Housing in Hong Kong – Bootstraping Startup Version

Update (Dec 2012): New Territories Village House style
Update (Jan 2013): Hong Kong Housing vs The World

In this post I will attempt to communicate everything I have learned about finding a place to stay in Hong Kong from the perspective of a cheap-o poor person. This post should help the bootstrapping entrepreneur understand the more realistic housing/hotel options in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

Qualifications

My first trip to Hong Kong was August 2009. I stayed at the Hotel Jen, which is now Shang-Ri La Traders Hotel. The hotel is located in an inconvenient location west of Sheung Wan, the western terminus of the MTR’s Island Line. When I stayed, a “Jen suite” went for $105 a night. That same room is now $220. The times they are a’-changin’.

During the day you can see Victoria Harbor, at least the edge of it

I had come to attend the Chinese University of Hong Kong. For 11 months I lived in the school’s international dorm on campus; it was a mix of all night Euro-parties and 10 Chinese kids illegally living in a 4 person dorm because, well I don’t really know why. Since leaving CUHK and moving to Seoul, I have traveled frequently to Hong Kong, staying in many different hostels and hotels on short trips before moving here semi-permanently last March.

Chinese University Hong Kong I-House

Overview
Overall average hotel price is around US$150 a night. At a minimum, you’ll be spending $80 for an actual hotel. There are a lot of hostels in Hong Kong, averaging around $35 a night. Most are in Kowloon between Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok. The Chung King Mansion is great if you want to score some opium or hashish, buy some knock off Rolex watches, enjoy strange smells, or get harassed 24/7 by hawkers and weirdos. The most conspicuous selection of hotels is in the “premium” range, $200 a night and up. If you’re a jet setting entrepreneur, Hong Kong is your place. As another option, you can live in people’s apartments, room sharing. For a private room in a shared apartment, minimum $30 a night, for an entire apartment, $70 and up.

As for long term housing, I am no expert on that. I do know that real estate agents are somewhat reliable. They generally quote me a higher “white guy” price unless I go with a Chinese friend, but other than that the market is pretty developed. In the not so distant past the quoted floor space use to be significantly inflated, the measurement would include a percentage of common areas (like the building’s lobby, exercise areas, hallways, etc), and listing agents would just lie and inflate the apartment’s room sizes.  Agents use to not allow people to bring measuring tapes into apartments to check this. As a result, an “efficiency” value was used to account for this, the term “BS percentage” would have been more accurate. If the “efficiency value” was 85% on a particular apartment, that means if they quoted the area to be 1000 square feet, the apartment was actually 850 square feet, thus they were bs’ing 15%.

Another point, “Inclusive” means you pay what you see, “exclusive”  means there are other monthly charges such as utilities, management fees, etc.  My estimate of the average low end rental price for “non premium” areas of Hong Kong is US$1.40 per square foot. You don’t want to know the city center prices.

Hong Kong Geography and travel times
Travel time from Yau Ma Tei to Central is 15 minutes. From Kowloon Tong to Central is 25 minutes. From Tai Wo to Kowloon Tong is 30 minutes, to Central is 55 minutes. From Lo Hu (China border crossing) to Central is 1 hour 10 minutes. Travel time on the West Rail line to the north western parts of Hong Kong takes all day. Don’t get a hotel or housing in the New Territories (unless it is directly on the East Rail Line, blue line), or Lantau Island. You’ll spend all your time traveling. I know, because that’s where I live.

From the airport, buses are by far the best option unless you don’t have a decent sense of direction and get lost easily. In the airport, just before you walk towards the large entry to the MTR, there are help desk people to your right, they will tell you what bus to take (HK’s online route planner is exceptional, no excuses to get lost), then walk towards the MTR, hang a right and walk outside to the bus terminal. Express buses will get you to the city in about 45 minutes. The buses have free Wi-Fi on them, no log in or anything, excellent connection, it just works. Amazing, really. Incheon to Seoul buses cost three times as much and don’t have internet.

