Prepare yourself a coffee before you start reading this......
I am telling you my personal experience so see if it will help. I am an expat who have recently returned to HK to look for work. I do have the luxury of a place to stay while I look for a rental. Since nobody in my tiny local circle has ever rented anything so I did not have any help as to how to begin looking, I might as well have been a foreigner. As I walked around my current neighborhood I noticed numerous real estate offices dotting the streets; they are just local agents without the big chain names. They have listings because they are neighborhood merchants who really are no different from the franchise offices of the big names. I have looked at a couple of apartments with these what I call “no-name” agents and find that they do have a pulse on neighborhood rentals. In fact, even the big name offices only deal with properties in the neighborhood. Don’t assume there is any connection between these franchise offices, I know there is NONE. The best is read the following paragraph.
Long story short, if you have friends in HK who could initiate you to the neighborhoods that might be acceptable to you, ask them to keep an eye out for you. And if you have the luxury of time after arrival in HK before committing to a lease, I would suggest that you walk around different neighborhoods and keep an eye out for local real estate agents. These offices are usually mosquito size but with postings of sales and rental in that neighborhood covering the entire shop window(s). I also suggest that you walk around the areas after working hours, best after dinner time then you will get a feel of how quiet the streets are when almost everyone is at home. If it’s a commercial area you will see lots of activities and that may not be what you want. To kill two birds with one stone, you could dine out in different neighborhoods after work while you scout. Have a firm idea of what you could accept. I would just view as many listings as possible, even the ones that are out of your price range so you will see what can be expected for your dollar. The key is not to succumb to any pressure if you can afford the time to compare prices. And don’t forget to negotiate the rent. That’s something I always forget to do when in HK—negotiating everything.
One more note about viewing the rentals, the agents will ask you to sign some document affirming you have viewed that listing. This is to protect them of their commission in case you also view the same apartment with another agent and sign the lease with the second agent, the first agent will come after you for the commission.
As for setting up wifi, there is no shortage of providers in HK. I am no high tech aficionado, so I just went with the cable company I knew. If you are into fiber-optics or other new tech, then you can certainly do your comparisons between providers here. Smart--- is the other name (I am not advertising for them) that my neighbor said she is paying half of what I’m paying for with much more capacity and speed. As for the other utilities, you just contact the different companies and set up appointments for hook up. Be prepared with enough money to pay deposits that add up. A phone is vital in these first few days. This leads to the next point......
The first thing I would do as soon as I step out of HK Immigration and into the arrival hall is get a phone card with data at $60HK +/- (the clerk will ask you) at the OK convenient store in the airport to get you started on communication (assuming you have an unlocked phone and no one to greet you at the airport). If you missed this opportunity, any 7-Eleven or OK store in the city sells phone cards. The next thing to do is set up a bank account. If you know where you will be working, find a branch near your place of work to start off. There is no shortage of banks in HK, but seeing that you are from the UK, maybe HSBC would be good because you could connect with your home branch through global view. Local HK banks are not global and are confined to banking within HK, some may have connections with China and SE Asia. Any time you want to transfer money from these local banks will be through wire and that costs. Not all banks have online services either, be sure to check. If your needs are international, HSBC is the easiest.
Yet another note, after reading another posting where someone was asking about tenants’ rights and what one could do when the apartment was delivered with lots of problems relating to basic needs of a human being, that will be something to include in your lease that those amenities provided by the landlord should be in SAFE working order. When repairs are required then such repairs should be completed within an acceptable period of time. But I don’t know what amenities are actually provided by landlords in HK, it seems NOTHING. From most of the photos I have seen listed on websites, many of them don’t even care about giving the joint a fresh coat of paint or clean out the grouting in the washrooms. Anyway, this is another topic altogether: Sleazy things that landlords in Hong Kong do and can get away with…… I am sure there will be endless responses! I will look forward to those postings because I will need to know too.
Last but not least, I don’t think the rental situation is as dire as many “foreigners” experience because they don’t know the land or language and are desperate to land a place to put their suitcases down and get to work. The result is that they grab the first thing they see for exorbitant rents for a hole in the wall. My advice is to safely befriend anyone you can when you arrive and give out feelers that you need their help. Most people are willing to help but of course there is always the limitation of personal time they can afford you. Look outside of the haunts of foreigners and stake out where locals live. The first place I would avoid is Causeway Bay. I grew up there so I know the neighborhood very well. It’s become a place where people come to congregate after work and on the weekends, AND to occupy and protest. It is too congested the way it is, unfit for me who want to “live.” I will not be looking in the Wanchai area either. In other words, Hong Kong Island is NOT the only place where you can live. There are other places in the former colony called Kowloon and New Territories. I have discovered some neighborhoods in Kowloon that are more appetizing. Transportation in HK, though expensive, is top notch in terms of convenience. So even if your work is in Central you DON'T need to live around or even close to Central. Go out further and discover the nicer spaces, maybe not less expensive?
Hope all this has helped to get your juice flowing. Be prepared for the overwhelming humidity when you arrive in August. All the Best for a new adventure!