Sunday, 8 April 2007

A Bitter Pill to Swallow

How much does it take to shatter someone's dream? Just a split second.

How long does it take for that person to recover from the overwhelming disappointment and frustration? It depends, but it certainly takes some time.

Thanks to my friend, a financial planner, who pours a timely basin of cold water over my head to remind me about my financial situation at a time when I was a bit hyper-excited over the recent opportunity of buying a new home.

After a detailed analysis, the figures showed me that my finances are far from adequate to realise my childhood dream. To be precise, I thought I could have afforded something decent and spacious, just like the cosy and neatly laid-out apartment of about 600 square feet in useable area with a huge balcony that faces the Harbour.

But actually I don't. With my revised budget, I am left with very limited choices among old buildings (built 30 years ago or more) or pigeonhole apartments in the downtown. Otherwise I will have to consider satellite towns in the New Territories, such as Tung Chung and Tuen Mun, from where it takes at least an hour to reach the heart of the city.

Perhaps I have gone a bit too far, but I really find the hard facts a terribly bitter pill to swallow. Things that have kept me happy all these years are now no more than strangers on the street. Before the Easter holidays, I felt so upset and frustrated that I didn't want to do anything. Not even drinking. Not even going to the film festival. I went that far to have missed two films that were screened at Cultural Centre last Thursday, and, worse still, I didn't give it a damn when I found out that I have completely forgotten about them.

All these years I have planned for the purchase and worked hard to attain my goal, and when I was a few steps away from the finishing point, I was told that I am still not good enough. Then the finishing line is pushed away from my sight. Now I have no idea what will make me good enough. What I'm sure is that what I'm looking for is not unreasonable. It's just that either the prices have gone outrageous or the useable area, if this term ever exists, of many recently built apartments is appallingly small.

My frustration due to a strong sense of urgency is not easily understood. There are friends and relatives around me who never seem to understand how eager a single woman turning 35 at her next birthday to have a home of herself, where she can truly relax and enjoy, undisturbed. There are very good and practical reasons to buy at mid-30s. For one thing, most mortgage period lasts for 20 years at least. This means the earlier you get started, the earlier you can repay the loans, hopefully long before retirement. For another, it takes much more courage to take up such a financial burden at a later age, when your career path, in most cases, starts turning downward. By that time we should, ideally, spend more energy thinking about retirement rather than repaying mortgage loans.

Unfortunately only a few of us live in a carefree ideal world, and I'm by no means one of them. For a person who is most likely to stay single at least in the foreseeable future, thinking about buying property and retirement is never too early. Yet this means I can be facing two financial challenges at the same time.

More importantly, the ownership of a property gives me a remarkable sense of security that I have been dying for. I can't think of any flaw of having one's own property except the courage to take the financial burden, which should be carefully assessed and calculated anyway, but I can certainly tell you how helpless and insecure it can be to remain a tenant for a lifetime.

Half-jokingly, some friends suggested that I should look for the significant other to alleviate my financial burden of repaying the mortgage loans. Pardon me girls, but this really sounds ridiculous to me. Do you think it is fair to get someone on board for nothing but to help pay your bills? Is this what you believe a lifetime partnership is for? Is this how love should be measured, if any at all? At the end of the day, I'm convinced that these are completely separate issues that should never be mixed up.

More people around me take a step forward to challenge my stubbornness about buying my own property. Why bother, they ask, when I can still live with my family.

Paradoxically, this is precisely why I am so desperate to move out. For those who do not appreciate the importance of privacy as much as I do, I find it really difficult to carry on with the conversation. All I can say is that everyone is in a unique situation that can hardly find a duplicate elsewhere. It is not surprising that they don't understand, and so is that few people are able to give impartial and sensible advice based on reason but not personal experience.

I can't remember for how many years I have been trying to strike a balance between personal pursuits and the practicalities and limitations of life. Words can't really tell how frustrating it is to learn that most of your efforts throughout the years are meaningless, if futile at all.

I know I need to adjust my financial strategies sooner than later to catch up with the gap as much as possible. Before that, however, I think I should spend a bit more time overcoming the emotions. Again, it is a bitter pill that is really difficult to swallow.

8 comments:

  1. Don't be so hard on yourself. You will succeed. Good luck!

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  2. Thanks Ji. Welcome and feel free to drop me a note when you can.

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  3. Which area are you looking for? I remember talking with you about this matter before. Maybe find something a bit older at this moment? Something within 20-30 years range?

    BTW, I am leaving Hong Kong again soon. I am going to Macau!

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  4. As mentioned in our last conversation, I have been looking around somewhere between Tin Hau and Fortress Hill, but the prices there have soared so much that I can no longer afford, even for buildings that are 25-30 years or older.

    My budget has been trimmed down significantly due to other financial concerns and like I said, I can now only afford apartments in remote areas in the New Territories. Not even medium-sized apartments at Mei Foo Sun Chuen, which I visited last week.

    Are you re-locating to Macau or just for a short period of time? When are you leaving? It could be fun but things have changed so much there as well. Perhaps we should have a drink some time before you go? Let's talk on MSN.

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  5. If you are not too insistent on the 'huge balcony that faces the Harbour' bit, it's not that bad to live in a satellite town. I bought my apartment in one and I just use my communing time to read or draft blog entries on my smartphone or watch movies on my Mp3 player. I am 25 and I am not sure whether I will sell it for a new one in a few years. It's just better to make mortgage payments to my own apartment for now than to squander my money on rent.

    Unless, of course, you want to entertain in your home and your friends all live downtown. But you can always swap apartments if you move to a higher income bracket in the future. At least you can have your privacy for now.

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  6. How envious it is to know that someone so much younger than I am has already owned his/her own paradise. Of course I don't insist at all about a balcony, let alone one that faces the Harbour, but I'm more constrained by family commitments that I have.

    Indeed I'm somewhat pessimistic. At my age I don't think I will have a very good chance of getting into even higher income brackets, given the prospects of Hong Kong. And I'm very picky about what my apartment should look like.

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  7. It was my paradise until my parents from Canada decided to 'come for a stay' for an indefinite period of time. Now I just hope that the summer weather will drive them back to Canada. -___-

    There are a lot of brand new apartment buildings in the satellite towns that look great - with water fountain, BBQ site and swimming and gym and what-not. And the air quality is better too. But I am sure I am not saying anything you do not already know.

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  8. Anonymous2:06 pm

    See? You've made it now! Congrats! (I know this response has come a bit late, but better late than never!)

    So proud of you, I really wish I would spend less and save some money for a change. :P - g

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