If you’re visiting Hong Kong and will be traveling a lot to different areas of the whole city, the Kowloon (pronounced “cow-loon”) peninsula from Tsim Sha Tsui to Yau Ma Tei is the best area, Mong Kok to Yau Ma Tei is the cheapest. You are connected to both the red subway line that goes to Central/Hong Kong Island, and the green line that connects you to the rest of Hong Kong. It’s in the center of Hong Kong from a transportation point of view.

If you’re moving to Hong Kong long term and your primary needs are space/low rent, the Ma on Shan line might be for you. Western sized (almost) apartments along Tolo Harbour can be had for around $1000 a month with large windows overlooking the ocean. As the HK Science & Technology Park is directly across the harbour from several of these apartment complexes, I could possibly travel to work via a small rowboat if I moved there.

Kowloon – My recommended location
If you are a bootstrapping, cheap-o entrepreneur like myself, this is your #1 pick in Hong Kong:

575 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei. Owned and operated by Wing Kong Holdings Limited; Teddy Ng; 3188-2316; room3@wing-kong.com

The company has four apartment at this location, each has four rooms which are individually rented. The small rooms can be had for US$17 /day, larger rooms for $25. Inclusive of A/C, Wi-fi, utilities, etc. It is a three minute walk to Yau Ma Tei MTR, two of which you are walking down the seven or eight flights of stairs. Hey, it’s cheap. It’s Hong Kong.
There is a Park ‘n Shop grocery store just outside the entrance to this building (along with a 24/7 McDonnalds if you’re into that sort of thing), which is very convenient. Better yet, there is a 24/7 Wellcome  grocery near by (walk outside the building, turn left, turn left at the corner, 1 tiny block ahead and it’s on the other side of the street).

UPDATE: I want to make this very clear, there are several (7 to 8) flights of stairs between the street and your door. The stairs are narrow and closed in, they will be painful to walk up. You will not enjoy it.

Negotiating will get you the large room at the small room price

The water goes from hot to cold faster than a bad date

When I moved in you could rent by the day, they’ve since changed it to 1 month minimum. You can always negotiate. I shared the apartment with one quiet British girl who was an English teacher.  Next door the apartment was full of hipster party people. Luck of the draw. You can find their Air BNB profile here, including a review by yours truly.

Another “I have $100 in my pocket and I’m starting a company” option is what I call “Hotel Alex”. An enterprising guy named Alex took some plywood, bricks, curtains and made himself a little hotel in his apartment. Each room is very tiny, you share a bathroom with the other guests and a turtle, and Alex is very helpful with any questions you have. Plus, it’s super cheap.

149A, SAI YEE STREET, MONGKOK, hkice@hotmail.com, or here.

Don’t move the bricks on the ground or your wall will fall over

Yes, I said a turtle

Hong Kong Island
Now if you absolutely must stay on Hong Kong island for whatever reason, say you actually have to impress someone or all of your meetings/business interactions are on the island, I recommend Wan Chai or just west of SoHo/mid-levels. You can get relatively inexpensive rooms which are near an MTR station. North Point is also an option, but a little out of the way. It will take you less time to get to Central from West SoHo vs North Point, but you’ll have to walk up and down hills in 99% humidity and 30c heat, so don’t…. choose poorly. There are rooms in Central for $50 a night, but you don’t know the meaning of tiny until you stay in one. In one room I had to open my main door so I could open and close my bathroom door, otherwise the door knobs would hit each other and block the bathroom door from opening.

Wan Chai might be the best combination of affordable and “prime location”… and hookers. But they mostly come out at night, mostly. During the day, the government offices are conveniently located in Wan Chai (for unlimited companies or corporations, immigration or other govt. issues; limited companies are at Causeway Bay). The best combination of these elements, minus the hookers, is The Wharney Guangdong Hotel. It is directly in front of an MTR exit, and can be had for less than $100 a day if you’re good. The rooms are not tiny, and are well kept.

