Dash Suites offers ‘sweet spots’ for expatriate executives as Central Shorts focuses on basics in Hong Kong’s older buildings
Affordable serviced apartments with in older buildings draw young business travellers hoping to work in Hong Kong
In these times of corporate belt-tightening, housing allowances have shrunk to between HK$20,000 and HK$40,000 for the average business traveller, according to real estate services firm JLL.
Yet even that’s too much for a start-up or anyone having to fund their own accommodation – which led Hong Kong’s Aaron Lee, a youthful 30-year-old serial entrepreneur, to come up with a cheaper alternative. Lee launched Dash Suites, a portfolio of affordable serviced apartments, in 2014. Dash now operates 200 apartments on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon across two price points: Dash Queen suites, at 250 sq ft to 500 sq ft, from HK$18,000 to HK$20,000 per month, and the smaller Dash Standard suites, 150 sq ft to 250 sq ft, from HK$13,000 to HK$16,000 per month.
The concept was developed from Lee’s realisation that accommodation costs were proving a barrier to expatriates who hoped to work in the city. “Millennials were getting priced out, which makes Hong Kong less competitive,” he says.
Estimating that there are only 15,000 serviced apartments in Hong Kong, with demand going up all the time, Lee reasoned that the traditional means of supply – either demolish and rebuild a brand new building; or convert an existing one, then training up operational teams – cannot possibly keep up.
Lee’s solution was to create new digs inside old buildings. “We still offer the five-star hotel service,” he says. “Everything that you can imagine that a hotel has – the housekeeping, the 24-hour concierge, the gym facilities [which are outsourced], the business centre [also outsourced] – we have it.”
The service, the renovations, the facilities are the same for apartments at both price points, Lee says. The company achieves this by trimming its operational costs.
“Instead of operating a front desk at an entire building, we have one person located off-site who is shared by our whole network of apartments,” Lee says. “We also leverage technology. Once a leasing agreement is signed [online] we email the tenant with an address, how to find the apartment in the building, and a link to download our app. The app is basically the door lock for keyless entry, which is also a security feature.”
Once inside, there’s a welcome kit along with the Wi-fi password. The rooms “aren’t big”, Lee concedes. “What’s important is there’s a clean, safe place to live – a plug and play mentality for people to coming to Hong Kong to work.”
Some units, but not all, have kitchenettes, but every one at least has a fridge. Convenient location is another plus: most Dash suites are within a one-minute walk to prime MTR stations such as Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai.
Targeting expats coming to Hong Kong for a few months’ posting, or for new arrivals relocating to the city, Lee’s aim is for Dash Suites is to be “the WeWork of residential”. He seems to have hit a sweet spot in the market, claiming average occupancy of 95 per cent.
The Central Shorts brand of serviced apartment operator K F Development also aims at this demographic. The monthly rental for its 21 apartments, all located in the Central and Sheung Wan area, ranges from HK$9,200 to HK$48,000. Apartment sizes range from 215 sq ft to 990 sq ft.
Features include LCD TVs, a kitchenette with electric stove, fridge and washer/dryer, internet access, cable TV and weekly housekeeping. Some units also enjoy use of a rooftop or balcony.
Property operation associate Victor Siu says Central Shorts offers competitive prices, “as we focus on the apartments proper as opposed to having to [do the] upkeep [of] lobbies, gyms, or other facilities”.
Central Shorts focuses “on the basics and ensure they function well for our tenants”, he says.
“The concept is that in a city like Hong Kong, where there is so much going on, the most basic needs of a comfortable bed, a good hot shower and a fully functioning kitchenette are all you need as you are probably more inclined to be ‘out there’ in the city itself.”
As an international financial hub, Hong Kong constantly attracts talents from overseas to look for job opportunities, Siu adds. “Inevitably, a high demand for housing and property arises,” he says.
“Expatriates usually are new to this place. Therefore, providing services like regular housekeeping to help them meet some of the living needs, and helping them navigate through the areas takes some burden off their shoulders, hence providing value for them.”