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Hong Kong | Accommodation

When looking for apartments, remember that space in Hong Kong is at a premium. An apartment with two bedrooms, living room, kitchen and bathroom can be as small as 40 square metres. On the plus side, though, Hong Kongers really know how to make the best use of the space that they do have — with ingenious storage closets in the most unexpected places.

Most properties available for rent will be unfurnished, although they may come with certain conveniences such as a microwave oven and fridge. However, there are some furnished properties on the market.

The estate agent

Using an estate agent is less hassle than trying to find a place on your own. They will perform a check on the property to make sure that the person from whom you are renting is the real owner. They can also help you negotiate the price.

And the role of the estate agent doesn’t stop there. They can help transfer all utility bills to your name and make sure that any promised repairs are carried out before you move in. They also perform other administrative tasks such as payment of stamp duty. Some may even step in to help you out if you have an issue with your landlord.

Landlords usually enlist the services of more than one estate agent; the one who finds the tenant will get the commission. This means that different estate agents may offer the same property at slightly different prices.

For this reason, estate agents will often ask potential tenants to sign an agreement that prevents them renting a property they have viewed with another agency. This is standard procedure — but make sure that you don’t sign anything for apartments that you haven’t viewed yet or ones that you have already seen with another agent!

Standard commission for an estate agent is a month’s rent, half coming from the landlord and half from the tenant, although you may be able to push for lower commission (make sure that you negotiate this before you sign the contract).

There are numerous estate agents all over Hong Kong that specifically cater to expats who are looking for somewhere to live. However, many of these will assume that all foreigners have large budgets and will therefore market their properties accordingly.

Some of these expat estate agencies will not even deal in rental properties below a certain value.

If budget is an issue for you, and you want something within a certain range, make sure that you say so. And, if an expat estate agent can’t help you, you might need to look at a more local agency.

Contract duration

The standard contract is for two years — one fixed term and one flexible, meaning that in the second year you can leave simply by giving a month’s notice. Those that leave within the first year will have to pay the rent for every single month left until the contract expires.

It has also become quite common for landlords and tenants to negotiate two-year fixed contracts.

The main advantage of a two-year fixed contract is that this prevents the landlord from raising the rent after the first year (as they often do).

On the other hand, a two-year fixed contract means that you are committed to paying the rent for that period, with no option of moving to a cheaper place should rents come down.

Finding that bargain

Start searching for a place four to six weeks before you need to move in; it can be difficult to secure a lease any further in advance.

There is a rapid turnover of units in the Hong Kong rental market, particularly in the low-to-mid range segment of the market. When you find a place you like make sure you put in an offer (and come up with a deposit) as quickly as you can.

The best time to look for a place is during the week. At weekends, you’ll find that many of the best properties are snapped up pretty quickly and you’ll be struggling to put in an acceptable offer ahead of everyone else.

Price varies a lot depending on location, size, facilities and age of the property.

Properties on Hong Kong island are generally much more expensive than those elsewhere. If you don’t mind living a little further out, then there are some real steals in the New Territories — or on one of the small islands off the coast. Parts of Kowloon — at least those away from the harbour — can also be cheaper.

In one of these cheaper areas, you can get a two to three bedroom apartment for between 10,000 and 14,000 HKD per month.

Closer to Hong Kong island, expect to pay at least 23,000 HKD per month for a modern two-bedroom apartment and upwards of 30,000 HKD per month for three bedrooms.

If you want three or more bedrooms, with a nice view and in a well-to-do part of Hong Kong, budget for anything between 40,000 and 60,000 HKD.

Even on Hong Kong Island, though, it is possible to find much cheaper places in less desirable locations; a two-bedroom apartment might go for as low a sum as 13,000 HKD and a three-bedroom apartment for 17,000 HKD. These may have a more lived-in look, and many of them won’t have a lift. If you are a foreigner, estate agents are unlikely to show you these places — so you need to make it clear if this is what you are looking for.

Take care: some expat agencies may even deny that there is property available within a certain budget range, even when there is.

When you find an apartment you like it is worth negotiating on the price. It is usual for landlords and agencies to deliberately inflate the prices, knowing that most tenants will negotiate You may be able to get an even better discount if you take at least a two-year contract. As a rule of thumb, you can often get up to 5% off the asking price, with 10% being considered excellent and more than 10% extremely rare.

It is standard practice to receive the first week rental free. This is to give you time to move your belongings from your previous apartment.

You can also make some requests along with your offer — to fix something or to provide something that is important to you. If this is accepted, it should also be written into the contract.

Under Hong Kong law, estate agents and landlords are legally required to disclose everything that they know about the property, including negative points, and you can use this as a bargaining chip.

For example, local superstitions mean that, if a death has occurred in a property, even if it was a long time ago, you can usually get a decent discount.

Stamp duty

In order to register a contract, both the landlord and tenant must pay stamp duty. This fee is sometimes paid just by the landlord. The amount is a percentage depending of the length of time rented and the value of the property — usually between 0.25% and 1% of the yearly rent.

Landlords may try to duck the obligation to pay stamp duty, but be warned: the contract will then not be officially registered and you will not be entitled to claim tax off your rent (if the company allows that).

Facilities and clubhouses

Clubhouses that include sporting and recreational facilities have become increasingly common in Hong Kong over the past couple of decades — and now most complexes built in the last 20 years incorporate them. Tenants or landlords pay a small fee to use the facilities, and can usually bring a guest (who pays a slightly higher fee). Subscriptions are often available, though not always during the summer months.

Almost every area in Hong Kong has a government sports centre, so if you don’t have a clubhouse you don’t have to go far to enjoy sport at very reasonable prices. Some areas have private clubhouses that you can join for a fee. Many of Hong Kong’s social clubs also have sporting and recreational facilities.

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