• An Expat's Guide to Hong Kong

    by Patrick Redmond | Apr 20, 2015
    Hong KongMoving to Hong Kong isn’t a life change to take lightly. This bustling city is considered the third most expensive in Asia (after Tokyo and Seoul), and is known for its towering skyscrapers and glittering lifestyle. Hong Kong serves primarily as a financial powerhouse and global trade hub between China and the rest of the world, making it a place with high incomes, powerful people, and the backdrop to match it.

    Of course, all this economic and business success means Hong Kong is a likely place to find expats. Many of the companies here employ professionals from around the world to help boost their global position and trade. This is especially true for those who work in finance, and many a family finds themselves relocated to Hong Kong for a few years.

    Living and Working in Hong Kong

    The first order of business when relocating to Hong Kong is finding a place to live. Because it is such a geographically small place (426 square miles) with a population of over 7 million residents, people tend to live vertically. High-rises, towering skyscrapers, and other buildings expand upward, meaning most homes are condos and apartments—and have price tags to compete with the businesses that exist here. If you can include a living space in your relocation package, do it! Otherwise, you can expect housing to be your largest monthly cost.

    Food and education are the next two highest-priced items for living in Hong Kong. Dining out is easy to do with so many incredible restaurants to choose from (and such small kitchens at home), but the costs tend to add up. And if you do want to cook at home, most ingredients have to be imported, as there’s little local agriculture. For kids—especially expats—schooling is offered primarily through private international schools with high tuition ($10,000 to $20,000 per year) and difficult application processes. In fact, there aren’t nearly enough schools to accommodate all the expat families, which means homeschooling is becoming more common for international residents.

    The healthcare and public transportation systems in Hong Kong are also strong because of how successful and booming the city is. Many residents find they have no need of a car and that they can access equal medical services to what they have back home.

    The Hong Kong Lifestyle

    Of course, not everything about moving to a new country is about finding and accessing services. Hong Kong is also a place where people go to be entertained and to experience a culture unlike any other in the world. The strong Chinese influence is evident in everything from the language and food to the arts, but the expat communities and business sectors add a touch of the Western to the scene.

    Expect there to be heavy traffic and lots of pedestrians on the street. Shops are expensive and plentiful, but parks and outdoor spaces that aren’t choked by smog aren’t quite so easy to find. However, if you’re willing to take a short cab ride outside of the major city center, you’ll find beaches, greenery, and stunning views in every direction.

    Hong Kong isn’t a place for everyone. Most expats have work lined up ahead of time (or have good prospects), as the cost of living is high and housing is difficult to come by. Families can struggle if they’re used to spacious homes and outdoor spaces. However, in return for a little less space, you can enjoy a great culture, fantastic food, and a fast-paced and successful lifestyle not found anywhere else in the world.

    • International Moves
    • Relocating to Hong Kong
    • Expat to Hong Kong
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  • What is Earth Day?

    by Patrick Redmond | Apr 17, 2015

    Earth DayMost of the holidays we celebrate are cultural, religious, or unique to our own country. What you believe and where you live determine what kinds of holidays you set aside, and it’s rare to find one that spans the globe and unites all people.

    Unless, of course, you’re talking about Earth Day.

    Celebrated on April 22, Earth Day is a worldwide celebration of the planet we all share. It’s currently recognized and celebrated by 192 countries, which makes it just about equal with the UN in terms of global popularity. Although most people associate Earth Day with environmental issues—saving the planet so we can all continue living on it—it is also a celebration of peace and unity among humankind.

    The History of Earth Day

    Earth Day was founded in 1970 after a massive oil spill in California highlighted the need for national ecological support. Over 20 million Americans banded together in educational institutions across the country to head outside and show support for a cleaner and more protected environment, part of a growing trend at the time for social and public movements.

    In many areas, the “day” has now been extended to an entire week of celebrations—and, in fact, some countries use the whole month to highlight the environment and what we need to do to sustain it.

    What Can I Do to Celebrate?

    The great thing about Earth Day is that it doesn’t have to be a huge deal or expensive to celebrate. Many neighborhoods band together to build support for things like community gardens or developing more parks, but there doesn’t have to be a huge event for you to mark the occasion.

