Diary of a Renovator: flogging it on

Xiu Fang

My contractor announced recently that my village house would be complete in several weeks. I knew he was being optimistic but still my day brightened as I pictured life returning to normal. Apart from having the place to myself it would be my music playing in the background instead of the 1930s Mando-pop one of the workers prefers. He particularly likes Gei Wo Yige Wen (Give Me a Kiss), which I heard him singing along to while making wet smacking noises. He was painting the bedroom wall.

I digress. Having blown my renovation budget, I now faced filling my new home with second-hand or discounted furniture. It was time to start trawling,, and similar sites. The thought of shopping in Shenzhen was as appealing as instructing my workers not to pee behind the house. 'It stinks,' I told the men, who protested their innocence but whose downcast eyes signalled guilt. 'And you're setting a bad example for the dog.'

House-keeping in check, I explored other cost-effective furnishing options. A colleague suggested joining a guide-led trip to Zhuhai, which takes participants to factories supplying shops in Macau and elsewhere. She had perused and decided it was worth making the effort. 'You can spend HK$69,000 on a three-seater Desideri sofa or HK$7,000 on this from Zhuhai,' she said in an e-mail, attached to which was a photograph of a stylish couch long enough to accommodate China's basketball team.

Were I furnishing an empty house I'd be booked on the next trip. But knowing how I struggle with indecision when making big-ticket purchases I'd probably return with only a long face to show.

Asiaxpat customers, however, cannot hum and haw, especially if they are looking for sought-after items such as outdoor furniture. Their competition, after all, are diligent addicts who check for new adverts first thing in the morning, before climbing into bed, and every time the phone rings during the day. At least that's what I do, which is why friends have complained about my distracted 'uh huhs' when they've called.

'I can't believe this woman has upped the price of her dining room suite because she received so many inquiries,' I told a friend, who rang to ask about something or other. 'She actually says this on her updated ad.'


Anthropologists keen to understand more about Hong Kong would do well to peruse the site. One hopeful seller tried to make a few pennies on about-to-expire Wellcome stickers (for 'freebies'); another had his helper (I'm guessing, because who else would oblige?) lie seductively on a console he wanted to offload. Several have tried to flog damaged Ikea furniture (what's the point?) and there have been sob stories about custom-made kit that didn't fit in the lift. Duh.

It was on my third attempt to buy garden furniture that I was 'successful'. I was thrilled to have beaten my competitors to an unusual wrought-iron set, only to receive a call from the seller after the deal was struck. 'My husband doesn't want to sell the table and chairs,' the stranger said. 'I don't know why; they're ugly.'

Feeling doubly wronged, I returned to asiaxpat with twice the determination. One morning there was a picture of a wooden table surrounded by eight slatted chairs. The words 'in good nick' persuaded me to buy the lot sight unseen.

I wish I hadn't. When my van driver and I collected the goods from a spectacular three-storey house, the helper informed me that a couple of seat cushions had blown away. 'And this chair needs to be fixed.' So of eight chairs, seven are usable, but really only five because sitting on a slatted surface will brand stripes onto bottoms.


The experience gave me pause. The rich can be such bilkers, I fumed, and I was a mug. But not as big an idiot as the person who advertised his Le Corbusier table not knowing what it was worth. Whoever bought it put it straight back on the internet for umpteen times what he paid.

It's true. I'm addicted. I'm also a Hongkonger. So don't be surprised if you see an advert on one of those sites for an outdoor table and five chairs. I'm not telling what I paid.

If you have renovation-related tales you would like to share, e-mail Xiu Fang at [email protected]