Finding a nice place to live in a city as big, foreign and fast-paced as Beijing can seem daunting to new Beijing expats and even to foreigners who have lived here for a while. My husband and I had the help of Chinese colleagues or friends to find an apartment in Beijing. But not everyone has those local connections right away.
Luckily, there are companies who specialize in helping expats with house hunting in Beijing. The founder of one of those companies, Corentin Jegou, together with his associate Jenny Kirk, provided the following guest post about finding a house or apartment in Beijing. Corentin is a real estate expert, who has lived in Beijing for over 5 years and helps expats with real estate and relocation services.
Here is what Corentin and Jenny have to say about finding a place to live in Beijing:
Apartment searching is never an easy task at the best of times, especially in a fast-paced city like Beijing. However, it is possible to navigate Beijing’s rental market even in a race against time.
Most people often assume the Internet is the first point of research. However, this should be used with caution when searching for a home in Beijing.
Only a small minority of apartments available to rent in Beijing are posted online. And further, the ones that can be found online are frequently outdated, contain misinformation or misleading photographs. In addition, the rent may be seemingly affordable but often exclude fees, so watch out for the small print.
Although it is useful to compare prices and areas, this method alone can be inefficient and unreliable. Instead, it is a good idea to hit the streets: check out the compounds and their surroundings, amenities and transportation links. However, when time is not on your side this may not be viable.
Know what you want
The budget should be clear and decided upon before the search gets underway. This often dictates what location and amenities are realistic and requirements should be prioritized. It may be worthwhile living close to a subway station or your place of work, and also consider the transport and western facilities nearby.
Eastern and northeastern areas, namely Chaoyang District and Dongcheng District are popular with expats. This is where the foreign embassies, high end shopping and restaurants and luxury apartments and offices are found. The Shunyi District is also popular with expat families in particular, away from the hustle and bustle of the city center and a common location for many international schools.
Expat housing compounds, which can be categorized as serviced apartments, high-end apartments and high-end villas, are generally of higher quality, design and security than local housing.
Next, decide on a list of prioritized requirements, for example the size (usually in sqm) and the number of bedrooms. This will also be determined partly by your budget. Newer builds are recommended as they require less upkeep and maintenance.
Generally, sourcing and transporting furniture is unrealistic and for this reason, most apartments are furnished. Serviced apartments deserve some consideration too: they are up and coming with the advantage of more personal space and privacy but with the help of cleaning and other housekeeping services. Let the agent know the requirements as early and specifically as possible so time is not wasted.
Seek professional advice
The problem is not a shortage of apartments in Beijing but rather finding the right apartment. Searching for a new home is not always a simple and straightforward process; so in a city of over 20 million and 16 districts, the help of estate agents is invaluable.
Choosing a reputable real estate company you can trust is essential and their expertise will pay off. They have access to a wide and extensive database of apartments and prices are generally consistent with the going market rates. They are also able to deal with rent negotiation and legal difficulties.
CityWise, the recent winner of the 2014 Expat Life Awards, is a highly reputable and dependable agency who caters specifically to expats. They speak a range of languages fluently including English, Chinese, French and Russian.
Expats generally have different requirements and higher expectations compared to locals. CityWise and other agencies that deal with foreigners are therefore more reliable: their vast knowledge of and experience with expat housing will be beneficial to avoid being misled, wasting time and money.
Ensuring requirements are not lost in translation is another important reason for using an agent who speaks fluent English. Importantly, documents such as the contract, can be produced in English to make sure there are no misunderstandings. Note that if there is a dispute, the Chinese version will prevail.
Beyond the dotted line
As with negotiating any contract, deals can fall through at the last minute. Unfortunately, even after this point unforeseen difficulties and issues cannot always be avoided either. Therefore, it is a good idea to use a relocation agency with a service orientated approach. CityWise offers ongoing services such as tenancy management, whereas a local agency will be less likely to be there to assist.
Good luck and happy hunting!