All consuming desires

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 November, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong presents many mysteries to the everyday consumer. There is so much variance in prices and so many opportunities to make money. The goal, of course, is to maximise value and one's opportunities. But how to proceed? Here is a guide to navigating some basic, utterly practical issues many Hongkongers face, with advice from people on the inside.

How to change jobs

As explained by headhunters

By Shirley Lau

So you want a better job? You're not alone. About 40 per cent of Hong Kong workers are pursuing the same goal. According to a recent worldwide poll conducted by the recruitment agency Mercer, employees in Hong Kong are more concerned about their pay than in almost any other part of the world, and almost four in 10 are so unhappy with their jobs, they're 'seriously considering leaving'.

Unsurprisingly, the headhunters' first bit of advice for getting a better job is to hire a headhunter.

But even if you're someone of a high calibre, don't expect recruiters to swamp you with dozens of offers as soon as you've sent your resume. You're just one job seeker out of thousands in the market.

To properly put yourself on the radar, you should be visible and social. Go to forums, lunchtime seminars or industry conferences and talk to people, headhunters say.

Visibility on business networking websites is also imperative.

'LinkedIn is definitely the key. Any headhunter would be on LinkedIn on a daily basis. It is one of the networks one should be on,' says Doron Vermaat, senior consultant with regional headhunting firm ConnectedGroup.

It's also worth being acquainted with skilled recruiters who work for agencies or headhunters directly hired by clients, or to have friends who know these people.

'A lot of candidates [get in touch with recruiters] through referrals,' says Anil Utamchandani, director of Crossings Executive Search.

Job searching is by nature an active process, but headhunters advise a more passive stance. 'Usually the most interesting candidates are the passive ones who are not actively looking and are doing a great job. If you are approached by a headhunter, it can put you in a good position,' Vermaat says.

Even if you're desperate, don't show it. Work on your visibility and be good at what you do, and one day you may get a call from a headhunter inviting you for a coffee. When that happens, don't say no, even if you don't want to change jobs yet. Networking is something that never goes amiss.

When meeting a recruiter, treat it like a job interview. 'First impressions count. If you communicate in a professional manner, you enhance your chances. Some people on the junior or middle level tend to be too relaxed at the first meeting,' Utamchandani says.

If you apply for a job directly, you may face the daunting task of citing your expected salary in your resume. Never put in a figure, just say 'negotiable', Vermaat says. 'When the issue is brought up during a job interview, you can say 'I would seriously consider any offer I get'.

'The last thing you want is to give a figure that's too high or too low.'

How to get a cheap flat

As explained by estate agents

By Peter Guy

Even in Hong Kong's notoriously expensive rental market, where there is a shortage of flats but no shortage of ridiculous rents, the shrewd tenant can still negotiate favourable deals.

All it takes is a willingness to adapt and use the creative tactics suggested by these real estate professionals.

Clearly, the amount of rent you'll pay depends largely on your choice of neighbourhood. Patricia Hayward of Habitat Property says: 'Mid-Levels and the south side are near 100 per cent occupancy. And even for lower budgets, you should avoid SoHo if you are hunting for a bargain because landlords expect a premium due to the escalator and restaurants.' She suggests looking farther west - such as Sheung Wan, Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town - for cheaper rents.

Look for big, new developments where buyers (who are now new landlords) are keen to find a tenant quickly. These rentals will be more flexible, as many units will be entering the sales or rental market at about the same time, and owners may need to offer competitive rents.

If you think the market will fall during the term of your new lease, try negotiating a one-way break clause that favours the tenant. This prevents the landlord from breaking the lease so the tenant enjoys both a fixed rent and a secure lease for a two-year term.

'Avoid big property investment companies. Instead, focus on landlords who are individuals because they are more likely to show flexibility by giving you a rent-free period to reduce the overall rental cost,' Hayward says.

Charina Wong of Lotus Blossom Real Estate Agency believes certain terms appeal to the flintiest of landlords. For example, prospective tenants should demonstrate to a landlord that they are responsible residents. If they are employed by a multinational company, they should point that out. But she hastens to add: 'Perhaps this is not the best time to say you work for an investment bank.

'Look for older flats in buildings without lifts because they are considered unattractive by other flat hunters. Avoid prime locations and try Kowloon Bay, Tung Chung, Ho Man Tin, Mong Kok and other districts along the MTR.'

Landlords of older flats may offer you rent-free periods that allow you to pay for some renovations. Paying six months of rent in advance can also induce landlords to cut rents.

