Which is the best flat to live in?

You've found an area of Hong Kong you like, and chosen a development you're happy with. Now how do you choose the best flat?

Here are some questions to think about:

High / Low / Middle floor?

An easy one to start with. In most cases I'd go with a mid- to high-floor. You're further away from roads meaning less noise and pollution, and they are often brighter with a better view.

The ground floor might appeal if you get some courtyard space accessible from the flat. But take a careful look out on the courtyard to see if it is used as your higher neighbours' litter bin!

Live at the top?

The top floor is a special case, as it often includes access to the roof above your flat. A summer evening drink on the roof can be a great way to unwind after work – or how about inviting friends over for a barbeque? You've got the chance to grow plants if you're missing having a garden, and many people use the roof to free up space in the flat, e.g. the washing machine and other bulky items can be moved onto the roof under a simple lean-to cover.

What can go wrong? Leaks are the biggest worry, especially during the summer's downpours. Take a careful look at the ceiling for signs of damp or water damage – this is a time when seeing a flat that hasn't been redecorated is a good thing. The summer sun can be a problem too, making the flat hot in the summertime. If possible visit on a sunny day to check for yourself.

It's also worth asking yourself honestly how much you'd actually use the roof. We look out over a lot of older buildings. Some owners really go to town and get full use from the roof, others never seem to go up on the roof at all. (Perhaps they don't like being seen by people in the higher flats?) You'll pay a considerable premium for the roof, so make sure you'll really use it.

Which layout?

We live in an older development (18 years old). It has just two floor plans to choose from, big or small. Modern developments like the Belchers have four different floor plans per block and six blocks, so there are over twenty different layouts to choose from. If there are several that meet your requirements, it's worth taking time to compare them.

Lived-in & scruffy, or freshly redecorated?

If you're not buying in a brand new development, you'll be looking at flats that show the wear & tear of the previous owners. Unless they have just redecorated the flat to make it look more appealing.

I'd choose the scruffy flat over the redecorated.

If someone has redecorated to sell it, they'll likely want a higher price to claim back their costs. Then if you want to redecorate it again to match your tastes, you'll end up paying twice.

Even if you think you can move in without redecorating, be careful. If the owner has redecorated to sell, they'll have asked the decorator to do the cheapest work that will make it look good. The likelihood is that things will start looking scruffy soon after you've moved in. Finally, fresh redecoration can hide signs of water damage and other problems that you'd rather know about.

The only problem seeing a scruffy flat is that it can put you off living in what might really be the perfect flat for you. So work on your imagination - what would the flat be like to live in after you've changed the current orange & brown paint scheme?

What view?

One of our firm requirements for a flat is that we're not looking straight into the next building's windows. It doesn't seem to bother a lot of people, but you'll have to make up your mind what it means to you.

Our current flat looks north from Hong Kong island, so we have a (shrinking) sea view. The only downside is that we get to see how bad things are are on polluted days. Maybe if we were peering at the next block's wall ten feet away, we wouldn't worry about the smog so much?

Which direction?

MrsB says no to flats facing west, as they get very warm in the late afternoon from the summer sun, making it uncomfortable to sleep. We face north, which means we shiver at this time of year when the cold north wind blows – we often get dressed up warmly to go out during winter, only to find that when we step outside it's a lot warmer than in our flat! And we're certainly shady in the summer, but we don't get the southerly summer breezes. So, I'm wondering whether south-east would be better?

What combination?

In the end you'll have to make a trade-off, as it's unlikely you'll get everything you want. You'll have to juggle what you can afford too, as the price naturally varies according to how attractive the flat is. We can use the HSBC's online property valuation tool to make some quick comparisons: Flat A in Tower 1 of The Belcher's costs $8.58M on the lowest floor, $9.49 in the middle, or $10.64 for the highest floor they give valuations on. So, is it worth an extra 24% to live on the high floor?

You can also see the effect of direction by comparing the price of our flat with the mirror-image flat behind us that faces south-east. The south-east flat would be 7% cheaper! But if we chose again, I think we'd still end up in this flat. In the cheaper flat we'd face the road (noisy, which I don't like), and wouldn't get the sea view (which I'd miss).

Once you've decided

After looking at several flats in this development we told the estate agent that we only wanted her to call when this type of flat came on the market, i.e. this size, in these blocks, facing this direction, on the middle floor or higher. It took a while, but it was worth the wait.

How did you go about choosing the flat you're living in now?



For us a balcony is

For us a balcony is essential. It's a shame that very few buildings in HK have balcony.

Picking a flat

Good guidelines here, MrB!

One choice you must make before looking at individual flats, and which we had some discussion of recently, is what kind of building or estate do you want to live in? Arguments for village houses are here; for big housing estates here; for individual high-rise buildings here.

When Mrs Tall and I chose our current flat, we had the added complication of the building not actually being built yet, since we were buying a brand-new flat in a brand-new phase of a big estate. We had to go out to a little hill near the estate and try to estimate what the view from our potential flat would look like. We must have looked pretty comical, as we held up pieces of paper beside our faces trying to simulate the way the view would be bounded by other buildings! And we bought on a high floor, so we had no way to simulate what 'our view' would like from our flat's actual height. The story has a happy ending, however, as our view turned out to be much better than we had anticipated; I recall our slack-jawed joy as we walked into our new flat for the very first time, and were gripped by the view out our living room windows!

