Clearly I’ve been terrible at keeping up with my New Year’s Resolutions, but I’m going to try my best — particularly with blogging. Anyway, as promised in my last post, I will describe my apartment search process here in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong real estate is maddening. When I first came to HK in September, Vicky had actually set up an appointment with a realtor to show me some spots, even though I was not quite ready to commit to any sort of long-term leases at the time. I’d seen quite a number of sh*tholes, pardon my American.
First, unlike in New York, where the real estate market is similarly rough but not quite, you have a MUCH harder time finding “gems.” For instance, the Chelsea Duplex, which I described fully in one of the first posts, was one such gem. It was located in a good spot, on the edge of a hip neighborhood, convenient to transportation and shopping, was HUGE, and had a number of unique add-ons (the fireplace, porch, etc.). When Anna and I first moved in there, I believe the rent was $1300 per person.
In HK, it’s just impossible to find gems, you really get what you pay for for the most part. Essentially, it is near impossible to find the “perfect home.” Although, I guess that’s impossible everywhere.
Neighborhood-wise, I wanted to stay close to Central, but perhaps not in as “white” a neighborhood as Mid-Levels proper/Caine Road, where I felt that prices in all the shops were way too elevated for ex-pats and wealthier Chinese, and did not have as local a feel. On the other hand, as much as I loved my very Chinese Wan Chai neighborhood, particularly with all its convenience to the shopping I require with the prices I desire, I did come to enjoying the convenience of being right near all my friends, who are generally all ex-pats, and being close to Soho restaurants and Lan Kwai Fong bars. My target neighborhood then?
There’s this amazing little cove off Hollywood Road called Square Street. It’s charming and quiet, and a bit West of the ex-pat part of Central. Effectively it’s close enough to both the Chinese and White worlds of HK.
I started my search on the usual — AsiaXPat, GeoExpat and Craigslist HK, and started getting an idea of pricing. I wanted to get a furnished apartment, because while I am committed to signing onto a one-year lease, I just did not want to go through the trouble of getting furniture that I knew I’d only end up having to sell at some point (although who can say when that might be — will it be one year, two years, ten years?!).
I wanted to pay around $9000 HKD, what I was paying at Vicky’s sublet. I wasn’t really finding anything. Best thing I saw was a tiny studio (300ish sf) with a 100sf terrace, walkup on Hollywood Road for $10,000 HKD. The pictures looked good in terms of furnishing (in September, many of the furnished apartments had really ugly furnishings that would just make me feel as though I lived in some weird Chinese jail) and an open layout (too many HK apartments prefer to cut up tiny spaces into one or even two bedrooms, even if the rooms barely fit a bed, just to carve up some spots for privacy where 5+ people will cram into 400 sf spaces).
I inquired, and learned it would not be free til June. I could have arranged to wait out the time by subletting Vineet’s (as he would be off to NY for several weeks for job training), or even get some other temporary situation (not hard in HK as we learned), but by the time I got around to contacting the agent about the listing (had gone to China for Easter holiday with my sister, who was visiting from NY), the apartment had already been snatched up.
I was pretty depressed because my sublet at Vicky’s was quickly coming to an end and there wasn’t much on the websites that met my criteria. That’s when I hit up every real estate agent along Caine Road on my way home, and a few others I’d noticed in the past that posted decent listings. I’d probably visited around 7-10.
The one on Shelley Street by the escalators, where I’d always seen ads for crazy cheap apartments in Central, basically laughed me off and said my budget and criteria were impossible. A few had immediate ideas, others just took my info down and said they’d call me. I also found a bunch of realtor listings online and called them up.
That was a Thursday, I had to move out by Sunday morning. Friday I started seeing a bunch of apartments straight after school. The first realtor who arranged apartment visits showed me about 4-5 spots, and he said he thought this first one would be the one. I was skeptical, but it looked amazing. A little further West than I had initially wanted on Hollywood Road, a high floor, windows all around, open layout, new kitchen and bathroom, tastefully furnished, great space-saving cabinets for $9800 HK.
Saw a few more that were far more West in Sheung Wan proper, others up on Caine Road again that were cheaper but scary looking for any variety of reasons (one had the bathroom combined with the kitchen — I canNOT cook over my toilet, simply cannot!). I’d meet up with 4-5 other realtors between that Friday and Sat next morning, and only saw one more apartment that was similarly viable — also on Hollywood Road, also the 17th floor, had a galley kitchen, slightly bigger, furnishings might have been slightly under par compared to the first one, but very close, for about the same price. But my heart kept tending towards that first apartment for some reason, I just had that feeling, the “this is it” feeling, and I knew that in this market, an apartment like that — one that had location, height (HKers are very serious about living up higher than lower), nice furnishings suitable for Western tastes, and a gorgeous kitchen and bathroom (gas range and rain shower!) would not last long.
By Sat afternoon, I rushed back to the first realtor (after looking at just a few more places) about the first apartment and asked to make an offer. Someone had already made an offer for 9k HKD that morning and was rejected. The prior tenant allegedly paid 9300 HKD. We asked 9500, and the deal was in place. The only downer (but also an upper) was that the landlord would be having the floors redone and walls repainted (a lot of landlords will not repaint in HK, and even some basic appliances are not furnished — like refrigerators and stoves!). The apartment would not be ready for nearly 2 weeks.
I signed a lease known as a 1+1. That is, I get a two year lease where there is a one year break clause. After one year, either party can opt out with one month’s notice. Within a week, all the papers were signed, my two months’ security deposited, and half month’s realtor’s fee paid. Just had to survive some couch surfing til I could move.
And so here I am – writing from MY home, my real apartment. Waking up from my own bed has been a great treat, and although I still need to get a bunch of organizing units for the clothes, I am ever so happy. The apartment is bright, has plenty of space for lil ol’ me, is affordable and sits at the nexus of White and Chinese, as I like to say.
I truly feel like I have a new life here in HK.