FINDING AN APARTMENT IN SHANGHAI
writer：By Fernando Mata Lic
It sounds hard, getting to a new country or moving to the big Chinese city, you don’t speak the language, you probably don’t know anyone, but still, you need to get an apartment or a room where to live. What’s the best way to do it?
Well, as everything in life, it depends on what you want. Do you want your own place or a shared apartment? Do you want to live in a quiet area or in the middle of the action? Do you prefer traditional old houses or modern apartment buildings? Too many options, too many things to decide and your check out date is coming soon (if you are lucky enough to have a hotel reservation).
Getting an apartment in Shanghai is actually easier than what you think, but still, there are some things to consider when looking for your new amazing house. I will try to help you go through it and give you the best tips to find a place right for you.
Location, location, location
The first step is, where do you want to live? Shanghai is one of the most expensive cities in the world by square meter, renting anywhere close to downtown can get really high, sometimes the price depends more in location than size, quality or renovation of the place. If you are a foreigner coming to work to Shanghai chances are that your job would be around Puxi area or your work would be so far away that it practically makes no difference where you live. The most popular places for foreigners are Jing’an, Xuhui (including the Former French Concession), Huangpu, and Putuo. All of them located in Shanghai downtown, they are the most expensive ones. Prices can be crazy expensive for just a one bedroom apartment in an old lane house, but while people are willing to pay it, landlords would set those prices. Other districts include areas that are further from downtown but offer lower prices. Pudong, Changning, Hongkou, Minhang and Jinshan are some of them. Prices in these areas tend to be low but commutation times increase, also foreign restaurants and bars are less common here. The highest rents are paid in the Former French Concession which is around Changshu Rd Station. This area is also one of the nicest ones and very family friendly, so if you are willing to pay the price this is the place to have a nice and relaxing home in Shanghai. Jing’an and Xuhui are more popular amongst young foreigners. The former one because is located around popular universities and the first one because it has become a popular office area for Western companies. Prices are high here but not as much compared with FFC. The normal apartment in this area would be a three to five bedroom apartment sharing with other people, but you can also find one or two bedroom ones. Another thing to take in count is what line would take you to your office, while most of Shanghai is really well connected by its amazing and modern metro system, the truth is that living blocks away from a metro station can make your life easier. You can also buy a sctoor or a bike, the most common transportations in the city for newcomers, this would help you to be close to practically all you need in Shanghai. At the end, is up to you. While those districts I mentioned tend to be the most popular some people prefer to live far from the office in a quiet and cheap area. Other people would prefer to live in the middle of the action, regardless of the price you need to pay for it.
What kind of place do you want?
Do you want to share or rent the whole apartment? Do you want to live in a compound or in an old house? Do you want to live in a five or one bedroom apartment? There are so many options and only you know what’s best for you.The type of apartment also depends on the area. Former French Concession in Xuhui has mostly lane houses, which are old houses modified to have multiple apartments inside. While this kind of buildings tends to be cheaper in other areas, FFC has almost no tall buildings, so it’s the only kind of building you will find.Jing’an, Xujahui, Huangpu and the other districts offer tall buildings where you can find brand new apartments or old ones. Lane houses are also available, with lower prices but less light. Lane houses commonly have one or two bedrooms, some of them are studio like apartments while others offer a loft style house. Lanes houses are also one of the only options to have a private garden or top terrace for a cheap price, but usually would have problems with humidity, old pipelines and insects. Compounds, on the other hand, offer you around two to five bedrooms (some of them even six or seven). The compound buildings can be from five to six stories without elevator, to 30 floors with multiple elevators. Most of them would also offer some kind of private security, that might not be the best but at least gives you a more secure feeling. It would depend mainly on what you want in a place, once you start looking on websites and with agents, you'll start to know the style of apartment you want.
Where to look?
Once you know where and what kind of apartment you want, it is time to look for an apartment. While you can try to go and knock the door of real state agencies around you, the truth is most of them are more used to local standards of an apartment, which differ from foreigners standards greatly.If you have friends here, ask if they know any agents. Most of us dealt with five or six different agents contacted through SmartShanghai or friends that were able to understand what we needed. Asking foreigners to recommend you agents would assure you that you don’t waste your time looking at places you would never be interested in.You can also ask your friends to add you to WeChat groups, normally people would apartments available for rent and sharing in a daily basis in these groups, so it won't take that long to find a place you want.If you are looking for a shared apartment, it would be hard to meet all your future flatmates in advance, and probably you will be taking someone else’s lease. Be sure to ask all the renting terms in advance in order to don’t get any surprises in the future.
