Finding a place to rent in Hong Kong is like trying to get into a very volatile stock market. Or like playing Russian roulette. Good apartments that are well-furnished go very quickly. Snap, snap, snap. All gone. In less than 24 hours after the owner advertises it.
I have this deep-seated fear that I’ll end up having to stay in a very old and ugly flat, like the ones you see in the depressing Wong Kar Wai films. It’s an irrational fear because my brain tells me that God is in control, and His plans are always better than my best-laid ones. Although this time-tested truth is borne out again and again, the control freak in me refuses to let me sleep soundly at night.
Since I can’t sleep anyway, I prowl the Hong Kong expat sites (geoexpat and asiaexpat) for potential flats. A few nights ago, I found three that I liked. They were at Sheung Wan, Central and Kennedy Town. The last two offered really cheap rents, like HKD 5,500 and HKD 8,000. I assumed they were bona fide ads as they were paid ads, not free ones like in Craigslist. Plus I’ve met many great landlords through these ads. So I wrote to all three to find out more about the flats.
A Julia Marchand replied very quickly for the flat in Central:
“My name is Julia Marchand and I received your email of interest for the rental of my apartment located in 108-110, Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong.
My intention is to rent the apartment and in order to do that I would like to know a little something about you , like how many persons do you intend to live in my apartment, do you have a steady income, etc . I must tell you from the beginning that I don’t have a problem if you are a student and I don’t have a problem with pets (I own a little dog myself) and I appreciate sincerity.
I bought the apartment while working on a 3 year contract in Hong Kong. I am the only owner , the apartment is paid in full and with no legal problems .
The apartment is not inhabited since I am no longer living in Hong Kong.
Also here is a little something about the apartment and myself so we can get to know each other.
The apartment is the one in the pictures but the furniture has been moved into my private storage room. If you don’t have furniture I can take it back with no extra costs for you.
The rent for 1 month is HK$ 5,500 (for the entire apartment) including all utilities (water, electricity, Internet, cable, parking, air conditioning, dishwasher, garbage disposal, microwave, refrigerator, private washing machine). You can rent the apartment for any period of time (open end contract).
About myself, I am 54 years old, currently living in Manchester, my home town. You can move in the apartment in the same day when you receive the keys. The only problem is that I’m already in Manchester. I am very busy with my work and unfortunately I can’t come in person but the solution for the viewing is provided by an rental agency from here.
Thank you for your interest and looking forward to a future collaboration and friendship.”
What a friendly harmless lady. Well her English doesn’t seem to be that good for someone from England but we can’t all be grammar nazis. So I wrote back to her and told her about myself. And we kept up with a few friendly email exchanges.
At the back of my mind, I was skeptical as to why she was charging just HKD 5,500 for a one-bedroom flat. So I decided to check the Squarefoot Haunted House Database, which lists all the flats that had deaths related to them. It’s extremely morbid, but you can’t stop reading them because they’ve painstakingly added in all the salacious details, “A 21-year-old woman jumped off the building due to frustration” or “A man stabbed his wife with a long knife and then killed himself.”
I quickly entered the address that Julia gave me and my heart sank. There it was. American was found dead. On the 30th floor of her block. In 2008. With my heart thumping, I wrote and asked which floor her flat is on, fully expecting it to be the same unit. But lo and behold, she said her flat’s on the second floor. I can now breathe easy and negotiations continued.
In the meantime, I also heard back from the Kennedy Town landlord:
“Thanks for the email. I am Samuel Yang, I own the Apartment for rent and also want you to know that it was due to my transfer that makes I and my wife to leave the house and also want to give it out for rent and looking for a responsible person that can take very good care of it as we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean at the time and the person that will rent it to take it as if it were its own. So for now, We are here in United Kingdom in our new house and also with the keys of the apartment we try to look for an agent that we can give this documents before we left but could not see and we are as well as don’t want our house to be used any how in the our absent that is why we took the keys along with us. I and my wife came over to United Kingdom for a missionary work, so i hope you will promise us to take very good care of the house. So get back to me on how you could take care of our house or perhaps experience you have in renting home. Hope you are okay with the price of 8000(1 months first payment) with hydro,heat laundry facilities, air condition and so on. I am looking forward to hear from you ASAP so that i can forward you an application to fill out and discuss on how to get the apartment for rent. You are free to call me on my private phone number +447012950488 +447024030861
Await your reply.
My heart leapt for joy when I saw this email. Wow, missionaries!!!! Is this from God, I wonder? The flat has everything that I dream of, a small balcony and a clubhouse! And I can totally understand the part on “it’s not about the money but finding someone who will take the best care of your place”, because that is exactly what I’d ask for if I were to rent out my place in Bangkok. Yeah, his English is not that good, but if he’s a Yang, then the chances are he’s not a native English speaker.
I wrote back to him in great excitement. Was this an answer to prayer? He replied quite quickly:
“I want you to know that you can stay long as you want to leave in the apartment,Because I and my Family have gotten another apartment here.But really the fact is that will need someone who is reliable,trustworthy,honest and to be able to maintain the apartment in terms of cleanliness.We are not really after the money for now,But someone who will take a very care of the property as his/her own.
We need someone who will promise us to take care of the property in a very good way. I want you to know that there is no problem for me not been around to show the inside of the apartment,I will make sure you have the keys and other document that will allow you to gain entrance to the apartment as soon as you send a Security Deposit fees.
And please note that is not all about sending the rent deposit or monthly rent that matters in this relationship and agreement, but your absolute maintenance and promise to keep my apartment save and clean.
And also i will need you to often send me some update pics of the apartment from time to time at your own convenient time if rented by you. As i will be trusting and counting on you. The key will come to you through DHL to the address you fill on the application form. .I will have the keys and the apartment document ship via DHL COURIER SERVICE and you will have them within 42hour and also i will forward to you the tracking number for the shipment.But before we proceed,I will like you to have the RENT APPLICATION FORM. Filled and return as soon as you can.
Looking forward to hear from you with all this details so that i can have it in my file in case of issuing the receipt for you and contacting you. Await your urgent reply so that we can discuss on how to get the document and the keys of the house to you, please we are giving you all this base on trust and again i will want you to stick to your words, you know that,we do not see yet and only putting everything into God’s hand, so please do not let us down with our property and God bless you more as you do this.
View the attached RENT APPLICATION FORM.
Thanks and God bless you and your family.”
For some reason, something went off in my head. I immediately googled rental scams in Hong Kong. And there we have it. Same wording in the email. It’s always about getting the potential tenant to transfer money over while the “owner” sends the keys.
That’s when it also clicked for Julia Marchand. Another scam. But a more sophisticated one that even has a website for the “rental agency”. Except that the bank account is in Poland????
I was quite upset at having wasted my time in communicating with these scumbags. Why do they prey on innocent people who are just trying to find a roof over their head? Why haven’t the authorities nabbed them yet? And “Samuel Yang” seriously used God’s name in vain, and he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do when God does the accounts with him.
But I really do thank God for tapping me on the head and giving me that red alert. I feel as though I’m swimming in a pool of sharks or walking into the lions’ den but I know my God walks with me.
For now, everything’s back to zero. That which does not kill us makes us stronger.