Finding a HK Home is Hard Even on Net

HONG KONG (01/28/2000) - Why does finding a place to live in Hong Kong have to be so hard?

During the past week, I've looked at 25 different apartments, driven three property agents to despair, and have been trapped in an elevator. But did I find anything that I liked? Heck no. Nearly every place that I've seen has been a dingy, overpriced, concrete closet.

The whole process of finding a home has turned out to be a real pain. And based on my experience, I now suspect that a gang of slumlords is running Hong Kong's rental market. How else to explain why most of the apartments available for rent haven't been cleaned since before the signing of the Joint Declaration?

But at least my search gave me the opportunity to find out how useful the Internet could be for someone in my situation.

Finding a Web site that offers Hong Kong property listings wasn't hard. After some thought, I decided to start with GoHome (http://www.gohome.com.hk).

Billed as a Web site that aggregates listings from different property agents, GoHome seemed like a good place to begin my search.

At first glance, I liked what I saw. GoHome's site is bilingual and offers a power search function that lets users search for a flat in their desired price range by selecting features that they want, such as a balcony, a harbor view, or even a specific number of bedrooms.

Although GoHome doesn't offer the ability to search for the features I consider most important - namely a nice kitchen and cable TV access - the site did offer enough options to keep me happy.

Initially, I was encouraged. GoHome's search engine gave me a list of 59 rental flats in Happy Valley that met my pre-defined criteria. Of the apartments listed, two of them caught my eye, and I called the agents for additional information.

In hindsight, this is when I should have realized my search for a flat would go horribly wrong.

Both of the GoHome listings were outdated, and the flats had already been rented. Although I was disappointed that my online search hadn't yielded results, I agreed to meet with one of the agents, Vivian, that evening.

But with a few hours left to kill before my appointment with Vivian, I decided to first give the Internet one more try.

Centaline (http://www.centanet.com) was one of the first property agents to offer property listings on the Internet, and I was hopeful I would find something I liked. But I soon realized that the Centaline site wasn't geared for people like me. The site turned up only a handful of properties for rent in Happy Valley, and those were out of my price range.

On the other hand, Centaline has an extensive list of flats for sale in Happy Valley and a database of recent property transactions. If I had been looking to buy a flat, I might have found the site more useful.

As my online apartment search had proven fruitless, I pinned my hopes on Vivian.

Poor Vivian tried her best. In fact, one of the places that she showed me would have been appealing if only it had been big enough for a couch.

But after showing me 12 flats, Vivian decided she'd had enough. She promised she'd call with a list of other apartments to show me - she never did.

Unfazed, I decided to try my luck with another property agent. Edwina was friendly but didn't show much initiative. She was only able to offer one apartment that fit my criteria.

Since Vivian had already shown me one apartment in the same building, I wasn't feeling optimistic when Edwina's assistant Billy took me to see the flat.

At any rate, I never got to see the apartment. Billy and I got stuck in the building's elevator. Twice.

As we left, Billy apologized profusely. He told me that he would call to set another time when I could see the flat. "Sure," I said, thanking him for his efforts.

Since I never heard from Billy again, I assume he's decided not to risk getting stuck in the elevator again.

By now, things were looking pretty grim. I knew that I had to bring in someone with more experience, someone that wouldn't be daunted if I turned up my nose at the next 10 apartments I saw. I had to see Cindy.

Cindy had helped me and several of my friends find apartments in the past, and I knew her to be one of Hong Kong's most aggressive and persistent estate agents.

Over the course of two days, Cindy took me to see 13 apartments. But although Cindy's tenacity once again impressed me, I saw only one apartment that appealed to me.

I made an offer on the flat I liked and Cindy said she would call me back.

Since I haven't heard from her, I suspect she's given up on me too.

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