While apartment hunting can be a pain in the ass no matter where you live, apartment hunting in a foreign country comes with an extra set of issues and hurdles for renters. In the 15 months I’ve been in Shanghai, I’ve lived in two apartments and I just moved into my third this week. Needless to say, I’ve been around the block a few times.
When I first moved to Shanghai last year, my coworker/roommate and I were looking for a three bedroom apartment. We made the huge mistake of signing a lease at the first apartment we looked at. Looking back, I have no idea why. I guess we really liked the area (it was right in the middle of French Concession near a ton of great bars), and we thought the place, though in need of a lot of work, had potential. Also, we didn’t really know what qualified a good apartment in the area, or what was reasonable. We should have seen the black cat who bolted past us out of the apartment for the bad omen that it was. After we looked around, the real estate agent told us that we needed to make a decision soon because there were several people interested in it (bullshit). We, not knowing any better, agreed to sign the contract and forked over 3 months rent and the one-month deposit.
From that point, it was one problem after another. From cockroach infestations, to leakage problems, to structural damage- the list went on. Every time there was an issue, we called the agency for help. As they were only a third party, there was only so much they could do without the owner’s approval. They would send someone to do some half-assed job (such as covering the rotted wood under the sink with tin foil) and say it was fixed. After two months, the company told us that the owner of the apartment wasn’t willing to put the money into the apartment to overhaul the damage, and there was nothing they could do. The company offered to allow us to move into one of their other properties and agreed to refund us half the deposit and the rent for the month we were moving out.
So, we signed a lease for a year at the second apartment and carried it out to the end of the contract. It was old, but quaint and comfortable; and we generally liked it. However, all of these issues with our apartment search could have been avoided had we exercised more patience and common sense.
This now leads me to my advice to make apartment renting for first time expats easier:
1: Join a housing group on WeChat. Many people post ads for sublets, roommates, and entire apartments. If you are a single person and don’t mind living with strangers, this could be a good way to go. Even if you don’t want to find housing through this medium, it is a good idea to watch the ads to get a feel for the average asking prices.
2: Figure out the area you want to live in. It’s best to stick to a place nearest the metro lines you frequent most, especially for work. This will make your daily commutes far easier.
3: Find a real estate agent… or two. Once you figure out the general area where you’d like to live, walk around and step into one of the many agencies you will find along the street. In many cases, they can show you places that day.
While you may be tempted to skip the agent and to try to look for a place on your own using a housing website, be aware that it’s much more difficult. For one, the websites with English listings are going to be higher priced, and the Chinese sites aren’t English friendly. Even if you do use a website, it is likely that the ad was posted by a real estate agent, anyway.
4: When you begin looking at apartments, quantity is key. On this last apartment search, my roommates and I looked at nearly 20 apartments in the course of a week. This may have been overkill, but we wanted to ensure that we were making an educated decision this time around. I would recommend looking at somewhere between 5-10 apartments. Often, the agents can show you about 3 in a day.
The agents are going to try to show you places above your specified budget. Be firm that your highest price is non-negotiable. If they continue to disregard your price range, it may be best to find a new agent.
6: It is essential to come into apartment hunting with an open mind. Realize that the apartment standards and features here are not going to be the same as you are used to. For example, a common area in the average Chinese apartment is not on par with most places you’d see in the States. Open floor plans just aren’t a thing here. However, that doesn’t mean you should give up on things that are important for you. If having a decent-sized, fully functional kitchen is a must, or if you need a living room large enough for entertaining, then stick to it. Find the balance between compromising and settling.
7: If you are moving into an older place, make sure you really scrutinize it. If you decide to move in, bring up anything that needs to be fixed to the agent and landlord. If there is any sign of excessive water damage or structural issues, don’t move in. It’s not worth it in the long run, and the landlord may not even care enough to fix it.
8: Don’t let the agent pressure you into signing a lease before you are ready, or before you have seen other options. The market moves fast, but not that fast.
9: When it comes time to sign the contract, try to ask to meet the landlord in person. It’s best to have a good rapport with them, as they are the person you will contact if any issues arise.
10: Make sure the contract is in both English and Chinese. When you go over the contract, ensure that both parties have clarified anything that is unclear in the contract and that everyone is on the same page before signing.
Here are some final things to note about apartment renting in Shanghai:
-Most landlords will try to get you to sign a 1-2 year lease
-The average security deposit is typically 2 months rent
-Real estate agents charge a fee of 35% of the monthly rental price for the renters to pay
-Many landlords will try to get you to pay 3 months rent at a time, however you can negotiate monthly rent payments
-If you require a receipt (fapio) for the monthly rent of your apartment for your job, landlords will typically charge 1,000¥ more
-If you don’t need one, you may be able to negotiate the price down by 1-1.5K.
-Most apartments in Shanghai come pre-furnished
-Each apartment is individually owned, so if there are issues with the apartment you go to your landlord or rental agency for help
-An average apartment price for a decent place can typically be between 3,000¥-4,000¥ per room. So, for a two bedroom, you can look to pay at least 6,000¥ and up.
-Once you move into your apartment, you must register at the police station. The real estate agent will assist you with this.