Common renting terms in Shanghai
Most of the landlords would ask for one of these two options; either you pay two months of deposit and pay rent monthly, or you pay one month of deposit and pay rent every two months. This is negotiable most of the time so don't be afraid to ask the landlord to change it if it doesn’t fit your needs. Prices are most of the time negotiable and always try to bargain the initial price since most of the time it would be the highest the landlord is thinking of getting from their apartment. Most of the time you would be able to lower the price around 5–6% or even 10%, so it’s worth the shot. Agencies will commonly charge a one time 35% commission based on the first month’s rent. Ask your agent for this commission in advance so you don’t get any surprises when you sign your contract. If you need a receipt (fapiao) remember to ask the landlord, sometimes they will increase the price if you ask for it, but if your company is covering your rent you will need it. Tell your agent as soon as possible that you need it so they can give you a more accurate price. The normal term is one year, though it’s also negotiable. Some landlords would take short-term people but you need to tell your agency in advance so they can talk this with them. If you know for sure that you are staying for more than a year maybe it’s better to extend your contract as long as you want if you are happy with whatever you found. Apartments are usually already furnished since most of us don’t bring anything from home. If there’s something you don’t need or want, you can ask the landlord to take it away, they will agree most of the time. If there’s something missing that you think you need you can also ask for it, sometimes the apartment would not have a TV, but if you ask for it the landlord can provide it. Just so you know most of the furnished apartments do not include microwave, DVD player (yeah, they still exist here) and water filter, and the landlords would refuse to provide them most of the time. Rents in Shanghai usually don’t include services or internet, you can pay services using Alipay or WeChat, and you can hire your internet service from either China Unicom or China Telecom, both of them have English service in almost any big branch.
Sign your contract
When you have chosen your new home both parties will have to sign a contract. Usually, you will meet with the landlord and the agent; they would ask for your passport and fill the contract in front of you. These contracts will be translated into English most of the time, if it isn’t translated, ask for it and don’t sign anything until you have both English and Chinese versions. The size of the apartment, payday, monthly rent and contract length should all be defined in the leasing contract. Most of the agencies or landlords would arrange a WeChat group so you can ask for fixes (which most of the time are paid by them) or any questions that you have. Rents are usually paid one or two days in advance in China, and you can either pay by cash in the bank or transfer the money through WeChat or Alipay. In shared apartments, there would be usually one person in charge of paying the full rent and the other people would transfer the money to them. Normally you would be added to a WeChat group where this and more would be discussed.
Maybe you’ve heard of it, but all foreigners must register to the nearest police station when they arrive in China. If you stayed in a hotel probably they did it for you, but once you move to your new place you will need to do it again.Be sure to ask for the nearest police station to register your new home and be sure to do it in the first 48 hours to save you any trouble and probably paying a fine. Don’t forget to register at the police station! The normal fine is something around 100 RMB per day missed, so save yourself from being fined and yelled in Chinese. Really, I can’t tell you how important this is for the Chinese government. When you renew your visa you will be asked for this registration form, so keep it safe. If you are taking a room in a shared apartment, be sure your name is included in the contract or ask one of your new flatmates to help you to register with the police.
Things to consider
When taking over the lease of someone else, be sure to ask about the previous terms with the landlord. Seriously, do not forget about the police registration, it’s something really serious here in China.
While it’s not an everyday thing, you must be aware of scams. It’s a common practice amongst local agents to post fake pictures of places to attract you and then when you visit they will show you another apartment that’s probably worth less than what they told you. If it looks to good to be true, probably it isn’t true. Another common scam is to ask for a deposit before signing any kind of contract. Be sure to personally look at the apartments before paying or signing anything, if you can’t do it ask someone to help you. Be sure to ask for all the terms of the contract before signing anything. You don’t want to see yourself involved in any legal trouble here. Most of the landlords would agree to give you your deposit back once the leasing is done, but there are cases where they will refuse to do it, you can ask the agency to help you, but they can’t do anything if the landlord really refuses. But don’t be scared, scams are not as common but it’s better to be always prepared for the unexpected. If you reached here, then congratulations, you have the basic understanding of finding a place to rent in Shanghai. While I know I’m not an expert, at least I can give you some of the advice that I had or learned while looking for different apartments and asking my friends.
Enjoy your new life in your new home!