I have found my apartment (flat) for 2012 in the New Territories, close to Shatin. I have been without internet for over a week and it feels draining, horrible, and a total disconnection to the world around me.
This post is to teach you (most likely a Westerner) how to find, rent, and negotiate an apartment (or a flat as the former British colony calls it) in Hong Kong. Being educated yourself is the key to (to put it very crassly) not get screwed.
Here is a simple 5 step
Disclaimer: This is for informational purposes only. I do not take any responsibility for your own rental course of action (good or bad).
1. Do your Due Diligence. Before you start looking for a place, it is prudent to do some background research. What I mean by this is asking friends and/or Hong Kong natives about neighborhoods, prices, and agents. I also recommend going to the following sites to understand the average prices and apartments you will get. Get an overall feel and understanding for the rental process in Hong Kong before you go any further.
2. Know the Rules. The rental market in Hong Kong is somewhat of a big glob of confusion. As in with any venture, it is good to know the rules of the game. I learned the ‘Standard’ in Hong Kong is that when you find a place you want, you have to do the following
– pay 1st month rent (rent is negotiable, paying 1st month rent is not in my understanding)
– pay 2 months rent as deposit
– pay the agent half of one month’s rent as commission. The landlord will also pay the agent half of one month’s rent as commission (I understand this is negotiable – could be 50% or less)
– places in Hong Kong go fast, so be ready to make your decision within 1-3 days. A few hours if you really want the place and it is in a hot neighborhood
– 2 year rental agreement with the second year as optional is standard.
3. Location, location, location/Price, price, price. Now that you have done some research and know the rules, it is time to narrow down your locations and know your price range. In my case, I wanted to be between Western and Eastern cultures; in other words, close to the expats, but also living a traditional Chinese life. To meet this goal, I have chosen to live in Shatin. It is a thirty minute MTR ride to Central (expats western lifestyle) and fifteen minutes to my University.
4. Agent/Broker Matters. It is time to step away from your computer and walk the neighborhoods and meet agent/broker firms in those neighborhoods. From my personal experience, I have met with crooked or pushy agents who assume just because I am not from Hong Kong, I am not educated. If you get an odd feeling about an agent/broker, RUN! Trust your first gut instinct, it is usually right! Find someone who you have chemistry with, who you see yourself doing business with. I got lucky and met an agent who wasn’t only looking out for her own financial interests, but what my needs were. (She also studied in Australia and has excellent English).
–NOTE: If an agent shows you apt./flats, there is an exclusivity agreement that you will have to sign. This ensures the agents/brokers, that if you rent the places they showed you through another agent, they get a piece of the commission. Beware, as I asked for an English version of this agreement, but there is none.
5. Sealing the Deal. So you have found the apartment/flat that you want; first, don’t act too obvious that you want it. Ask some questions, point out its faults, and ask if the price can be lowered. For every fault you can name, you can lower the price a bit (negotiation power!) Offer 15-25% less than the price you are willing to pay (this depends on how much want it and other people who want it — do some research here). You don’t want to insult them, yet, keep your cards close. I also made a note to let my agent know that I have another appointment with another agent to look at apartments. This way, it also keeps agents/brokers in check. 🙂 Got to exercise your checks and balances in life! Once the agent/broker arrives at a price that both you and the landlord is happy with, time to make a decision. If you still want it, you will need to go to the ATM machine and get out what I outlined in Step 2 in cash. There is a provisional lease agreement you can sign where you give the landlord a security deposit (usually half of one month’s rent) to confirm your interest. Then, the next day, you and the landlord will sit down with the agent/broker to sign the official lease agreement.
Now go hunt for your dream place! I want to hear all about it!
Until next time.