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Finding, Buying and Renting for Expats in Hong Kong

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2013

Finding Property

You could look for property on your own initiative, but most people use an estate agent. There are English-speaking ones available. More than 90% of the available accommodation is in the form of flats. Due to the high turnover of population, finding a place to rent should be easy. Short-term lets may well be considered.

Useful websites to help you find accommodation include:

https://www.squarefoot.com.hk/        
https://www.gohome.com.hk/en/

Renting

Hong Kong Island is one of the priciest places is the world for rented accommodation. Even so, some of the flats on offer are minuscule. Kowloon is considerably cheaper than Hong Kong Island, and you may be able to get a bargain if you can find a 4th floor flat to rent. Locals are superstitious about the number four as their word for it, sei, sounds like their word for ‘death’, meaning that fourth floor accommodation (if you can find it) is often cheaper.
Renting in the New Territories is a cheaper option still. Some urban parts of the New Territories, such as Tsuen Wan, are quite close to Kowloon, whereas others, particularly the old villages, may offer relative bargains – but they are quite a long commute away.

Buying property

Property sales play a significant role in Hong Kong’s economy, and despite the current financial crisis, the territory’s housing market remains buoyant. Prices fell during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and have not been as prohibitively expensive as they once were, though they are on the rise again. In fact, since 2008, property prices have more than doubled.

Despite the imposition in October 2012 of a 15% stamp duty for those who are not permanent residents, there are few barriers to foreign ownership. All in all, buying a property in Hong Kong, though expensive and a little long-winded, is not terribly difficult and may represent a solid investment.  Having an English-speaking estate agent will help with the buying process. Their commission is generally no more than 1%. Some contracts can be drawn up in English too.

Buying a new development, which is most likely to be in a new development in the New Territories, is generally easier than buying an existing one. Once you have acquired an estate agent, if you want one, you visit the development and, if you like it, sign a provisional agreement and paying some of the deposit, typically about 5%. In the next two months, you pay the rest of the deposit, then wait until the property is completed. A month before completion, you should receive a letter from the developer’s solicitor, giving you the completion date. On that date, you pay the balance of the money owed and the property is yours.

For a second-hand property, you will need a copy of the Land Registry search to check there are no outstanding mortgages or other problems connected with it.

Your estate agent will normally do this for you. If the property has no such problems, you will need to ensure that it is structurally sound and does not contain any defects. This is particularly important for older properties in Hong Kong, as the building materials that were used may be of poor quality. Your mortgage lender will usually conduct a survey on your behalf.

Assuming there are no problems in either of these areas, you are now ready to sign a provisional agreement and give the seller the first part of the deposit, which is typically around 4-5%. Both you and the seller will need to provide ID, such as a Hong Kong ID card. Two weeks after this, you and the seller sign a formal sale and purchase agreement, you pay the rest of your deposit and stamp duty. Finally, your and the seller’s solicitor check the legality of the property transfer and both sign an assignment deed. The transaction is formally completely one or two months after this point.

 

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