The next installment of our “getting settled” series is how to find a house (apartment) to rent. One would think that with the amount of housing complexes being built, finding a house to rent would be easy. However, in my experience that is not the case. Empty
apartment does not mean available for rent
apartment. (The reasons why there are so many empty apartments deserves its on post). I have lived in China in three different stints, and I’ve found my own place each time. I’ve also assisted a handful of others as they were arriving. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ll share here what I know. If you have other opinions or suggestions, leave them in the comments to help others.
There are four ways I know of to find a place to rent. In my experience all four must be used to find what you’re looking for.
Word of Mouth: You can let friends know you’re looking and see who they know that has a place for rent.
Flyers: Small flyers or notices are often posted on poles or walls near the area where the house for rent is. You can find an area of town you like and look for flyers. With this I will also add that you can ask at a complex’s wu ye zhong xin 物业中心 (management office) but this hasn’t given me good results. They often either don’t know of places to rent or only want to try to sell you vacant properties.
Internet: I have linked to a few of the search engines below where you can search for houses for rent. Some listings are put up by the owner and others by agents. A word of caution: Listings are not always accurate. By this I mean they are often already rented or the details about the property itself may be inaccurate. If a photo is included with the listing it may or may not be a photo of the property listed.
Real Estate Agents: These offices are everywhere. They are called either fang di chan 房地产 or fang wu zhong jie 房屋中介 or some variation of those. They are most often small offices and there seems to be one on nearly every street. I suggest you find one in the area of town you’d like to live in. Even the agents do not have access to all available properties but they are more likely to have listings near their office. They will know the properties their office has listed or they can search on the internet or make calls on your behalf. The standard fee for using an agent seems to be half of one month’s rent and some agencies charge a fee of 30-50 RMB to see a property.
Once you think you’ve found a prospective place, you’ll need to arrange with the owner or agent to see it. I’ve found that it’s much easier to operate on a “Can I see it now?” as opposed to “Can I see it on Tuesday at 3:00?” system. For those of us from more time-oriented cultures, this process will be frustrating. Landlords (or whoever it is that has the key) will be inevitably be late or not available or something, and it’s easier to know that immediately than to clear your schedule for two days from now and have it fall through.
Some houses will still be occupied by tenants and it doesn’t seem like a big deal to just walk through while they’re there.
Another interesting/strange thing to me as an American is that a few places I have seen or taken others to see is that you wouldn’t have access to the whole property. For example, the listing may be for a three bedroom, but when you get there one bedroom is locked and will remain locked even if you rent it. So, what you’re getting is a two bedroom place. Sometimes it’s a balcony, sometimes a bedroom, or a bathroom, but it seems not uncommon for the landlord to retain a room for his/her own storage.
Don’t expect the houses you see to be clean or “show ready.”
Furnished versus unfurnished: You can find fully furnished, partially furnished, or empty apartments. Some also come with all necessary appliances and others don’t. You’ll need to spell out clearly what you want/expect before you agree on a price and sign a contract. This area is something you can negotiate with the landlord….pay more and have them buy appliances and furniture or pay less and get those things yourself. You’ll want to ask about the hot water situation. If there’s not an installed hot water heater, you probably won’t have hot water. These days most places have an installed hot water heater in the bathroom, but it’s still not common for the kitchen to have hot running water, so if that’s important to you, you’ll need to negotiate for another water heater to be added.
Heating and utilities: Some landlords will include the heat and wu ye (management) fee in the rent and others will not. This is important in considering the price because depending on the size of the apartment, the presence of an elevator, the size of the grounds, and other factors the total can be 7000-8000 RMB/year. All other utilities are generally the renter’s expense. This area is also something you can negotiate with the landlord.
Prices: Based on my most recent experience helping some friends find a place, I would say that a furnished two bedroom apartment with appliances will be somewhere between 1500-2500 RMB/month and a three bedroom (which is much harder to find) will be about 2500-3200 RMB/month. Prices may be cheaper the farther out of the city center you are.
Signing the contract: If you can’t read Chinese, absolutely take a local friend with you. Make sure you understand the terms, especially for what happens if either party breaks the contract. You’ll also want to save and make copies of the contract. If you have (or want to have) a residence permit, you’ll need a copy of it.
Rent and realtor fees will be due at the time you sign the contract. Most landlords require the rent to be paid for one year. Prices are listed by the month, but payment is expected for a year. Occasionally you may find a landlord who will accept rent in six month increments, but these seem to be more rare recently. You will need to be prepared with the money, which may mean multiple trips to the bank if you have a daily limit on the amount you can withdraw.