As Asia seems to be leading the way out of the global recession, talk has turned to real estate markets in the likes of Hong Kong which are booming again. No one wants to see a secondary dip as overblown bubbles burst, so the local government is actively working to calm the market by releasing more land for sale and restricting mortgage lending for example.
However, just last month a local developer paid $165 million for a plot of prime residential land in the city’s Kowloon district – which really flies in the face and defies active government interventional efforts to rein in real estate prices.
The ‘problem’ is that Hong Kong’s star is rising economically speaking, geographically speaking land is in limited supply, demand for residential and commercial space is intense, and so all fundamentals support the rise in value of real estate. This is juxtaposed against a background of a massive real estate market crash in 1997, and the fact that globally some economies are still rebounding or in recession – therefore any positive movements in Hong Kong’s real estate economy are being looked at with caution.
For those who already hold real estate assets in Hong Kong, any boom in terms of prices is great and welcome news, for any expat thinking about relocating to Hong Kong it’s fairly unwelcome news however, because even if they’re not planning on purchasing a home, higher real estate costs are usually passed on in the form of greater rental expense.
If you’re contemplating a relocation to Hong Kong and you want to know about finding a home, the best place to begin is online on the forums. Here you’ll learn about the main districts that expats prefer, the differences between the likes of Discovery Bay with its almost artificially ‘perfect’ environment, the expense of real estate in Kowloon Tong, and the joys of living in the oddly named Repulse Bay. You can also enter into the intense speculation and debate about whether the current boom in prices is realistic and sustainable!
However, no amount of online research can truly prepare you for the living experience in Hong Kong, and no amount of looking at photographs, reading wiki pages or developer’s websites can really help you make your mind up about where you would be happiest living, and whether you should buy or rent a home.
The best way to approach finding a home in Hong Kong is to therefore move to the region, live in a serviced apartment as central as you can afford, commit to the apartment for at least 2 – 3 months and do your research on the ground, so to speak. i.e., the only way you can get a true feel for Hong Kong and its real estate market is to live in Hong Kong and spend time travelling around with real estate agents and speaking to colleagues, fellow expats and neighbours about the best places to live.
Any research you do before you arrive may well help you narrow down the areas you need to visit and explore, and it will certainly introduce you to the names of the popular expat districts, the areas where real estate is affordable or even excessively expensive, and which territories and districts are best serviced with transportation links for the inevitable commute.
When you begin your active research once you have relocated to Hong Kong, your ultimate choice of home may be restricted or dictated by your budget, commute times to your work or place of study, and the amenities and facilities that any accompanying family members want or need. Furthermore, in certain districts in Hong Kong any rental that becomes available is snapped up so quickly that it is never advertised, so you really do need to be on the ground and ready to act quickly if news spreads about a home becoming available in your chosen development or location.
If you decide to approach any real estate agent to help you find an apartment to let or a home to purchase as an alternative to doing all the research yourself, you need to know that ultimately they are working for the vendor or the landlord and that the more they get out of you in terms of rent or sale price, the more commission they will earn. This is why agents are aggressive and pushy – and their behaviour is currently even more so because they are working in a fast moving market where there is plenty of competition.
Do not feel hurried or harried, and do not make any decisions about a final place to live until you have spent at least a month or two living and exploring Hong Kong. There is so much choice in terms of the districts you could call home in Hong Kong, that you need time to explore them all and find the places that best suit your taste and lifestyle choices.
If you’re only relocating to Hong Kong for a limited period of less than a year, negotiating rental terms on any property is going to be very difficult. Your best options are negotiating and securing a long-term deal on a serviced apartment – of which there are many developments to choose from, some which even come with hotel-like facilities such as a gym and pool etc., or finding a house share deal.
If you’re relocating for a year or more but you’re not planning to base yourself permanently or for the long-term in Hong Kong, and you don’t therefore want to go through the hassle of moving your personal effects with you, it can be cheaper to rent an unfurnished property and then rent a furniture package on top. Furnished lets are very expensive, furniture packages need not be. Furthermore, as you get to know which forums locally based expats prefer, so you will find those who are selling up and shipping out.
You can often buy bargains at these modern day yard sales because those who have been living in the region for so long will have accumulated a lot of essentials that they do not want to have to pack up and relocate with them. Notice boards at work or the gym, the intranet and expat clubs are all places where you’ll find postings of house shares available, apartments coming up for rent or items for sale from relocating expats shipping out and moving on.
You need to feel confident in the fact that you can and will find a home that suits you in a district that’s affordable and suits your lifestyle needs, that you will be able to source everything from a dog walker to a company that will hire you a top of the range TV when you relocate to Hong Kong. You need to accept that any online research you do before you relocate can be valuable, but on the ground research where you get up close and personal with all that Hong Kong has to offer you is invaluable!
For information about obtaining a visa or residency in Hong Kong the guidelines are detailed clearly on the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Immigration Department’s website (http://www.immd.gov.hk/ehtml/hkvisas.htm) and are of course subject to change.
About the author: Susan Beverley is a writer and editor for Escape From America Magazine and also writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – the expat news blog for EscapeArtist.com. She traveled extensively before becoming an expat herself having found a place to call home in South America where she has lived since 2005. She understands the concerns, needs and difficulties that expats face from first-hand experience and is dedicated to supporting and encouraging anyone who is looking for a new nation to call home.
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