When Irene Leung Oi-ming moved to Hong Kong last December, the banking risk manager was excited at the prospect of life in the city of her birth after spending 16 years in Australia. Setting up a home, however, proved harder than she expected. 'I saw flats in areas ranging from Mid-Levels and SoHo to North Point. I even looked at Tseung Kwan O,' she says. 'I ran around a lot looking for a place to rent but couldn't find anything that suited me. And the ones that did were too expensive.' The problem was Leung had arrived in the midst of the longest property boom in a decade. Although her employers paid for an initial six-week stay at a serviced apartment, time was running out. Frustrated, Leung eventually opted for a reasonably priced serviced suite in Hung Hom, coincidentally the area where she grew up. 'The good thing about living here is that you don't need to pay the [two-month] bond. I love that,' she says. 'If I rented a property for HK$15,000, I'd be paying HK$40,000 [upfront] on the bond together with the first month's rent and the agent's fee.' Serviced flats used to be the choice of executives on brief assignments, but in the rising rental market they have become appealing alternatives to long-term leases for new arrivals such as Leung. Prices range from HK$13,000 for a mid-sized flat in Hung Hom, to HK$90,000 for a top-end suite at the IFC tower. 'They are beginning to realise that in addition to the rising rent rates, they would have to pay management fees and utility bills and find a helper,' says Gary Cheung Lai-wan, business development and operations director for Wincome Management, which runs the Central 88 and Happy Valley 88 serviced flats. 'When you add in the extras such as a pickup at the airport and daily breakfast, the package becomes more attractive.' At New World Apartments, where the clientele is largely expatriate, leasing administrative manager Anissa Tam Pik-yi says a number of tenants have stayed for several years. Short-term tenants also find it hard to give up conveniences which generally include housekeeping and regular maintenance of appliances. When Richa Patel and her husband moved in at Four Seasons Place, for instance, they planned on a brief stay. But the convenient location above the IFC mall and clubhouse facilities have kept them there for the past year. 'We use the gym often and I have mastered cooking on hotplates,' Patel says. 'The security is another bonus.' A decline in available rental property has also contributed to the shift towards serviced flats, says Gilbert Wan Pui-bun, associate director of research at CB Richard Ellis. 'Landlords who were happy to have a stable tenant and a good return in the past realised that the market was appealing and decided to sell instead.' The arrangement suits the rising number of people who travel frequently for work, he says. The transfer of more senior executives to Hong Kong and the mainland, where the economy is performing better than in the west, have added to demand. As a result, high-end serviced flats registered almost full occupancy in the first quarter of the year. Four Seasons Place, for example, has a waiting list of three to six months, which prompted its operators to invest in another property in Kowloon, set to open next month. Locals who sold their homes to cash in on the boom are also turning to serviced flats for temporary accommodation while they renovate new digs or wait to buy another property. Bank executive Henry Choi Yau-chi is one of those between homes. 'My options were to live in a hotel - which would be too small to house all my stuff since I'm not a tourist - or to rent an apartment,' he says. But since he wanted a more flexible arrangement, Choi chose a serviced flat in Harbourfront Horizon, a Cheung Kong property. 'The best part is that it comes with furniture,' he says. 'Since my new place isn't ready yet, I have no idea what to buy.' Bhupesh Yadav, chief operating officer of serviced suites provider Shama, says although the thriving economy has helped business, clients are also taking longer to select long-term homes. 'Maybe they are a bit more discerning, maybe they are more comfortable so there's no need to go out and look or maybe their choices are restricted now.' Shama, which runs 12 properties, including one each in Shanghai and Beijing, reports an increase in clients from Asia, including mainland travellers. Two are pet-friendly. 'If you're in a regional job and you're travelling, you don't want to worry about whether your plants get watered,' says Yadav. 'If there's a typhoon you don't want to worry about whether you forgot to close your windows. We water your plants, we feed your fish, we even mind your children.' Having lived in a serviced flat for eight years in Singapore, Yadav says he prizes the feeling of security. 'When my wife was pregnant and I had to travel for work, I could leave her knowing that she would be looked after.' The convenience - in location and service - kept property firm manager Ang Ah Lay at Shama's Causeway Bay property for four years. 'I travel a lot so I can just lock the door and be off,' he says. 'I don't have to worry about cleaning or even changing the light bulbs.' Serviced suites can sometimes have an impersonal, hotel-like feel, so longer-term tenants naturally try to personalise the space. Stephane Faure, a bank trader who has resided at Lan Kwai Fong Plaza for the past six months, has brought in keepsakes and decorated the walls with his own lithographs. Although he feels quite at home, Faure is looking for a bigger flat of his own. His quest, however, is taking longer than he anticipated. 'The serviced apartment is so stylish and well furnished that I can't find anything that meets that standard,' he says. Patel says that if she and her husband were going to be in Hong Kong for much longer, she would rather rent their own space. Not being able to open the windows can be irksome, she says, adding, 'I can't live in grays and whites all the time. I'd want to do up the apartment in my own style.' The high turnover of neighbours can also feel alienating or unsettling. 'We did get to a nodding acquaintance with some neighbours but they've all moved away,' Patel says. Leung sometimes finds noisy neighbours or smokers annoying but she doesn't complain because they may not be staying long. 'But security is good,' she says. 'Ten years ago, if I was faced with the idea of living alone in an area like North Point I would have been scared, but I would have considered it in a serviced apartment.'