When we bought our first flat back in the mid 90s, we encountered one of psychological traps you mentioned: we were looking at flats in a building that was 15-20 years old or so, and we rejected one flat that might have suited us because it was just such an ungodly filthy garbage bin of a space -- we took one look and basically just walked out. This was stupid, because the flat we bought, although cleaner, certainly wasn't in the kind of condition we wanted to move into, and we ended up completely gutting it and doing a total renovation anyway, right down to the plumbing and the wiring. So we might have been able to have driven a good bargain on that dump, and ended up spending just the same amount on renovations as we did anyway!


Purely by co-incidence my husband had to pick the flat we're living in in the worst possible season - mid July amongst the humidity and rain.  The upside of doing that though is that he saw everything in its worst possible light when things were dripping and slimy and green.  Which is one reason why we have no balcony and are not on the ground floor with the use of a potential patio or whatever.  Everything he saw was flooded and wet and slippery...

For the same reason he rejected Parkview and the Peak, due to the mist and damp.  Potential damp and leakage problems are also impossible to hide in the rainy season!

If, (heaven forbid) we have to go house hunting again in HK, I'd say the one thing that has been an essential with young children, is a swimming pool on the premises.  It's great to get them out of the house and releasing their energy, it's wonderful for meeting other residents and their children, and it's fantastic when it's hot and muggy.

  All other things being equal, I'd always take a place with a pool...



Balconies ARE nice...

...but so many places in Hong Kong have unremarkable views. I rarely went out on my balcony in Sheung Wan because it looked down onto one of the dried seafood alleys.

Now that I'm in DB, I truly enjoy having a balcony.

I'm always surprised that HK never developed architecture similar to Miami. There, the apartment towers feel more 'light' as they're often brightly colored and almost always have nice balconies. Hong Kong, by contrast, seems to have opted for bathroom tiles and green windows as a motif. And balconies need only be large enough to hang the laundry out to dry in the polluted air.

The reason is that flats in

The reason is that flats in HK are not built for people to live. They are investments which with a bit of patience and luck will become the greatest lump of money one can earn in the whole life. So developers care not about your quality of living and build apartments with much useless space which you have to pay with hard earn $$$(eg bay window). Sounds like we buyers are brunch of idiots? Well not really. We buy those apartments at stupid price from developers and sell them with even more stupid price to other people. This is a game of the greatest fool.

Flats in Hong Kong

Very true what HKer said.
Some beautiful European cities have houses and low-level flats built right onto the hill side, from foothill to the peak. These homes are beautiful and offer the best quality of life one can get, lots of balonies, native vegetatations, and magnificant view of the distance sea or landscape.
Hong Kong, especially Kowloon, has so many barren hills which can do the same as the Europen cities. Many years ago when it was still a British colony, the government intentionally confined urban expansions to already buildup places. It seems this practice remains to this day. Pity the pigeons who live in these flats.

and remember, despite

and remember, despite propaganda made by government officials, HK is NOT London and is certainly NOT new york. Although a small no. of ppl has developed western lifestyle, few HKer knew what is meant by good quality of life. Small pigeon hole condos, decoration almost identical showing little individual taste; BTW, it's very interesting to watch tv shows where local 'celebs' showing off their homes: the owners are always saying this chandelier worth how much $$$ and that crystal flask worth how much $$$$, even though they dont match the room. Inside their bed rooms, you will certainly see a massage chair(becoz it's expensive). I must say that massage chair looked awkward in any room. Even worse, many ppl like to mix western and eastern furniture. Well it took an expert to do it well. I was stunned by most of their works and they seemed to be quite pround of it. Civilization took time to sublime. I think HK might think about matching NY in 50yrs time.


...that HK was indeed under the British rule for very long time and UK is known for small, dark, dingy and freezing flats/houses that are very badly designed to actually live in. Ive lived there for 10 yrs and when I first moved from Finland I couldnt believe how bad it was.

Very good website though!! I'm moving to HK soon and has read pretty much every single article.

Unlucky floors...

I was perusing the floorplans of a new estate development and found that some floor numbers were not used.  I understand 13 is unlucky so is not used (as it is not in the States).  I also understand that any number with a "4" in it is seen as bad too, so 14, 24, 34, the 40's, 54, etc. are not used.  But in this development the floors 53 and 58 are not used either.  How are these numbers bad?

And wouldn't you have to work out which floors are truely "safe" -- that is, avoid the 5th floor since it is physically the 4th, avoid the 16th and 17th floors since they are physically the 13th and 14th, ....?

Re: Unlucky numbers

Hi there,

I would say it takes a superstitious Cantonese community with many superstitious real estate developers before they could come up with these odd ball floor numbers.  Obviously, Vinnie, you are not a cantonese speaker.  Or at least, you are not familiar with superstitious Cantonese folks.

I now attempt to explain a bit more.  The word or phrases in brackets are the Cantonese pronounciations:

The number 3 has a resemblance of the pronounciation of the word 生 (pronounced as San).  One of the meaning of 生 is life.

The number 4 has a resemblance of the pronounciation of the word 死 (Sei), which means death.

The number 8 has a resemblance of the pronounciation of the word 發 (Fat)﹐ and is related to the term 發財 (Fat Choi), which mean prosperity, in a sense.

The number 5 has a resemblance of the pronounciation of the word 吾 (Ng), which doesn't mean anything by itself.  It's just an exclaimation anyway.  Just like the word 嗯 in Mandarin.   However if you combine 吾 with any Cantonese word the meaning of it would just be the opposite.  So 53 might mean 吾生 (Ng San) to somebody and 58 might mean 吾發 to somebody else.  Some might see these two as curses as well.
I personally don't give a damn on these.
Best Regards,T

Re: Unlucky numbers

Thanks, T, for explaining the "53" and "58". I knew about the "4" sounding like death (I heard about it on TV here in the States once when people talked about feng shui) but the "3", "8" and the usage of "5" are new to me.