Accommodation – Part 1: Flat Hunting

Hong Kong is a small, densely populated place.  This means that property (renting or buying) is expensive and you don’t get many square feet for your dollars!  In the last twelve months apparently property prices have increased by over 5%

When I started here, there was a British postdoc who gave me an insight into a few bits of information.  He had a Hong Kong Chinese girlfriend to help with the language so they were two very useful people and I’m grateful for their help.  In all the agencies we went into there was at least one person who spoke fairly good English but it always helps to have someone who can communicate more directly in Cantonese.  It also helps to have someone who knows the system and can help you through it; it’s not difficult but when you’re new to a place it helps a lot and if nothing else you can have a little “good cop, bad cop” when negotiating.

Kowloon itself is very busy and very noisy.  The Southern parts are more up market and have more tourists so the prices are higher.  In general though Kowloon is very, very busy and very noisy.  I’m a country girl at heart, I like quiet places and not too much street light…. Why on Earth did I come to Hong Kong?!  The traffic never stops.

I was recommended to look at a place not far from Kowloon, in the New Territories called Sha Tin.  It’s quieter and a bit greener but less than 15 minutes on the train to get to University every day and only about 35 minutes from Hong Kong Island (where you’ll hear lots of English from the business guys and tourists).

When I arrived in Hong Kong I was told, if it’s not profitable, it doesn’t exist!  So, in terms of apartments, there are, what can only be described as “shoe boxes” or bigger apartments.  What you want is done by square feet not bedrooms and it is unusual to find furnished apartments.  A lot of the high rise blocks are situated above a shopping centre.  In Sha Tin there is street level, then a parking level, then a single floor of shops, a “garden” level above that and then the apartments start!  They seem to be a fairly uniform set up of two bedroom flats, some are a little bigger than others.  It was not uncommon to see only six inches between the side of the bed and the wardrobe.  The bathroom and kitchens are quite small and I’ve not seen a bath tub since I’ve been here…. showers only.

The Hong Kong culture is that people eat out a lot so kitchens are small and basic.  Of all the apartments I looked at there was only ever provision of a two ring gas stove.  A bit like the large gas camping stoves.

If you’re worried about furnished versus unfurnished then you need to think about how long you will be here.  There is an IKEA and you can buy electrical appliances in many places.  The gas stoves are about £25 but the fridge freezers are almost identical prices to those in the UK.  In terms of washing machines, there are many laundrettes (all provide a service – I’ve

not seen any that you sit and wait and do it yourself) and it seems to be quite cheap.  I must admit, I have a washing machine in my apartment so I don’t have to worry about that.  There’s not much of a “second hand” market in Hong Kong so selling things afterwards may not be easier but you can donate to charity.

So, currently, a two-bedroom apartment (with kitchen, living room and bathroom) is between 350 and 450 square feet and will cost between HK$8000 and HK$10,000 per month in Sha Tin.  You may find a bit cheaper, but it might be a little dingy!  I saw some ones that looked really tatty.  Typically in these flats, you can fit a double bed but neither of the bedrooms are particularly large.  I’m sure the beds are a little shorter and narrower than British ones to if you’re tall then consider how you will fit in!

Make sure you check the air con – make sure it works!  You’ll need it in the summer.  As you’d expect, you’ll pay more for a view.  I’d never really thought about it, but I can tell you that an apartment on the 27th floor is just as noisy as the same apartment (facing the same way, same layout etc.) on the 4th floor!

After seeing about fifteen or so I had narrowed it down to two…. Sha Tin is a good place for me.  One was nice but was more expensive – be prepared to haggle, you’ll probably be able to get about 10% off.  All property is done through agents… they will negotiate for you.  The agency I got the apartment with had a nice lady who was very helpful.  I just went to lots of agents and said what I wanted and viewed them.  They make a note and you have to fill in a form and sign it to confirm that they have shown you the properties and they note down what properties they have shown you (so it’s easier if you want a second viewing) – they will want to see your passport and your Hong Kong Identity card – they have to make a note of the numbers.

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About Alana Collis

Hi, my name is Alana Collis. I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow working in Hong Kong. I hope this blog will give readers an insight into working in an academic research environment and general life in Hong Kong as well as things that will help you get started here! After completing a PhD at the University of Nottingham in synthetic organic chemistry, I moved to a position at the University of Warwick as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Chemistry. During my time at Warwick I was working with Researchers from Warwick Manufacturing Group (materials and engineering) and Warwick-HRI (plant sciences) as well as Industry and other University research departments. This gave me chance to see how different disciplines and departments subtly vary in set up and practices. In the Summer of 2010, I went to a Gordon Research conference in the US. This in itself was a great experience but it was followed up two months later by an e-mail from an academic I met at the conference..... would I be interested in a postdoctoral position in Hong Kong?!

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