Finding a good home in China, no matter which city you’re based in, is not always an easy task. There are many obstacles to face when moving to China, and it’s best to go at them prepared for anything. To help you get there, here’s some hard-won advice about apartment hunting in the Middle Kingdom.
First, you need to decide how you’re going to find your new palace. Conventional expat logic says you go to a real estate agent — preferably one who speaks English and has been recommended by friends/acquaintances — who will show you around multiple places until one strikes your fancy. This is a tried and tested method that generally yields good results; my current apartment is a real-estate agent special, after all.If you’re not in a hurry, give the agent a list of requirements and have him/her do the legwork. One year in Kunming some friends and I decided we wanted to rent an apartment with a roof garden. I simply called the agent and told her not to contact me unless an apartment with a roof garden became available. It took more than a month, but eventually she found us a beautiful pad with not one, but two roof gardens! However, in many Chinese cities, Kunming for one, real estate agents expect the renter to pay a fee, which usually amounts to one month’s rent. In Beijing, however, particularly with more expensive apartments, this fee is paid by the owner. Regardless of the city, if you’re renting a more expensive place you can often negotiate with the agent to pass the fee onto the owner, or at least lower it considerably.
If you’re feeling adventurous and you don’t particularly fancy forking out a hefty wad of Maos to a real estate agent, there are other options. You can scour online or real-life notice boards for ads, ask around on WeChat and go into the offices of complexes you like. If your Chinese is good or you have a Chinese friend with a lot of time on their hands you can expand your search to Chinese search engines.Looking for direct owner rental apartments online can be a hassle, however, as many real estate agents pose as apartment owners in the hope of tricking unsuspecting potential renters into responding to their ads. If you notice multiple ads with the same format or the same contact number, you can be pretty sure it’s a real estate agent in disguise. Individual ads tend to be more personalised and will likely contain less obvious marketing.When my husband and I were looking for an apartment in Yunnan we simply answered an ad on a local wesbite that caught our eye and arranged to meet the landlord. Over the years, having a direct connection with the landlord helped us out at lot. If we were late on our rent or needed repairs, we knew he would be understanding.
Set a budget
Once you decide on your hunting method and have a plan of attack, it’s time to set a budget. An agent might try to push your budget up a bit — or deliberately show you shabby apartments in a bid to convince you that shabby is the best you’re going to do if you’re set on remaining a cheapskate — but give him/her your absolute top price and be clear you cannot pay more.Don’t be scared of viewing apartments a little over your budget, however, as you can expect to haggle for an average of 1,000 RMB a month off any asking price.
The Chinese-foreigner divide
Chinese people and foreigners typically have differing standards on what they consider to be acceptable living arrangements. Chinese people are often happy with a squat toilet and a couple of buckets instead of a shower, while Westerners will want a sit-down commode and a bathtub, or at least an electric shower.Be clear with any agent/landlord what you are and are not okay with. That said, most Chinese people, and especially agents used to dealing with foreigners, have a good idea of what’s acceptable to Westerners and will instinctively steer away from “Chinese style” apartments.If you’re looking for a true bargain, however, you might want to consider being less picky. Some apartments are classed and “Chinese style” simply because they are walk-ups, even though they have sit-down toilets and perfectly reasonable showers.
Wants and needs
However, if you have any absolute “must haves” or “must not haves”, it’s important to identify them up front, with an agent or landlord and whoever you’re moving in with. If you’re not cool with a squat toilet, tell the agent, or, if you’re going solo, ask the landlord on your very first communication.Find out what furniture and appliances are included – is there a fridge? A washing machine? A TV? The more you ask up front, the fewer wild goose chases you’ll end up going on.
To furnish or not to furnish
Do you rent a place furnished, and run the risk of possibly owing more than the entire contents of your apartment is worth for damages, either real or imagined, when it comes time to get your deposit back? Or do you rent an unfurnished apartment and go about procuring furnishings and appliances and arranging delivery, only to have to figure out what to do with your newly acquired junk when you finally move on? Unfurnished apartments are, of course, cheaper, but is it really worth the time, money and hassle sorting out everything you’ll need for a decent standard of living? If you’re only in China for a short while, I suspect the answer will be no.Apartment hunting anywhere is stressful, andmoving to Chinais no different. Preparing yourself ahead of time, however, can make the situation bearable, if not an outright adventure!