Home inspector Tsim Chai-nam always wears a red polo shirt to work.
It is not because he is particularly fond of the color, but more due to a habit he developed during the time when he was a construction worker.
“I have nearly a dozen red T-shirts in my drawer,” Tsim says.
Tsim is well-known for his ability to detect flaws in new apartments. He is often invited by the local media to inspect the conditions of new flats and give his verdict.
He deploys many unique tricks to test the construction quality. For example, Tsim would roll a bowling ball on a window sill to test whether it is horizontal. And he can assess the tiling work by knocking on the tiles with a stick.
After doing the home inspecting work for over 15 years, Tsim is now the boss of a wider property inspection company.
Now, what changes has been observed in the local property market through the years?
The first thing that comes to mind is that apartments have become smaller and smaller, says Tsim.
“I feel sad for Hongkongers. They work so hard and end up spending something like HK$3 million just to buy a tiny flat.”
“Before, there used to be at least two rooms in the smallest flat. Now, studio is the trend, though they are nothing more than a high-end sub-divided unit in my view. I had never seen a window-less toilet before, but now many toilets in new flats are without one,” Tsim added.
Which has been the worst new real-estate development this year?
Tsim declined to give a name, but said there was one building where “anything that can possibly go wrong, went wrong”.
“The waste pipe installed outside the building leaks. When a toilet is flushed, sewage and waste water drips on to the street, and even neighbors can smell the foul odor.”
He added that “broken tiles and hollow bricks could be found everywhere; there is also leakage from toilet units and the ceiling, and the air-conditioners drip too.”
Tsim likes to place a Post-it note wherever he detects a flaw.
“Each pad consists a hundred pieces of Post-it. At the building where I discovered a multitude of problems this year, I used up the whole pad at one go, which scared the life out of the owner.”
Each time after inspection, Tsim issues a report to the property owner who hires him. The owner can then ask the developer to fix the problems before he signs a document of acceptance.
However, for the above-mentioned flat, rectification work was very slow. Tsim repeated that it was the worst property project that he has handled this year.
But there are good developers too.
“Sun Hung Kai, Sino Group and New World Development will get all the problems fixed within two weeks.”
We’ve talked about the worst; so which are the best new real estate projects this year?
“The Avenue, Mount One, The Woodside and the High Place,” Tsim says.
What is his relationship with local property developers?
He said it was quite bad at the beginning, but now the developers have accepted him and would sometimes even invite Tsim to come over for luncheons.
Do the developers try to influence Tsim into not revealing negative aspects of the projects?
“They would definitely do that, but I still do it my way,” Tsim says.
Tsim has to work every day. Sometimes, he has to inspect up to eight apartments in a day.
For inspection of new flats, Tsim charges HK$4.8 per square foot (psf). For aged ones, the rate is HK$7.5 psf. It would cost the owner around HK$2,400 to hire Tsim to inspect a 500-square-foot new flat.
Due to the nature of his job, Tsim gets to meet people from all walks of life.
Some owners are keen on gaining petty advantages, and would ask Tsim to write exaggerated reports.
“For example, there were tiny scratches on some marble tiles at a flat, and the owner asked me to write it into the report so that he could get them changed for brand new ones.”
To Tsim, integrity is of utmost importance. He wants to be fair to both his clients and developers.
Coming from a grassroots family of nine, Tsim often had to help his hawker father and therefore grew up literally on the street.
To pay for his college education, he worked on construction sites during daytime and attended classes in the evening.
“It was hard work, but the pay was better,” Tsim recalled.
Tsim fought hard to move out of poverty. But he had no interest in making easy money from property speculation.
“I won’t speculate on the housing market. It would amount to exploitation.”
“Think about it, newlyweds might have to pay HK$1 million more because just because of someone’s greed.”
However, this is what happens in a free market.
“It’s alright to invest in properties and lease them out, but if you earn hefty profit just by buying and selling them, this is exploitation. Hong Kong is a well-developed city, but are residents here happy? Many places are less developed than us, but people there are happier.”
“Most Hongkongers can’t even afford a small unit,” Tsim went on.
Two years ago, he helped his daughter to become a property owner because he didn’t want her to slave away for the rest of her life.
“It is not that young people nowadays don’t want to work hard. If you tell them they can buy a flat after working for 10 to 20 years, I believe they would work as hard as they can.”
“But buying a flat will still be impossible.”
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 16.
Translation by Betsy Tse
[Chinese version 中文版]
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