Friday, 7 May 2010

The trials and tribulations of flat hunting

T and I have always enjoyed living in "the other" barrio, far from where the guidebooks recommend newly arrived foreigners to live in. In New York, we steered clear from the West Village. And in London, my only whiff of Kensington was when I went to see the changing of the guards. Not actually sure if that's in Kensington at all actually. So, why would we now want to live slap bang in the most obviously popular spot in Hong Kong, SOHO? Of course, this is South Of Hollywood Road, not to be confused with all those other Sohos you might have heard of.

As I still don't actually have a real job, my occupation the past two weeks has been to find us a place to live in. I started broad, thinking that we would probably want to live somewhere that has a large local community and vibe, but also a couple of Euro coffee shops and restaurants to recover in. But, soon enough, I found myself zoning in on Soho, which is so full of expats it looks like cricket season. This goes fundamentally against my principles, but it's close to T's work (he has a real job), it doesn't feel like you're walking into crowds of fans leaving a football match when you step outside, and that whole walking up and down escalators thing gives the area quite a Neverneverland feel to it.

Can I say that looking for a flat in Hong Kong is not easy. Not only is it not easy for all the obvious reasons, i.e. most flats look directly into the neighbour's bums, they are all designed by the same one-eyed architect who confuses closets for rooms, low ceilings and green stainless steel motifs on the windows are extremely popular, and finally, they're really really really expensive, oh, and miniscule. But, worst of all, there is a teensy veensy bit of a problem with clarity on the actual specs of the apt. So, you go into an apt and the broker tells you it's 800 square feet. You then take out the measuring tape, because you see that you can't actually swing a cat in there, and realise that it's only 500 square feet... hhmmmm .. how did that happen. Well, the wonderful thing about flat size in Hong Kong, is that it includes the stairs, the lift and the entrance way! Yip, so the fact that the porter has a bigger space to sit in downstairs, will make your apartment bigger, more spacious and easier to fit a double bed in!

Room with a view

The other problem is that landlords get "offended". They get offended if you ask too low a price, so much so that they're capable of stopping all negotiations if they deem your offer to be too low. Of course, I've come to realise, that they will always be offended, as they expect whities to pay a good deal more than locals anyway. What I'm not sure about is whether it's the landlords getting offended, or whether this is an old wives' tale that brokers make up to scare us into coughing up.

However, I have seen some nice places ( J Residence for one - which we're not moving into because it feels like the W Hotel), and we're currently in the process of trying to close a deal on a pad as we speak. I don't want to say too much in case it all falls through - which it might as we're currently dealing with an "offended" landlady and a broker who can't get her story straight..... wish me luck.

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