    Some fun and common family activities include:

    > Planting a tree or garden in your backyard
    >Spending the day outdoors on a hike or picnic
    > Bicycling to work or school
    > Coming up with a recycling plan for your home
    > Picking up garbage or volunteering for eco-friendly activities
    > Spreading wildflower seeds
    > Building a birdhouse
    > Spring cleaning/donating items you no longer need
    > Switching to eco-friendly cleaners

    No matter what it is you decide to do, Earth Day is a great time to get out and meet people in your area. If you recently moved and would like to meet your neighbors, or if you haven’t had a chance yet to explore all the parks and open spaces where you live, Earth Day makes a great excuse to get out and be active!

    • Friday Favorites
    • Understanding Earth Day
    • What is Earth Day
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  • Facts About Radon and Your Home

    by Patrick Redmond | Apr 15, 2015

    Radon TestingRadon is a radioactive, invisible gas that has been scaring homeowners for decades. Because it is known as the second leading cause of lung cancer (after smoking) and is virtually undetectable without the proper testing, it’s easy to imagine it lurking in your basement, just waiting for a chance to take hold.

    Because radon contributes to thousands of deaths every year, it’s a good idea to have your home tested. Ideally, this should happen before you buy the house and move in, especially if you’re already having a home inspection done. In terms of testing, radon is fairly inexpensive and only takes a few minutes of your time. In fact, you can buy many radon kits at home improvement stores, allowing you to test anywhere and at any time.

    How Does Radon Get into My Home?

    Radon is caused by the natural breakdown of uranium in your surrounding environment—the rocks, dirt, soil, and water underneath your home. For this reason, it finds its way into your house through pores in the ground, which is why homes with foundation cracks tend to be the most likely candidates.

    Although radon can be found in every state in the United States, it’s more common in the northern regions, particularly in the Midwest. Warmer southern climates tend to have less of a problem, but there can still be unhealthy levels in some areas.

    When Should Radon Testing Occur?

    Experts suggest you get a new radon test every two years. Because it is fairly inexpensive (DIY kits are around $10, or you can hire companies to test for you for around $100), and because it only takes a few minutes out of your day, you can easily work it into your regular maintenance schedule. Always make sure the test is approved by the EPA so the results are valid.

    You should also test radon before you sell a home, buy a home, or anytime you do major structural changes, especially to the air systems or foundation. Although radon reduction systems aren’t as costly as some kinds of home repair (usually a few thousand dollars), it’s nice to know ahead of time what you can expect. Depending on what stage you are in the home buying process, you may be able to negotiate these repairs as part of the purchase.

    Feel Good About Your Home

    Of all the problems your new home could have, radon is one of the easiest to discover and fix—and it takes long-term exposure before there are any real health hazards. If you find your new home has radon, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to control the problem and ensure that your air is safe and breathable for you and your whole family.

    • Post Move: Advice & Home care
    • Remove radon from your home
    • Radon Testing
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  • 7 Simple Kitchen Upgrades

    by Patrick Redmond | Apr 14, 2015

    Paint BrushRedoing a kitchen doesn’t have to be a major overhaul. While there’s nothing wrong with updating all the appliances, tearing out the old cabinets, and replacing the linoleum floor with tile, this kind of renovation takes weeks (if not months) and can cost thousands of dollars. When you need a quick sale or want to make your new home feel a little more luxurious for less, you can skip the major renovations and go for simple kitchen upgrades.

    > Paint the Walls: Painting is the single-most cost-effective way to upgrade a home. For the price of a gallon of paint and a few brushes (less than $100 overall), you can brighten up the space, change the entire color palette, and make a room your own. Beware, though, unless you pick a neutral color that matches your current kitchen accessories, you may find yourself wanting to redo the whole kitchen.

    > Tile Backsplash: Removing tiles is a time-intensive process, but putting them up is fairly easy. If your kitchen doesn’t have a backsplash, you may want to consider adding one. In addition to tile, most home improvement stores also have pretty metal backsplashes you can tack up.

