(This post is authored by Tammy Tan as a contributor as a part of the “Hong Kong as an Expat” series. If you are interested in contributing guest posts, please contact the blog owner, Jin Wong, with your details)
Apartment hunting in Hong Kong is fun. I love chatting with friends about their apartments, how much they cost, how they found it, what it was like moving in, etc. Everyone is excited and offers their stories. People trade tips about finding the right apartment and ooo and ahh about potential properties. After all is said and done, you can throw a housewarming to celebrate!
Apartment hunting in Hong Kong is also hard. People have busy schedules and finding the right apartment is a big decision. After you move in, you’ll be stuck in your apartment for at least a year and, often, you’ll wind up staying for two or more. As a result, you should take your time, do your research and make a decision that you’ll be happy with for a long time.
Real Estate Craze
There are a lot of realtors in Hong Kong. Next to finance and shopping, real estate might be the biggest industry in Hong Kong. People love real estate. There are popular Hong Kong TV shows just for people to show off their houses. Often times, men will need to buy a home just to show their girlfriends that they are financially stable. Some girls won’t get married to a man unless he has his own apartment. Some of the richest families in Hong Kong have made their money on real estate speculation and everyone is looking to be the next Donald Trump.
With so much focus on real estate, you’ll notice that there are a lot of real estate agents everywhere you go, but very few people make good use of these great resources. Instead, people just choose 1 or 2 real estate agents and look at 10 or so properties. Among those 10 or so properties, they pick their favorite one. With so much riding on this decision, you should do more research and use everything at your disposal! If you can shave 5% off your rent, it is well worth the time you spend.
Step 1 – Get the Right Realtor
The first step is to get lots and lots of real estate agents working for you. The best way to do this is to go to the property websites targeting locals such as gohome.com.hk or 28hse.com instead of websites targeting expats like hongkong.gumtree.com.hk, craigslist.hk or hongkong.geoexpat.com. When you are shopping for real estate, it’s best if you know Cantonese or find a friend who does. They are going to charge you a lot more if you only know English. Some real estate agents don’t even know English, so if you don’t know Cantonese, you might not even see all the properties on the market.
Step 2 – Prioritize Your Needs
When you get to these sites, you should start developing a sense of what you’re interested in and, most importantly, how much you want to spend. Start by looking at the smallest apartments you can stand. Don’t be afraid to be stingy. Psychologists have shown that you can quickly adapt to the size of your apartment, but you’ll never get used to a high price or bad location. Of course you’ll want everything at first, a good price, a huge apartment, a good neighborhood, convenience and awesome décor, but you’ll quickly realize that you can’t have everything. You need to prioritize!
There are lots of issues that you should consider that aren’t immediately apparent. Remember to factor in the cost of furniture if the place is unfurnished. Plan a trip to IKEA and see how much the furniture will cost you. Also, remember that Hong Kong has six modes of traveling: the tram, the MTR, ferries, cabs, private cars and buses. Even if an apartment isn’t near the MTR, it can still be very convenient if you’re open-minded.
Step 3 – Deal with the Realtors Wisely
Once you find some properties that you like, ask the relevant agents to show you more like this. You should be specific about your priorities and price range, but be careful. Real estate agents are compensated based on how expensive your apartment is. If you tell an agent that you can spend more, they will show you more expensive apartments. They’ll know that you can afford a nicer apartment and it’ll be too late to ask for a cheaper one. When they do show you a cheaper one, they’ll make sure that it’s ugly so that you pick the nicer ones and they get a higher commission. Start with a low price and ask for the nicer apartments later.
Using these websites, you should be able to schedule viewings for over 5 apartments each afternoon. With a few afternoons and a weekend of searching, you could see over 40 apartments! The best way to get a good deal is to have lots of real estate agents working with lots of landlords. They will compete pretty fiercely with one another and you’ll wind up the winner.
Step 4 –Negotiate Hard
Typically, landlords can be negotiated down anywhere from 10% to 30% off of their initial offer. Real estate agents will tell you that 5% to 10% is more likely. Your mile may vary depending on how good you are at negotiation. Be sure to ask for furnishings if you need them. Also, be sure to write down your expectations in the contract. Will there be a washer and dryer? Will it be furnished? What happens if something breaks? Look up real estate contracts online and be diligent!
Step 5 – Throw a Housewarming
Remember that at the end of all of this, you owe it to your friends to showcase your new place. You have to throw an awesome housewarming party and get wasted in your awesome new home.