For the non-squeamish, agents say excellent value can be found when considering flats shunned by others, perhaps for reasons of taboo.

According to an agent on the south side, the Tai Tam flat where banker Robert Kissel was murdered by his wife Nancy was smartly renovated and rented at a discount to a foreigner who was fully informed, but didn't care about the heinous history. 'The landlord was very worried about how its background would affect its rental, so he quickly came down on rent. And if the flat was truly haunted, the tenant could probably sublet it for a profit to a reality television show,' the agent says.

How to buy a suit

As explained by tailors

By P. Ramakrishnan

Raja Daswani of Raja Fashions says people need to be clear what budget they are working with when buying a suit. 'For the budget-conscious, I say go for something durable, conservative. I'd suggest buying a quality but non-branded fabric,' he says.

'I'd suggest conservative because it's realistic - a suit from 1950 that's well made can be suitable now because it's timeless. But a suit made in the 1970s with its signature trend and fashionable tailoring now collects dust in cupboards.'

In case there is any doubt, there is a vast difference in quality among tailored suits out there, and the tailors can clearly spot the good from the bad. After all, they have trained eyes.

'When a man is walking down the street, I can tell [the quality of a suit] by the material, how rough it is, what kind of yarn has been used, what kind of machinery,' says Sam Melwani, 63, of Sam's Tailor.

Why does a suit in Shenzhen cost only a few hundred dollars? 'When you pay at a noted shop, you're really paying for the artisanship. What the customer is really paying for is the superior quality of the work,' Daswani says.

'A fresh graduate who is trying to make a start in the business will not have the same expertise of a cut like a man who's been doing it for 30 years. Then there's the material; fabric can cost anywhere from HK$20 to HK$2,000 per yard.'

Daswani says a person should expect to pay HK$4,000 to HK$5,000 for a fine suit.

Fabric counts for a lot. It is a big component of the price, and it will go a long way to determining how comfortable a suit is, and how good it will look over the years. 'Some people cannot take heavy suits, as they literally choke in the heat. It may be in fashion, but so what?' Daswani says. 'If you're a banker in Hong Kong, in the heat of summer you'll really suffer if you don't make sensible choices with your fabric.'

How to buy a good bottle of wine without paying the earth

As explained by wine connoisseurs

By P. Ramakrishnan

Simon Tam, head of wine for China at Christie's Auction House, says there actually are ways of buying wine on a budget.

'A lot of good wine in hotel chain-linked restaurants can be available for HK$500 to HK$700 per bottle - and that's a very good price to work on for the budget-minded.' And an insider's tip would be that a lot of Chinese restaurants - not Western - don't charge for corkage, which is a great way to save money by buying retail and doing 'BYOB'.

When buying at a department store, how can one home in on a good bottle? 'In Hong Kong, we're very lucky that something in the vicinity of HK$500 is available to us for any kind of wine, except perhaps a good Bordeaux - which is always a bit more expensive,' Tam says.

'There are so many labels on display, and the truth of the matter is, for a lot of people, it's a matter of palate and appreciation. If you've spent HK$1,000 and it doesn't agree with their taste buds, then [your guests will] think it's cheap wine. I strongly suggest, in this scenario, buying a bottle of champagne. People might profess not to like it, but pop open a chilled one and everyone raises a toast. It becomes an occasion.'

Picking the right bottle for the uninitiated is luck of the draw. Most people, by habit, simply look at the price to gauge its quality. 'The cheaper the wine is, the more the mark-up is,' says Kavita Devi Faiella, wine director of the Press Room Group. 'Restaurateurs know that the cheap bottles will fly off the shelves. But owners want to move the expensive bottle, too, so they might mark it up by just a fraction.'

The price of the wine can depend on whether you head to a chain restaurant or a stand-alone. Chains offer better value than independent restaurants. 'Wine is priced more competitively in an independently run restaurant,' Devi Faiella adds. 'Global restaurants' in-house numbers are unpredictable because they buy in bulk and distribute them.

'If there's a chain run by the same management that has a restaurant here in Hong Kong [which has no tax or luxury tariff] versus in India [which has a great deal of taxation on wine and whisky], they level the prices as they're looking at the overall scale.'

Can you get a great wine that's cheap? Tam says no: 'If you really want the good stuff, you have to pay for it. I've taught classes on wine tasting, and the two things I promise all my students is you'll end up buying and appreciating expensive wine and you'll never go back to the cheap rubbish. If you appreciate wine, it's nice to pay for quality wines. There are no 1961 Chateau Lafites for HK$200.'