It might even be considered an historic hotel…

SoHo is the “party/tourist” option, near LKF. Last summer I had to rent an apartment there for a few nights using airbnb.com , the apartment was a 5 minute walk west of the Mid-Levels elevator. It was a two room apartment but one room was storage for the owner, so total area was probably 400 square feet. The apartment was very neat and clean, in a very nice building with a swimming pool and clubhouse. US$2,200 per month, or $100 per day if rented short term.

Some people don’t share bathrooms with turtles

Currently, I live in Hong Kong public housing, at Tai Wo Estates. But you have to be a serious Hong Kong insider as a round eye to secure an apartment like that. Total area is around 300 square feet, $560 a month. It’s essentially a one room, but it gets the job done, is in the same building as the MTR station, has a large grocery store on the first floor and best of all, is 20 minutes from the Science Park.

The bed is directly to my left, bathroom to the right, kitchen behind me

Hey! What about lofts? We’re trendy artistic tech entrepreneurs, not hobos, we demand lofts!

I’ve always said I love Hong Kong, but hate the real estate market. It is a bubble inflated and sustained by mainland Chinese who need a way to stash their cash, and by HK government and real estate tycoons who collude to artificially limit housing supply thus keeping prices high. I have this business plan to develop abandoned industrial buildings into lofts (which is done all over the world), but it is near impossible to do it here. It would affect the real estate developer’s pockets too much. The HK government has timidly worked towards enabling this though, but I wouldn’t call it progress (PDF). Many people illegally build and live in lofts, not a bad idea, really. I’d do it.

Recommended sites

AirBnB

Wimdu

Easy Roommate

Agoda

Or if you need housing in Seoul, check out my friend’s site.

At least you won’t stay here. Dongguan, China

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17 comments

  1. Steve · · Reply

    Hey, I found your blog in the comments section in an article about the app ‘about last night’

    Anyways I also live in Hong Kong and just started my own online company (one man show right now). Maybe we could swap some knowledge?

    Mail me if you interested

  2. Maylin · · Reply

    Thank you for the information!
    I decided to live in the apt run by wing kong holdings from this sep.
    Everything is good but the lift 😦
    I dont know what to do with my huge luggages..

    1. George Chow · · Reply

      Thanks for patronage, I am the operations manager of Wing Kong. In order to find the cheapest yet hospitable place for our tenants to live, some compromises have to be made. Quite a few buildings in Hong Kong, like other metropolis, are more than 40 years old and so do not come with lifts. However, they are a lot cheaper than those with lifts, clubhouses or other amenities. As witnessed here, some readers here know of Chung King Mansion, a 50 year-old building that offers unbelievably cheap rents to as low as US$15 per day. But then you will have to put up with drug addicts, criminals (yes, there are 2 cases of murder lately) and prostitutes. That’s Hong Kong, a place you will like to visit but expensive to live.

  3. Anonymous · · Reply

    Can you provide me with a brief review of your experience with Wing Kong Holdings Limited? I am attending HKU this autumn, and I am looking into renting a room with them. What was your experience like? You mention that the company has four rooms, but from their website, it appears that they have grown to 254 rooms.

    1. I was unclear in my post. The building I stayed in has four apartments owned by Wing Kong Holdings Ltd. Each apartment has several rooms. I am sure the company has other properties throughout Hong Kong, but this building, with it’s four apartments, is the cheapest, (in my opinion) most centrally located and logistically advantageous. My experience with them was above average, most Hong Kong/Chinese companies do not use critical thinking and rely entirely on rules to function. Wing Kong was flexible with my needs and worked with me on timing of arrival, deposit, etc. Although, at some points they appeared a little amateurish. Perhaps they just don’t have procedures in place for everything, which make them flexible, but also a little disorganized at times. Either way, they were helpful and I do recommend them. Just watch out for the stairs, the stairs will murder your legs.

      1. George Chow · ·

        This is George Chow, the operations manager of Wing Kong. Thanks for patronage and for your information, I have completely overhauled the company’s structure ever since I joined on 7th October 2013. Yes, you’re right, in order to find the cheapest, hospitable place for our tenants to dwell, Wing Kong has resorted to locating old buildings in down town area. In doing so, compromise has to be made and in this case, we have to settle with buildings built in the 60s that usually don’t come with lifts. Still, we are proud of providing accommodation to our tenants at affordable prices. On average, we manage to charge US$20 – 30 a day, inclusive of everything (air-conditioning, gas, water and cleaning, twice a week).

