Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Dare Koslow of Soho Printing Press
“Starting this journey for me has always been about my passion and admiration for the beautiful, historical architecture of a building that has a story and meaning. To me, it is like collecting art and finding that diamond in the rough.”
Founder of Soho Printing Press
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests? Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Hi! My name is Dare Koslow and I am the Founder of Soho Printing Press, a boutique property management company specialising in leasing unique classic properties in Central and Sheung Wan.
What inspired you to move to Asia/Hong Kong?
I moved to Hong Kong in 1995, two years prior to the Hong Kong handover to China. Prior to that, I was living in New York and working in the realm of advertising. During this time, many Hong Kong residents were moving out of the city which posed an opportunity for me to find a job here. I have been here ever since!
What inspired you to go into real estate?
Prior to my foray into real estate, I met a friend who purchased old properties in Hong Kong and she would then refurbish them and rent them out. I would refer to her as a guru in this industry, and she really inspired me to purchase my first property in 2005 after SARS. I knew it was my calling and from then on, my love for collecting tong laus began.
How does a day in the life of Dare Koslow look like on a typical work day?
Generally, I like to start my mornings off by going over all my emails to ensure that the renters’ needs are well taken care of, which guides my day accordingly. For the day-to-day management of these properties, I work closely with my property manager who looks after the different units under the portfolio. This helps me free up some time to go on apartment viewings in the city, which is where I spend the remainder of my time.
What does “Urban Explorer” mean to you?
To me, an urban explorer is someone that takes in every aspect of the city and truly listens to what it communicates with you – through your daily interactions with its people, history, and culture.
Designing The Life You Want
Where does the interior design inspiration for each property come from?
Whenever I view a property, I always look for something unique and authentic that is unlike any other in my portfolio. Once I find the right unit, I work together with my contractors – whom I work very closely with – to see what features can be preserved and restored. Having been in this industry for over 20 years, I have accumulated knowledge of how to renovate these properties by simply looking at their design, hardware, and the flow of the space.
You have such a passion for the preservation of these tong laus (tenement buildings built in the late 19th century to the 1960s). Was this your intention from the beginning of your real estate journey?
Starting this journey for me has always been about my passion and admiration for the beautiful, historical architecture of a building that has a story and meaning. To me, it is like collecting art and finding that diamond in the rough. When you look on the surface, it may appear to be old and worn down but with a bit of imagination, it can go a long way. These newly refurbished homes are a preservation of the city’s history and culture that can be passed down from one generation to the next. That way, future generations can have a better understanding of their roots and where they came from.
Which area(s) of Tong Lau will you focus on preserving, apart from Sheung Wan – have you thought about Sham Shui Po or the Kowloon area?
Yes, certainly! I have explored Sham Shui Po and Kowloon and these are very beautiful places. However, for management purposes, I like to invest in properties within walking distance where I can tend to my renters if needed. Hence, I generally like to focus on Sheung Wan. However, it would be nice to see someone like me who can do the same thing for these districts as well.
How do you feel about Kowloon City and its redevelopment plans?
As promising as its plans may sound, I am not so optimistic about Kowloon City’s redevelopment. Based on numerous encounters with the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), my experience has not been so pleasant as I believe their intention does not fully match up with their actions. I have come across many projects handled by the URA and I just feel that the buildings could have been preserved better.
Based on your experience, what makes for a good and purchasable property in Hong Kong for first-time home buyers?
First and foremost, you have to find a property that you genuinely love and have an interest in – just like collecting a piece of art. My second consideration is the quality of the building itself and how well it is being taken care of by its management. Finally, it is the neighbourhood itself – whether it is safe and has a strong sense of community that renters would enjoy calling it home.
Do you have any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?
If I could offer one piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs or investors, I would tell them to keep their eye out for the property that they genuinely love and have an interest in, not solely for investing. Property can be extremely expensive in Hong Kong and the market may fluctuate a lot but it is important to hold it for a long period of time rather than selling it quickly for a small profit.
Which places would you visit to see the “old Hong Kong”?
There are many fascinating places in Hong Kong that have well-preserved their history and culture, but particularly I enjoy exploring the Sham Shui Po district, as well as Yau Ma Tei, Jordan, and Kowloon City. In these neighbourhoods, you can find its local residents just going about their day living their everyday life.
What destinations are on your bucket list?
At the moment, I have the desire to visit farmland areas like Montana and Ireland. I am not sure why but I always envision myself retiring in Nova Scotia, Canada! It looks so calm and laid-back.
Given the existing circumstances, what do you do to explore now that traveling is not permitted?
I thoroughly enjoy walking in the city so I can feel its vibrant energy. By walking, you will notice the city’s subtle changes when you explore it on your feet. I also like to drive as it allows me to discover parts of Hong Kong that are further out in the city.
If you could live anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
If I could live anywhere in the world right now, I would say New York because I still have family there so I have a strong connection with the city. It is where I grew up so it will be interesting to see how the city has changed over time.
In 3 words, how would you describe Hong Kong?
Proud, Purposeful, Driven