    > Handles and Hardware: Outdated cupboards getting you down? Instead of tearing them all out and installing new ones, consider updating the hardware instead. Sometimes, all it takes is a set of beautiful new handles to touch up the décor in your kitchen.

    > Remove Cupboard Doors: If not even a new set of hardware can fix your cupboards, consider removing the doors altogether. Upper cabinets can look very nice with the doors removed, especially if you have pretty plates and glasses you can show off.

    > Replace the Faucet: Installing a new faucet is a ten-minute job that can do wonders for your space. Upgrade to a farmhouse style faucet or find one that’s a little more expensive, and you’ll be surprised at how much nicer it makes your cooking area.

    > Movable Island: Kitchen islands are popular when you have a larger space that isn’t being used to its fullest. Although having a permanent island installed can be costly, there are rolling islands and kitchen carts you can buy and put in. The extra counters and storage can come in handy while also changing the way you use your space.

    > New Lighting: Get rid of the old fluorescent lighting, put in recessed bulbs, or buy all new fixtures—lights are a great way to make a dull space seem new again. This kind of investment can also end up saving you money in the end, especially if you switch to energy-efficient fixtures.

    Another great step is to toss out the clutter. Kitchens tend to gather quite a bit of debris over the years, especially when it comes to things like plastic cups, mismatched cutlery, and the stuff that accumulates in junk drawers. My tossing out the items you don’t need, you can feel better about having a brighter, more streamlined kitchen.

    • Home Renovations
    • Kitchen Renovations
    • Simple Kitchen Upgrades
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  • Are You Ready To Invest In Real Estate?

    by Patrick Redmond | Apr 13, 2015
    Real Estate InvestingWhen most people talk about buying a home, selling a home, hiring a moving company, or relocating to a new residence, it’s because they are physically moving into a new house. In some cases, however, you might not be looking at a home in terms of a place to live, but as an investment in your financial future.

    Becoming a landlord, purchasing a house with the intention of flipping it, or merely buying up properties for resale…whatever your approach to real estate investing is, it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting in to ahead of time. Here are a few important questions to ask yourself (and your financial planner) before you make the leap.

    > How Much Cash Flow Do You Have? Buying and selling real estate is a great way to make money…assuming you have money to begin with. You don’t have to be a millionaire to make a real estate investment work, but it is good to have liquid assets to fall back on. Because real estate tends to tie up your money for long periods of time, you should have a stable income and good financial cushion to fall back on.

    > How Adventurous Are You? Although buying and selling real estate isn’t quite as risky as skydiving or taking up a car racing hobby, it tends to be more exciting than putting your money in a well-diversified stock portfolio. If you want to take a more hands-on approach to managing your investment, and you aren’t afraid of the fluctuations that come with this kind of thing, you might find yourself enjoying the entire process.

    > How Much Experience Do You Have? You don’t have to hang a business degree on your wall or have years of training in order to invest in real estate, but there is quite a bit of legalese and financial know-how that goes into real estate. If you aren’t comfortable talking about adjustable-rate mortgages, capital losses, endowment loans, and all things real estate, you may want to find a financial planner/business partner who is or consider taking a few classes.

    > What Do You Know About Risk Management? Another issue you’ll want to consider is how much personal risk you’ll take on by buying and selling properties. To protect your credit and finances, you may need to purchase real estate through a separate company that you own. Without the barrier of business between your investment and your family, you may end up being personally liable for losses and/or lawsuits that incur.

    > Where Will You Be Five Years from Now? Many families become real estate investors by necessity. You might be moving to a new city for work and don’t have time to sell your old home, or you might have a vacation home that you plan to rent out to help make ends meet during a tight spot. While these are all valid reasons to become a real estate investor, always look at the big picture as well as your long-term goals. Being an absentee landlord can be costly and a lot of work, so you always want to look ahead to the future.

    Although only you and your family can decide if this type of investment is right for you, it’s always a good idea to educate yourself before you make any firm decisions. Real estate agent courses, financial planning seminars, business classes, and the help of a financial planner are always good ideas during the initial planning stages.  

    • Real Estate
    • Owning a second home
    • Investment Property
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