    2. STUDENT · · Reply

      *********PLEASE READ**********
      I just wanted to share with everyone my experience with one of the housing agencies (Wing Kong Holdings Limited) in Hong Kong in hopes to prevent anyone else from going through what I am going through. I like other unfortunate students was unable to get student housing, I and another student had found a place to rent except it fell through literally the day before my flight left for Hong Kong. I enquired to my school for recommendations about what to do, they gave me the info for W.K.H.L. I was desperate and graciously accepted. I was housed in Wan Chai where the bathroom fan didnt work, the wifi was constantly disconnected and had to be changed, the toilet stopped working, and one of my roommates air conditioner’s leaked water onto her head while she was trying to sleep in her bed. Whenever a complaint was submitted, it took hours to get a response from an agent and anywhere from 3-5 days to have a maintenance worker come out to repair the problem. I had to switch apartments because Wan Chai is so far from CityU which is in Kowloon Tong, mind you the agency knew this information but failed to inform me before and after moving into the apartment. They showed me a room in Yau Ma Tei, a few days later I went to the agency and signed the contract for the room. I was not aware that the room they had shown me prior to moving in was NOT the same room they had me move into. The room I am living is was built by their maintenance staff, Im not even sure if it’s legal!! The walls are paper thin, I can hear when my roommate opens his drawers to get his clothes out. There is no window and it is impossible to adjust to when it is morning or night. To make matters worse, the maintenance problems in this current apartment are worse then the apartment in Wan Chai. The pipes leak out onto the floor, the washer was broken for over a week before anyone fixed it, leaving me and my SEVEN roommates unable to wash any clothes. There is mold on the bathroom cabinets, probably because we never got the shower curtain we asked for during the 1st week of living there even after 4 months! They left a gas tank next to the front door and my front door, which the maintenance worker used as a ladder when the power in the house kept going out because too many people (8 of us mind you) were living in the apartment using the same circuit. Not to mention all of the ROACHES AND RATS LIVING IN THE APARTMENT WITH US!! Then to top it all off, my roommates and I were all told prior to moving in, we would be told if anyone would be coming into the apartment, whether it be for maintenance work or someone checking out the apartment. The entire 4 months there we only received one email the entire time to let us know a maintenance worker was coming to work on the electricity AFTER he had already arrived. We had people coming in and out of our apartment ALL the time and ALL hours of the night and day without any courtesy of a single notification. I was also informed by my roommates that one of the Wing Kong Holdings Limited staff entered into my room with a potential tenant WITHOUT TELLING ME!! I had no idea and left money and my jewelry out in plain sight, Im very fortunate nothing was STOLEN! When I complained about this incident and previous incidents the manager George Chow apologized and told me he understood and it would not happen again… Except two days later 2 more Wing Kong Holdings Limited employees entered into the apartment again without any courtesy notification!! And to make matters worse I was preparing to take a shower and had a shirt on but no bra underneath! When I and my 2 roommates who were there and when this incident occurred complained yet again to the management his staff lied about what had happened and so did the potential tenant!! This place is HORRIBLE!! What makes matters worse is that Wing Kong Holdings Limited owns a multitude of apartments all over Hong Kong, but the crazy thing is… I am not the only person who has had these HORRIBLE EXPERIENCES with Wing Kong Holdings Limited. Every Person I have come across shares with me their horror stories from dealing with the apartments and the lack of concern from the agency. DO YOUR SELF A FAVOR, STAY AWAY FROM WING KONG YOU WILL REGRET IT!!!!!

    3. George Chow · · Reply

      Yes, we have expanded our business and now run close to 400 rooms. From your article, you should have been in Hong Kong for a while now. Do some homework and you will find that Wing Kong is not as bad one of our past tenant said so. To be honest, the phrase ‘What you pay, what you get’ is always right. For around US$20 a day, you get a separate room, air-conditioning, gas and water. What else can you ask for?

