Finding a New Apartment
Finding what you want.
When you arrive in Shanghai we will either provide you with a temporary hotel to stay in or reimburse you for one you choose yourself. Eventually though, you will have to go out and find a place to live. As with many things in life, the way they are done varies depending on where you find yourself and finding an apartment in Shanghai is no different.
The first thing you have decide is what kind of living arrangement you want, shared or having your own place. Both have advantages and drawbacks.
Option 1: Shared Accommodation
To locate shared accommodation, browse websites focused on expats, ask foreign colleagues for tips, and basically keep your eyes open for expats advertising rooms for rent in places that foreigners visit like hostels, cafe’s and pubs.
You’ll never be lonely…
Shared accommodation is nice because if you find a great set of flat mates you’ll never be lonely or left wondering what there is to do in your free-time. Likely your flat mates have been in Shanghai longer than you have and know where to go and what to do after work and you’ll very quickly become familiar with the city’s wide array of venues and services for just about any hobby or interest. You can also quickly become familiar with Shanghai’s lively nightlife scene that primarily caters to expats. Other than these great advantages, you’ll pay less for your accommodation and will probably be able to get settled in without a great outlaying of cash. Many people with rooms for rent will allow you to move in with just 1 month rent deposit in addition to the current month’s rent. It is the cheapest option to get settled into Shanghai life.
The downside, however, is that you may find your roommates unbearable (it happens to the best of us) and the geographical location you have to chose from when seeking a room will be much smaller than if you went out and found your own flat so you might end up having to travel farther to get to and from work. However, these drawbacks may be worth it considering you’ll avoid having to negotiate lease terms with a Chinese landlord and can move in more quickly.
Still overseas? Good sites for finding “Roommate Wanted” ads are:
Option 2: Renting your own apartment.
If you are interested in renting your own flat, the first thing you should do is find a nice area you want to live in. Just walking around neighborhoods to get a feel for the environment is a good start. Once you find an area of the city you like, simply look for real estate agencies and go in, tell them what you are interested in (how many bedrooms, age of building, floor, etc.) and the price you are willing to pay and they will take care of the rest. The hard part in doing this successfully will be your Chinese ability. If your Chinese language isn’t up to the job, take a Chinese friend or colleague with you to make this process a lot more relaxing and efficient.
Once they have found a few places in their database, the agent will take you to look at the flats. Sometimes a landlord will also come to the viewing. Be warned, agents and landlords tend to gang up on people viewing flats and exhibit quite high pressure sales tactics expecting you to make a decision on the spot perhaps only seconds after entering the room. Ignore them. Never make a decision under pressure. See as many flats as you can with your agent. Often agents start by showing you the flats that have gone without tenants the longest. Stick to your price, size, and quality preferences and you will likely start seeing much better flats that suite your needs after the worst has passed. If the agent has none that are suitable, walk a bit further down the street and enter the next agency you see and ask what they have in the area. Repeat as necessary, eventually you’ll come upon one that fits your needs, usually on your first or second day of hunting.
When you do find a suitable flat in your price range, you will have to negotiate the price. This is standard. Even if the asking price seems reasonable to you, say you want a better price. Offer 20-25% less than it was advertised for. Asking prices are always inflated as the Chinese expect people to bargain at this stage. This is also the point where you should have anything changed, fixed, or added to the apartment before you agree to rent it. For example, if you see a dodgy 10 year old AC unit in the corner, you should probably demand they buy a new one before you sign. Same thing goes for all appliances. If something looks like it is going to break or doesn’t work, have it replaced or repaired before you move in because after the contract is signed and you have moved in, you will have a much harder time getting anything done.
Be prepared to shell out a wad of cash…
When it comes time to sign on the dotted line be prepared to shell out a wad of cash. This is the downside of renting your own flat, the upfront expense may be more than you planned to pay. Typically Chinese landlords require rent to be paid in 3 month installments. Also, the first one has an extra month as a damage/security deposit. After the landlord’s pockets have been filled, you will have to pay the agent 35% of one month’s rent as an agency fee. So, depending on the monthly rental cost, this can be quite a large sum of money to shell out having just arrived in Shanghai and not having received a paycheque yet. If you find an apartment for 4000rmb a month, your first payment will be 16,000rmb to the landlord and 1,400rmb to the agent. Sometimes you can avoid the agent fee by dealing directly with the landlord, but if you have a good agent, it may be worth the 35% as they will make sure the landlord fixes anything needing repairs, removes unwanted furniture, or installs that new appliance they agreed to.
When you do finally sign the contract and pay your agency fee, you are now on your own with the landlord and this can be either a pleasant experience or a nightmare. During the negotiation on the price and additional items you want, you should get a feel for your landlord. If you get a bad feeling, back-out and try again, but even if you have a good one, dealing with Chinese landlords can be a nightmare. If anything goes wrong, you may end up having to negotiate every little thing every time. For example, your air conditioner breaks and the landlord starts negotiating by saying you don’t really need one that works… You get the picture.
The upside, of course, is that you’ll have a flat all to yourself with no roommates doing the things roommates end to do, or not doing the things roommates should do, like washing dishes or taking out the trash. You will also get more for your money typically. While a room in a shared flat usually cost around 3000rmb downtown, entire flats van be found for that price if you look in the right places and bargain hard enough.
So, how much do flats rent for? A 1-2 bedroom flat are usually around the same price. This is because there are far more 2 bedroom flats than one bedroom ones. So the market has a higher saturation of the two bedroom variety. In the downtown area in locations that foreigners like to live, rents tend to be the highest. A 40-50 square meter flat can cost you 6000-7000rmb easily in these spots. Outside of these areas in Chinese dominated neighborhoods, the same kind of flats will drop in price by a thousand or two. In addition to size, the age of the building, its higher, and the floor you live on will also affect price. If a building has 5 floors or less and no elevator, it is likely 10-30 years old and the flats inside will be much cheaper than in new high-rise developments even if the quality of the apartment , its size, and the floor it is on are basically the same. The difference is the neighbors and if you live in an older compound, you will be surrounded by older neighbors who may or may not be the most civilized, quietest, or friendly people to be around, but mostly they will be nosey. Newer developments come with a greater degree of anonymity and generally a higher class of tenant and some people feel it’s worth the extra cash. Also the area surrounding the building will be a lot nicer with green space and park like settings and designed with cars in mind as well. Older buildings tend to be close together with far too much concrete covering the earth and cars crammed into every imaginable place.
Living higher-up, also costs more. Chinese believe the lower floors of a building are for poor people so prices tend to be lower. Views are usually of walls, and windows are covered in steel bars. If you are not bothered by this, then it is no big deal. Personally, I prefer lower floors so I can use the stairs instead of trusting Chinese elevators. However, some buildings have amazing views of Shanghai and it is nice to look out your window and actually see the city you live in rather than a brick wall or grandma Chen’s underwear dangling from the balcony above.
Living near your campus to avoid the metro might be in your best interests.
If your campus is further way from the downtown area, living near your campus to avoid the metro might be in your best interests. You’ll also save a ton of money in rent, as the further out you live from the centre, the lower the cost of rent and often, the newer the buildings with flats being rented out. However, finding shared accommodation will be harder, and there will be far fewer foreigners for you to interact with outside of work. Still, you can always take the metro and head downtown whenever you want.