My home search was concluded a few weeks ago, which is why I can now safely blog about it in good humor. First, home prices in Hong Kong are no joke. All those articles and rankings showing HK homes being the most expensive in the world are not exaggerating. Rent is not much better because unlike say, Beijing, rents are just as expensive in comparison to sales prices. That is why, visiting over 20 apartments, at least five agents, and four parts of Hong Kong Island, my search spanned two months and almost drove me despondent at the ridiculous prices and sheer lack of good choices. In the end, I found a decent enough place which exceeded my original budget by a bit, and that was after negotiating a price cut from the landlord.
First, I do have to say that home prices do vary in Hong Kong depending on your region. HK Island is the most expensive, with some of the most eye-popping and nauseating prices you will ever see for an apartment (mind you, not a house) though obviously I’m not living in those, while Kowloon is slightly cheaper albeit less Westernised and a bit shoddy in some parts. The New Territories, which is the biggest, most rural, scenic and spacious part of HK, is the cheapest but it is also the furthest from HK Island.
If you live in the NT, especially in the more northern parts, you will face transit times of an hour or more one way to get to HK Island. I know this all too well, because when I arrived in HK earlier this year to start my job, I stayed with a relative near Yuen Long, and I had to take a bus to the West Rail, then take that to Kowloon, and switch to the subway. I couldn’t handle that in my “advanced age” – I did enough hour-plus commutes during my university years to not want to do that now – so I made the move to HK Island, where I work. I found a serviced “apartment” to stay in at first. In reality, this “apartment” was a room with a bathroom as well as items like a TV, hotpot and eating utensils. These serviced apartments are quite common in HK as they’re geared for people who want a place to live in for a month or two, so it’s ideal for travelers or people like me starting work in HK without an apartment yet. Why they’re called “serviced” is because there is room cleaning, though I didn’t even get that at first since I got a relatively cheap room. It was a little rough but I got used to it, even a little attached, as I lived in the room for four months.
I did consider Kowloon but since my “serviced” room was in HK Island and I got accustomed to life there, I decided to take the hit to my bank balance and find a place on the island instead. Also, earlier in the year, when I’d come to HK to interview, I stayed in a “hotel” in Jordan and it turned out to be a tiny room in a building located in a sketchy area that turned into a bustling and noisy street market at night. So that kind of influenced my decision to stay in HK Island as well.
When I started, I had a certain budget (HK$11,000 or US$1,350) but on my first day and with the first few places I saw, that budget was already being exceeded. I wasn’t too impressed by any of those places and even when I was, the asking price was too much. For instance, I saw a furnished studio I liked, but the price was HK$13,500 (almost US$1,700). Needless to say, I didn’t get it. I didn’t just stick with one agent as I looked around and checked out apartments with different agents. I looked around Sheung Wan, where I was, Central, Sai Ying Pun, and even HKU, where the university of that name is located.
But no matter where I looked, I didn’t really find any cheap places. I didn’t want walk-ups nor did I want any smaller than 200 square feet so that ruled out the real cheap flats. The ones that were just within my budget were either tiny or in one case, located on a steep road 15 minutes from the nearest subway station. Another one had a great sea view looking out onto the harbour but it was small and the bathroom was old and shoddy.
Besides being small, two really major no-nos for me were bathrooms right next to the kitchen (meaning you had to go into the kitchen to get to the bathroom), and bedrooms which were squarish rooms that were only big enough to fit a bed. Seriously, you could barely stand in these bedrooms, which were often found in 2-bedroom places. Because these apartments were only 200-something square feet, the landlord basically split a bedroom into two so it could be advertised as having two bedrooms. A third problem was toilets that doubled as showers, meaning the bathroom was so small you’d have to take a shower standing in front of the toilet.
I had hoped that July would be better than June but apparently, summer is really busy for the rental market because a lot of students and workers come to HK at that time. I found that prices were still around the same, and the decent places I found in June had all been rented out. I looked for more places but they were all either very pricey, old, or one of the issues I described above. Finally as I was running out of options and a bit desperate (did I want to live in my room for a fifth month?), I tried another real estate agency and the one place they had that fit my requirements turned out to be quite decent, which is the one I am staying in now.
Finally, when you find an apartment you like, there is the issue of signing the contract to formalize things. Before you can even move in, you need to pay the first month’s rent and a deposit of two months’ rent, as well as the agency fee equivalent to half a month’s rent, and my part of the stamp duty for the rental contract which was just HK$400. Luckily I’d saved up my first few paychecks otherwise it would have been a bit tricky. In addition, in Hong Kong, standard rental contracts are for two years and usually have a one-year break clause, which means if you move out before the first year is up, you still owe the remainder for the year. And I thought the three-months’ rent cancellation fee in Beijing for moving out before the contract was over was rough.
So if you want to rent in Hong Kong, budget wisely and choose carefully. If you want cheaper places, live further away from Hong Kong Island, but if you want to be on the island, then be prepared to spend a bit.
Very decent view, but the apartment had a terrible bathroom and was completely unfurnished.
A bedroom in a 2-bedroom flat. Once you squeeze in a bed, there’s practically no space for anything else.
This is common in older apartments in HK but I can’t comprehend why you’d build the toilet right next to the kitchen, especially with the door facing the kitchen.