  4. […] have to find a new place to live soon, entrepreneurs can’t afford Hong Kong real estate unless we team […]

  5. […] some of us chose to live here. So, we must find a place to live. I have to move out of my Tai Wo Estates apartment by the end of January, and until my […]

  6. […] keep writing about Hong Kong housing partly because housing/office/lab rental costs are one of the largest expenses a bootstrapping […]

  7. […] you can read my more informative posts on Hong Kong housing options here (part 1), here (part 2), and here (part […]

  8. STUDENT · · Reply

    *********PLEASE READ**********
    I just wanted to share with everyone my experience with one of the housing agencies (Wing Kong Holdings Limited) in Hong Kong in hopes to prevent anyone else from going through what I am going through. I like other unfortunate students was unable to get student housing, I and another student had found a place to rent except it fell through literally the day before my flight left for Hong Kong. I enquired to my school for recommendations about what to do, they gave me the info for W.K.H.L. I was desperate and graciously accepted. I was housed in Wan Chai where the bathroom fan didnt work, the wifi was constantly disconnected and had to be changed, the toilet stopped working, and one of my roommates air conditioner’s leaked water onto her head while she was trying to sleep in her bed. Whenever a complaint was submitted, it took hours to get a response from an agent and anywhere from 3-5 days to have a maintenance worker come out to repair the problem. I had to switch apartments because Wan Chai is so far from CityU which is in Kowloon Tong, mind you the agency knew this information but failed to inform me before and after moving into the apartment. They showed me a room in Yau Ma Tei, a few days later I went to the agency and signed the contract for the room. I was not aware that the room they had shown me prior to moving in was NOT the same room they had me move into. The room I am living is was built by their maintenance staff, Im not even sure if it’s legal!! The walls are paper thin, I can hear when my roommate opens his drawers to get his clothes out. There is no window and it is impossible to adjust to when it is morning or night. To make matters worse, the maintenance problems in this current apartment are worse then the apartment in Wan Chai. The pipes leak out onto the floor, the washer was broken for over a week before anyone fixed it, leaving me and my SEVEN roommates unable to wash any clothes. There is mold on the bathroom cabinets, probably because we never got the shower curtain we asked for during the 1st week of living there even after 4 months! They left a gas tank next to the front door and my front door, which the maintenance worker used as a ladder when the power in the house kept going out because too many people (8 of us mind you) were living in the apartment using the same circuit. Not to mention all of the ROACHES AND RATS LIVING IN THE APARTMENT WITH US!! Then to top it all off, my roommates and I were all told prior to moving in, we would be told if anyone would be coming into the apartment, whether it be for maintenance work or someone checking out the apartment. The entire 4 months there we only received one email the entire time to let us know a maintenance worker was coming to work on the electricity AFTER he had already arrived. We had people coming in and out of our apartment ALL the time and ALL hours of the night and day without any courtesy of a single notification. I was also informed by my roommates that one of the Wing Kong Holdings Limited staff entered into my room with a potential tenant WITHOUT TELLING ME!! I had no idea and left money and my jewelry out in plain sight, Im very fortunate nothing was STOLEN! When I complained about this incident and previous incidents the manager George Chow apologized and told me he understood and it would not happen again… Except two days later 2 more Wing Kong Holdings Limited employees entered into the apartment again without any courtesy notification!! And to make matters worse I was preparing to take a shower and had a shirt on but no bra underneath! When I and my 2 roommates who were there and when this incident occurred complained yet again to the management his staff lied about what had happened and so did the potential tenant!! This place is HORRIBLE!! What makes matters worse is that Wing Kong Holdings Limited owns a multitude of apartments all over Hong Kong, but the crazy thing is… I am not the only person who has had these HORRIBLE EXPERIENCES with Wing Kong Holdings Limited. Every Person I have come across shares with me their horror stories from dealing with the apartments and the lack of concern from the agency. DO YOUR SELF A FAVOR, STAY AWAY FROM WING KONG YOU WILL REGRET IT!!!!!

