Off the Road

Serviced apartments are starting to step off the beaten track

There are serviced apartments springing up all over Hong Kong, with the majority located in socalled prestige locations. It’s easy to see the attraction. Serviced apartments are more cost-effective when other factors (furnishing, moving, utilities) are considered in standard leasing, they’re flexible — many have monthto- month leases that suit business travellers on unfixed schedules — and the value added services for new residents make life easy.

Hong Kong has its hot spots. Rare is the expatriate resident that willingly ventures beyond the borders of SoHo, Robinson Road and bubble of Stanley. But there is a serviced apartment for every taste in Hong Kong: North Point, Quarry Bay, Kennedy Town and Happy Valley also boast serviced residences and the biggest difference aside from price points is the lifestyle they offer.

Some would call Tsim Sha Tsui “out of the way.” The idea of crossing the harbour is baffling to too many of us. TST is one of Hong Kong’s most colourful districts, and it’s the reason residents may opt to move there. The shopping rivals Central, the dining rivals Wanchai, the transit connections are impeccable.

“While in the old days, Kowloon was often considered the poor cousin of Central, it certainly is no longer so,” recalls assistant general manager of Gateway Apartments Rene Holenweger of the old attitude towards TST. “New developments, such as the ICC have given TST a massive boost. It’s easy to get around and not overly dependent on the banking sector. We have a good mix of residents,” he says. Gateway has been operating for just around a decade, and since it opened the strip along Canton Road has boomed. A major tourist destination, the area is also home to multi-nationals and a raft of new shopping centres (iSquare, The One) to complement existing ones, chiefly Harbour City. Even with a new cruise ship terminal in the planning stages, the venerable Harbour City is in little danger of becoming less popular.

If the island is must there’s always Wanchai. When Chi Residences was founded back in 2007, it was with the savvy traveller in mind. With locations in Yau Ma Tei, Jordan and Sheung Wan (before it was cool), Chi Residences defines itself largely by what it is not. The next Chi location will be in Wanchai, Chi 130, ready in 2013. The sustainably designed 25-storey tower will include studio, one- and two-bedroom units, and a pair of penthouse duplexes with private roof gardens. And there’s really not much that needs to be said about its location. Wanchai is quite possible Hong Kong’s perfect mix of good, bad and ugly; the district is one of the most vibrant in the city, and Chi’s spot on Johnston Road is perfect for residents who want to know they’re in Hong Kong and not some other anonymous metropolis.

The reason for the decision to move into Wanchai was simple. “From the beginning we have always selected locations based on the areas we know best. We are a Hong Kong family and have lived and grown up here; my father was born in Yau Ma Tei, and both my brothers and I studied and grew up in Hong Kong,” explains Pilar Morais, CEO of Chi. “We like to embrace the local neighbourhoods and share this with our guests, and show them the real Hong Kong … In addition we want to provide people with alternatives to the high prices the more central locations offer,” she says.

If you nee proof serviced apartments are everywhere, look at the New Territories. The Hyatt, the Harbour Plaza and other operators saw fit to open up shop in what can be considered the suburbs. For anyone with frequent business in China or those with large families, the Territories is a viable option — and considerably more cost-effective than Repulse Bay. The Gold Coast/Tsuen Wan area is developing rapidly: Sun Hung Kai Properties’ massive Avignon is out that way, as is a major new international school. The ride to TST from Sha Tin is not much longer than the one from Sheung Wan to North Point. It’s not the boondocks it may have been considered years ago.

“People’s perception of the HKGCR as ‘far away’ is because of the nice environment with greenery and sea surrounding us, which cannot be found in the city,” explains Sino Land’s general manager Rita CC Li of its Hong Kong Gold Coast Residences. “The fact is we are not remote, as we have a direct shuttle bus plying the HKGCR-Tsuen Wan MTR, TST, Central and HK international airport [routes].”

HKGCR is a prime example of what the New Territories does best. Sitting atop Castle Peak Bay, surrounded by greenery and a few minutes away from Tai Tam Country Park, the Gold Coast Residences have the leisure, outdoor, community vibe many expat residents consider the one thing they want from home. Li points to that quality of life as a major draw, as is the waterside location. As a bonus, two-bedroom, 935-square foot serviced flats start at around $24,000, a far cry from Island South prices for a similar home. Either way, the demand from expatriates isn’t going to go away. Hong Kong’s China gateway status will keep the serviced flat market here strong, the improving economy will keep temporary foreign nationals arriving and in the city’s volatile sales market, “New buyers need temporary stays to renovate their new homes. Sellers also need short stays for further planning if they’re purchasing a home again or waiting to see how the market changes,” Li reasons. And ultimately? No one really wants to do their own cleaning.