The well trodden path to despair that is flat hunting in Hong Kong

Photo: David Guyler

Finding a flat in Hong Kong is a lot like The Hunger Games. Sure, you’re not fighting hand-to-hand to trained child killers, but make no mistake – you’re in a battle. 

You fight an invisible enemy, not for survival, but for shelter. They lurk in the dark, like phantoms, raising the asking price from afar. “The landlord has another interested buyer,” your estate agent says. Bullshit, you won’t raise the price on me! you think, only moments before “your” flat is cruelly stolen from under your quivering, snivelling nose. 

Your life, for the foreseeable future, is over. All thoughts and energy will now be focused on finding another flat. By the end of the week you’ll have a home, but you’ll have lost your will to live. 

Here, we document the rapid dissent from the optimistic, glass-half-full flat hunter to the hollow, hollow shell-of-a-human flat renter over just four days. 

Day 1


Photo: Edwin Lee

What a beautiful day! It could be raining or 45 degrees, but it’s still a beautiful day, because today is the day you start looking for your new home! You’ve got your hard limits – actual shower (not just a hose over the toilet), double bedroom, lift and open plan kitchen please; you’ve settled on an area (what’s up Island line!); you’ve got your budget (and not a penny more) and you’re ready to play ball with some estate agents. 

You walk into the first rental agency and give them your criteria. You soon exit, accompanied by the sounds of their laughter. “That’s impossible!” they say. But you’re a go-getter. There are deals in this town, and my goodness, you’re going to find one.

Onto the second agency, and then the third, and maybe even a fourth. “There’s nothing in your budget” they tell you, but they take down your phone number and promise to call if anything comes up. 

Eventually, you find an estate agent (or two if you’re lucky) that have something. “And it’s just down the road!” they say. A surge of energy rushes through your body and you’re elated. This is it! This is the one! Ha. Suckers- I’m going to have a flat on the first day.

A 20-minute walk, and 11 flights of stairs, later you’re standing in a precariously placed rooftop flat that is most likely illegal. One door opens straight onto the ledge, and you’re told explicitly not to open one cabinet. You don’t know why, and you don’t want to. 

You increase your budget by several thousand dollars, and call it a day. You’re tired and slightly deflated, but there is still hope. Tomorrow will be the day!

Day 2


Photo: Teddy Kwok

Another day, another eight hours at work looking at real estate websites. You’ve got several bookings scheduled for the evening, and only the teeniest amount of dread creeping in. 

Your phone is buzzing more than usual because of all the agents you’ve contacted, but you find comfort in the knowledge that you have a small army working diligently just for you. 

The evening comes, and you set off to see the first flat. The agent warns you that it’s not exactly what you wanted, but it has “promise”. 

Actually, it’s nothing of what you wanted. Neither is the second one. Nor the third. By the fourth you’re thinking, Hey- maybe an eighth floor walkup isn’t so bad? and by the fifth you’re asking your friends if they’d come and visit you in Ngau Tau Kok. They assure you they won’t, and that “soon to be up-and-coming” is not a selling point.  

That night as you fall asleep, a few silent tears run down your face. You’ve long forgotten about having a lift or a decent kitchen, but you hold out hope for that actual shower. Or maybe just an actual double bed.

Day 3

Photo: Myriam Tsen Kung/Coconuts Media

Disappointed by the real estate websites, you’ve now turned to Facebook. Screw the studio, you just need a bed, a roof and some sort of access to water. You can totally handle living with three strangers.

By 10am a lot of people you’ve never met have your phone number. They all call you and sound just as douchey as you feared. “Yeah, we’re all super chill here, just as long as you recycle and only flush after a number two, man.”

Living with strangers is not an option. Guess you’re looking for a flat again.

Somehow, from deep inside yourself, you find the strength to go on. You return to your desk, have a few more sporadic breathing spasms, and then pack up your things and hike out to wherever your next, incredibly random flat-hunting location is. Maybe it’s in Kowloon, or maybe the New Territories – either way, your friends will never visit you and you don’t care. 

Your standards have dropped low enough now that most flats are okay. “Two windows!? What a find!”; “A murder?! Really!? Is the rent lower?”

Another day: gone. Zest for life: dead. Hope: obliterated. 

Day 4


Photo: Edwin Lee

In the six hours you (kind of) slept, you came to a conclusion: you can’t live like this anymore. Your workplace productivity has dropped to a glacial pace, your phone is full of strange numbers that call you at all hours of the day, you can’t eat, and you cry without provocation. Rock bottom has been reached, and it sucks. 

Today you will find a flat, because discerning taste belongs to the realm of the living. You will take what you can get, and hopefully it will be something that meets health and safety standards.

Tonight, as you go to bed on the fourth day of flat hunting, you will be calm in the knowledge that you have found a shelter in the concrete jungle. 

But at around 3am you will wake up in a cold sweat, because you just realised that you are nowhere near done. You still have to pay your deposit: 2.5 months’ rent, up front. And then you have to furnish the bastard… with all that money you spent on the deposit! 

You begin to hyperventilate, but then a shining beacon of light appears in your mind. It’s yellow, and glowing, and it spells IKEA. Your breathing becomes normal again, and you drift off to an easy sleep, dreaming of fantastical words and little frozen meatballs. 

Tomorrow, you will remember the queues and the maddening crowds, but that is another breakdown for another day. Tonight, you sleep. 

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