  9. George Chow · · Reply

    This is George Chow, the operations manager of Wing Kong Holdings Limited, the company being badmouthed by Lauren Olgin. This woman used to live in a room in downtown Kowloon that costs her HK$4,500 per month, or the equivalent of US$580. The rental includes EVERYTHING, air-conditioning, gas and water etc. According to the lease agreement we signed with Lauren, we have the right to enter the apartment to show any vacant room it might have to a potential tenant.
    On 13th Dec., one of my agents went to the apartment to show a vacant room to a potential tenant. To give this person more highlight on the different room there, my agent opened the room of Lauren (she wasn’t there at the time, and the agent knocked several times on the door prior to entry) briefly to show it off. I have no knowledge of that but when I received Lauren’s complaint, I apologized all over and offered to GIVE HER A RIDE TO THE AIRPORT ON THE DAY SHE LEFT ON A MERCEDES BENZ LIMOUSINE, which I did today. Sadly, Lauren didn’t even have the courtesy of addressing people with ‘good morning, Mr.xxx’, not to mention the basic, human response of saying a word of thanks (isn’t she a university student?).
    On 15th Dec., another agent wanted to go there to show a room, but was stopped at the door by Lauren. For this, we lost a customer that went to our competitor for a room. Lauren then went on to report to the university she studied with a barrage of unfounded, malicious allegations that sent the university’s spokesman to call me for queries. When I showed her the entire library (I don’t know how to paste it here, and if anyone is interested to see that, just tell me how and I will gladly show him/her the details), she realized that I have properly apologized and given Lauren a lift to the airport (this of course was not mentioned in her complaint).
    For any person that has travelled to or heard of Hong Kong, he/she might have known that Hong Kong is an expensive place to live. For about US$20 a day, we are able to provide a separate room to our tenant, complete with air-conditioning and basic facilities. Can anyone suggest to me where on Earth can you find such reasonable accommodation? As for the ‘thin wall’, ‘roaches’ allegations, I can confidently say that living in a hotel room will sometimes let you hear what’s going on in your next room. We have constantly advise all tenants to keep their apartment clean and tidy. Sadly, most do not heed to our advise and leftover food, uncleaned bowls and plates are generally seen littered around in the living room or kitchen (we do not clean personal items, just cleaning service for communal area twice weekly). These are the main reasons why roaches appear in the first place.

    The place where Lauren lived is shared by 7 other tenants, man and women. It doesn’t make sense for a woman to walk around scantly clad when the apartment is populated by people she doesn’t know. As a matter of fact, Lauren was coming out of the kitchen instead of going to a shower in T-shirt w/o bras on.
    Once again, we have done our best to cater to the needs of budget-conscious tenants, and if anyone can find accommodation anywhere with compatible rent and facilities, please let me know and I will personally pay for that experience anytime.

    I understand Lauren might again throw insulting, unsubstantiated allegations against us. However, I won’t be that shallow to engage in war of words and this will be the first and also the last article I will post here. If anyone wants further information, the following are the means where I can be reached: –

    Wing Kong Holdings Limited
    Tel (852)3188-2316,
    E-mail room5@wing-kong.com

  10. George Chow · · Reply

    Day before yesterday, I took this Lauren to the airport and throughout the journey, she didn’t even bother to address people and when we arrived, not even a word of thanks. It will set you back at least US$100 for such a trip (23rd Dec., a day before Christmas Eve) AND that’s not available unless you are well connected or have booked well in advance. Do we deserve that? Again, for US$20 a day, have we provided what most people can’t even dream of?

  11. George Chow · · Reply

    Oh, by the way, the name of this ‘Student’ is Lauren Olgin from SFSU.

  12. Anonymous · · Reply

    Well, I have to say about their service. It is really disappointing!!! They show no respect to customers. (As you see, they just disclosed the name and school of their customer) My schoolmates told me that I could have a better option with such price. There are many property agencies in Hong Kong. I would rather pay agency fee (not as expensive as I thought before) for better service.

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