Chinese Language Blog

Apartment Hunting (找公寓) Posted by on Dec 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

No matter where you are, whether you are in your hometown (家乡 jiā xiāng) or halfway around the globe, house hunting or 找住房 (zhǎozhùfáng) is a stressful endeavor. In China, the difficulty of finding a place to live as a 老外 is amplified by language  barriers, Chinese laws, shady dealings and lack of information.

Even if fluent in Mandarin, finding an apartment or 公寓 (gōng yù) is a lesson in patience, frustration and persistence. There are a lot of apartments available throughout China thanks in large part to speculation caused by the housing  bubble. The right place for you is out there, it just may take viewing 20-30 apartments before you find it.

The internet can be a good place to start, but always be wary of scams. In large cities like Beijing, local classified sites like can be useful in pricing out an area, and comparing the different amenities of an apartment. However, after you contact an agent (代理人 dàilǐrén) or landlord  (房东 fángdōng), be prepared for a surprise once you meet in person.

Hitting the Pavement

Often times the photos of the apartment are not the same as the places you’ll see. Wanted a one bedroom? Well your agent will most likely show you about five, two bedrooms first. Wanted a “western style bathroom” or 西方卫生间? Not before you see ten apartments with a shared space for showering and using the toilet. I once visited 12 different apartments in two hours, all of which lacked a washing machine or 洗衣机 (xǐyījī). Even if there is no language barrier, an agent will try to sell you an apartment that most people wouldn’t want before you get to the good stuff. Have patience, 有耐心,and if this agent doesn’t have what you’re looking for, find another one.

Sometimes house hunting gets a little shady as my friend and I had to rock paper scissors for who rode on the back of the small “tour” bike. This is us en-route to apartment 10 of 12 in two hours.

Making a Deal

Once you find a nice place, get yourself into bargaining mode. Remember, prices are never fixed in China, and everything is a negotiation. Often times the agent will start at a higher price than listed online or on the phone. This is a test. The agent wants to find out how much you are willing to pay. Lowball them, and point to problems with the apartment. Seeing an opportunity slip away, they’ll lower their price-unless they can’t actually rent it for less. This is because an agent will usually demand one month’s rent as a finder’s fee from both you and the landlord (if there is one), plus a deposit so they’re making out just fine.

Then there is the issue of amenities, including electricity, water, heating, internet and furniture. Most apartments come furnished with a TV, refrigerator, bed, couch, dining room table, air conditioning units and chairs. Some you have to purchase electricity, water and gas through a local bank, other’s you just pay your landlord directly. Depending on the seasons, electricity, water and heat usually cost around 300-500 块 a month. Internet usually is the most difficult to find, but there are local providers in most building complexes. A month of wifi is around 180 块.

When you’ve agreed upon a fair price, you’ll be asked to sign papers, but make sure you get copies of them both in English and Chinese. Most landlords require a month’s security, plus three months’ advance rent. You’ll also have to register at the local police station if you are a foreigner, otherwise local police will occasionally do walkthroughs and come pounding on your door looking for certification.

Moving in

Most foreigners don’t have access to cars, so moving in is usually done by cab. Make sure you have already purchased electricity, water and heating before you start the move and be sure that there are no lingering problems with the apartment. Countless horror stories have been told about toxic mold, burst pipes, broken breakers, noisy elevators and construction that didn’t exist upon house hunting, but forced an early exit days after moving in. If you’re living with roommates, its a good time to further furnish the place and have a house warming party.

Welcome to your new humble abode!

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About the Author: Stephen

Writer and blogger for all things China related. Follow me on twitter: @seeitbelieveit -- My Background: Fluent Mandarin speaker with 3+ years working, living, studying and teaching throughout the mainland. Student of Kung Fu and avid photographer and documentarian.

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