You have keys in hand to your new home. Now what? Chances are that it’s not exactly ready to be lived in. Of everyone I know who owns their home, only one friend actually purchased a flat in move-in condition — and even then, she had to give it a few coats of fresh paint. If that’s all you have to do, consider yourself lucky. Most apartments, particularly those that have been operating as rentals, need a lot more work. But that’s also what makes them fun. Think of yourself as Ironman and your apartment as Ultron — with the likelihood of it acquiring its own consciousness much lower.
Time for Change
In general, renovations can be broken down to cosmetic and structural. Cosmetic means exactly what it sounds like: changing paint colours, replacing lamps or installing kitchen appliances — and cosmetic renovations normally don’t take up more than a few days. Structural renovations involve a lot more elbow grease, as they typically mean demolishing walls, rerouting conduits and stripping floors. Structural changes involving new kitchens or bathrooms take a minimum of six weeks from design to construction to installation. They can run much longer than that if you don’t know what you want — and change your mind along the way.
You should have a pretty good idea the extent of renovation you’ll be investing in well before the key handover. This means that you can get started as soon as the place is yours. Keep in mind that since you’re already paying for the place, you want construction to move along at a brisk pace yet still have give in the schedule for any unforeseen issues — such as electrical panels that need moving, replacing tiles that are out of stock or water damage that turns out to be more extensive than initially forecast. Most importantly, don’t give up your current residence just yet. You will need a place to live while your new home is undergoing surgery, and that process can take longer than you budget for. In fact, expect things to take a week or two longer than scheduled — then you have more time to move without being too stressed about clearing out of your old place.
Helping You See
A few months ago, I debated the benefits of hiring a designer rather than going straight to a contractor. Here is a good rule of thumb: if you are not very good at visualising in three dimensions or you have no idea what you want but you know what you don’t want, then go with an interior designer. If you are more or less happy with your new place, don’t want to change any rooms, but would like to get a new kitchen, a fresh coat of paint or some minor repairs, then a contractor or even a handyman can do the job.
Many older Hong Kong apartments under $7 million have already been renovated (repeatedly) to suit their previous owners’ needs. Walls, doors and windows may not be in their original spots. I’ve seen apartments less than 400 square feet that somehow managed to carve out three bedrooms, or 600 square foot apartments that are one giant room. This is your opportunity to explore how your home can suit your lifestyle.
Do you cook? Maybe you can open up the kitchen or bring it into your living area, so that you’re not trapped in a tiny, airless room in the back — which is where Hong Kong kitchens tend to be planned in blocks from the 1960s to ’80s. With advances in extractors and ventilation to prevent odours from lingering, there is no reason for a kitchen to be so far removed from the rest of the space. You should also consider whether you need a dining area. Do you host formal dinners at home, or do you eat in front of your laptop and TV? Perhaps a counter that doubles as both a prep area and a high dining table for quick meals is more than adequate.
If you don’t cook, consider whether you need a kitchen at all. Maybe a dry pantry would do. This can be a simple cabinet or bookshelf that accommodates a microwave, kettle, storage for non-perishables and a few dishes, and a small fridge. Then a more generous bathroom or a larger living area can absorb the kitchen’s space. I know a couple who converted their kitchen into a walk-in closet and made do with a bar fridge and a rice cooker on top of it. They live in the heart of Wanchai, and had access to restaurants 24/7. I’ve even been to their hotpot dinners; while entertaining, washing a ton of dishes in the bathroom sink proved challenging.
For me, a bathroom is a retreat. I have never understood how entire families put up with tiny Hong Kong bathrooms — never mind swinging a dead cat, you can hardly turn around in some of them. While some may regard it as utilitarian, a bathroom is where you spend a lot of quality time with yourself. It should be a space that deserves attention, whether with a deep soak bathtub or lighting that will enhance getting ready in the mornings. I prefer having my washing machine in the bathroom rather than the kitchen; it is a more logical place for a clothes hamper and facilitates the occasional hand washing that you may need to conduct.
Lastly, once the renovations are underway, think about the type of protection you need to ensure peace of mind for your new home. While practically every residential building with the exception of walk-ups has a security guard on duty, it is a good idea to find out whether the building has group insurance that is part of your monthly management fee and what it covers. What if your upstairs neighbour leaves the bathtub tap on all night and floods your place? What if your laundry rail rusted away and fell, injuring someone on the street? Your home insurance policy should include all risks on contents such as from fire, theft, typhoon, flood, water damage, landslide and other types of accidents or “acts of God”, where contents include furniture, fixtures, appliances and personal effects such as clothing and valuables. If you go for the all risks building insurance, it should cover the complete reinstatement cost of your home if it is damaged. Check insured limits, what’s excluded and what’s not covered. With all the work and expense that you’ve invested into your new home, it is worth the extra effort to protect it.