Many of the excellent reader comments made on this article about the cost of living in Hong Kong have focused on the relative merits of keeping a car here, and how having one can be crucial if you’re living in a village outside Hong Kong’s urban areas. But as our very helpful reader 'shyam' has noted – via an excellent 10 advantages/10 disadvantages list – living the village life is great for some, but it isn’t for everyone.
It’s not for me, at least not at present.
In fact, I live in just about the most diametrically-opposed sort of housing Hong Kong has to offer, i.e. an enormous high-rise estate that comprises 15 50-storey towers. It’s got two huge outdoor pools, plus two smaller indoor ones. Its clubhouse provides squash courts, a gym, a billiards room, function rooms, a dance studio, several children’s playrooms and playgrounds – even a bowling alley.
For the purposes of this article, it’s this kind of multi-tower estate with loads of facilities I’ll be profiling. Hong Kong also has thousands of individual residential buildings and much smaller estates that may be very nice indeed, but that don’t offer the kind of resort-like facilities I’ve grown accustomed to.
I love living in a big estate, but in the spirit of respect for everyone’s choices and preferences, I’ll try to do here for my kind of housing just what shyam did so effectively for village houses: that is, provide lists of both pluses and minuses.
So, without further ado, let’s start with 10 advantages:
- Big estates are generally among Hong Kong’s newer housing stock, and they’re, well, big. This gives buyers/renters a range of decently-maintained flats to choose from, and there’s also a healthy resale market. Buying a flat in a big estate means banks are more likely to give you a good mortgage, too.
- They’re either conveniently located near shopping malls/areas, or are big enough to generate their own local economies, i.e. restaurants, supermarkets, dry cleaners, etc.
- They’re excellent when you have kids – not only will they have sports and play facilities like the ones I’ve described, they’ll regularly organize evening/weekend/summer classes for kids (and for adults, too, for that matter). They also are likely to have bus stops for many schools right on site.
- A big estate will have a large, permanent staff. This means it’ll be easy to contact someone who can do something about specific problems.
- They’ve got to be pretty ecologically sound: by living in such close quarters, you’re making a very small footprint on the Earth.
- They’re big enough to warrant their own public transport stops/taxi stands, plus taxi drivers always know where you’re going if you can just remember the name of your estate!
- They’re very safe. Big estates typically provide several layers of security; it’s hard to imagine how a burglary, for example, could go undetected.
- They can save you money. Since big estates usually have good sports facilities, you are far less likely to feel the need to join a club or gym. And since they also give you easy access to so many transport options, general amenities, and kids’ classes/activities, you’re also less likely to need a car.
- Since they tend to be very high-rise, big estates often have at least some flats with great views.
- If you are concerned with a certain level of ‘keeping up appearances’, as our village housing commenter alluded to, the big estates are not going to fool anyone into thinking you’re a tycoon, but they’re also quite ‘presentable’, in the Hong Kong parlance. That is, they will likely have nice building lobbies, pretty landscaping/exterior decoration, clean and well-lit lifts, and so on.
But living in a big estate is not all peaches and cream. There are downsides:
- If you’re accustomed to living in a big house with a garden/yard, the Hong Kong office-tower-high-rise-flats life may leave you feeling like a busy bee who breaks free of the crowded office only to be immersed in a stream of other little workers rushing home to be stashed in high-rise hives. Some people really do find it hard adjust to small flats/high-rise living, and I completely understand this.
- They can be quite expensive. Although the per-square-foot price may not be much higher than for flats in smaller buildings, the ratio of usable area is often worse, so you get less space for your money. Management fees are also likely to be significantly higher, in order to pay for all those nice facilities. And parking is never going to be free like it might be in a village; buying or renting a space is a significant extra expense.
- Many big estates have good transport links, but aren’t centrally-located. It’s easy to see why: they take up a lot of space to build, and Hong Kong just doesn’t have much free land in its urban core. So if you’re interested in being ‘right where the action is’, you’re much more likely to end up in a smaller building.
- They can tie you down with petty, summer-camp-style regulations and odd restrictions. For example, on aesthetic grounds, my estate forbids hanging laundry outside windows. This means you have to put it up indoors, which can be a pain. There may be strict limits on how much you can alter your flat when decorating it. It’s also common for some kinds of pets (especially dogs) to be banned.
- They can be crowded, and if the sports and children’s facilities are undersized or badly maintained, they can be overwhelmed and chaotic. In my estate, this is generally not a problem; the exception that proves the rule is one kids’ playroom: it’s fine on weekdays, but it devolves into a pint-sized Inferno on weekends, when lots of residents invite their relatives to ‘bring the kids over; they can play in the clubhouse!’.
- Big estates usually have only little patches of highly-landscaped, decorative green space, so there’s no sense of ‘getting away from it all’, i.e. escaping from Hong Kong’s sometimes-overpowering urban presence.
- They can be boring. All the flats will be laid out to maximize square footage, so you’re not going to find a ‘charming, quirky, bohemian’ living space. Individual rooms will generally be small: as flats in big estates get bigger, they tend to have more rooms rather than bigger rooms. Many offer few (or no) truly spacious flats (the biggest flats in the Talls’ estate are just over 1000 square feet, for example). Big estates that do have big flats are seriously expensive.
- Because they cover so much territory and house so many people, big estates essentially comprise their own neighborhoods. They give you no sense of living on a ‘street with character’. There are no surprises just around the corner.
- Yes, it’s nice that a big estate has an extensive staff, but that means some of them may be unfriendly or indifferent. To them, it’s just a service job for a big organization; there’s little sense of ownership. I should note, though, that again generally the staff in my own estate are great, but there are exceptions . . . .
- Living in a big estate means you will have, writ large, all the potential disadvantages of apartment living when it comes to your neighbors. Most will be just fine, but you aren’t likely to get to know many of them well. And you may encounter noisy/weird/generally unsavory neighbors you just can’t get away from.
Readers, any more thoughts on the varieties of Hong Kong living arrangements? We’d love to keep the conversation going!