another of the developer’s properties, Novum Point, has installed an Icaros in the clubhouse. This futuristic-looking piece of fitness equipment lets users plank while wearing a VR headset so they can pretend they’re flying.

The prevalence of residential clubhouses in Hong Kong may seem puzzling. After all, why not use that spare space to build more apartments?

Clubhouses are partly a consequence of government policies, said Jason Kwong, director of valuation and advisory services for Asia at the real estate consultancy Colliers International.

For years, developers have been granted bonus floor area to construct recreational facilities, such as clubhouse gyms and video game rooms. Authorities say the arrangement is designed to improve quality of life for residents. To take advantage of the policy, the size of a clubhouse should run at 2.5–5% of the gross floor area, which explains why clubhouses in smaller residential developments tend to be smaller as well.

The size limit hasn’t stopped developers from maximizing their offerings.

“Developers would generally use the clubhouse facilities as one of the selling points for potential buyers,” said Kwong. “Thus, they will try to offer as many types of facilities as possible within the proposed clubhouses, which are exempted from [gross floor area] calculations.”

With finite space to impress, some facilities appear to be chosen for their ability to dazzle rather than for practicality.

In 2018, Kowloon Development came up with the idea of installing a virtual reality ski and snowboarding simulator in the clubhouse of One East Coast, an oceanfront apartment complex in the area of Yau Tong.

But any residents who decide to train on the machine will have a hard time practicing beyond the virtual world: There have only been four reports of local snowfall in subtropical Hong Kong since World War II.

This article was first published in Abacus News.