House hunting: a good real estate agent can help new expats take the hassle out of searching for a home in Hong Kong
Stella Abraham is national director and head of residential leasing and relocation at JLL. She discusses the housing options that are available to expatriates who are new to Hong Kong.
What housing options are available, and which locations are there to consider?
There are a number of factors to think about. Proximity to work, your budget, and whether you want to be close to trendy bars and restaurants, or somewhere a little quieter, will have an impact on which neighbourhood you’ll want to make home. By asking yourself these questions, you can identify the non-negotiables in your search and the things you are willing to compromise on. Newcomers often gravitate to residential areas around Central, such as Mid-Levels, Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun, which are popular with young professionals and expatriates. If you don’t want to follow the crowd, but want to live in an equally trendy area, you should consider areas close to Star Street in Wan Chai and Cleveland Street in Causeway Bay. If you are looking for something quieter, look at the south side of Hong Kong Island next to beaches and nature. Rentals are slightly cheaper in Kowloon. The Kowloon station area is great for families, and convenient for getting to Hong Kong Island by MTR.
How much would a one-bedroom apartment cost to rent? What procedures are involved and how much commission will an estate agent ask for?
Approximate rental costs can vary greatly. Prices depend on the location, size and condition of the property, which floor the apartment is on and the view. Typically, you should be able to find a modern one-bedroom apartment in Central with clubhouse facilities for HK$25,000 to HK$40,000 per month. The normal agency fee is 50 per cent of one month’s rental. This is payable to the estate agent on signing a tenancy agreement. Other costs, excluding utilities, include the security deposit, typically two months’ rent; legal fees if you want to ask a lawyer to review your tenancy agreement; and stamp duty, which is 0.5 per cent of yearly rent, plus HK$5 for a two-year lease, and this is split between the landlord and the tenant.
How can relocation be made easier?
Most multinational property firms are experienced in helping expats relocate to Hong Kong. Some firms provide their clients with relocation guides and will be happy to help with any additional support you may need. Ask your agent about the other services they provide, from visa applications and city orientation to school placement assistance.
Some rental listings state that the price is inclusive, some are marked as exclusive. What is included or excluded in the monthly rental?
Inclusive prices include management fees and government rates. Exclusive prices generally do not include these. The cost of management fees and government rates you pay will vary.
Are there enough international school spots available? How much does it cost to study?
This is the primary concern for all families with children of school-going age. There are enough international schools and places in Hong Kong to meet your needs. New international schools are opening in the New Territories, and there are campuses from prestigious international institutions. Britain’s Harrow International School is based in Tuen Mun, while The American School and Malvern School are expected to be completed in Tai Po in September this year and September 2018, respectively. Demand outstrips supply in some schools, so there are steps in the application process necessary to secure a place for your child. Debentures must be bought prior to applications. In 2016, annual school fees range from HK$94,000 to HK$183,000 for primary schools and HK$106,000 to HK$204,000 for secondary schools. It is a good idea to work with a property agency that has an in-house schooling consultant who can assist you.
What happens if an expat has to depart Hong Kong before the lease has expired?
The first 12 months of your lease is fixed. Depending on the landlord, you may be able to terminate your lease with one to three months’ notice after the initial 12 months. This “break clause” will be written into your tenancy agreement, so remember to read it carefully before signing.