You find yourself moving half-way around the world to Beijing without knowing what your next home looks like. Scary thought, huh? Freaking out at the idea of searching frantically for an apartment while staying in a hotel? Understandable. But don’t worry. Finding and leasing a flat in Beijing can be pretty fast.
Because I often get questions about the logistics of renting an apartment in Beijing… how to go about it, can you do it in advance from abroad, what cost are involved, etc … I wrote up this post. Please let me know of any questions in the comments or share your own experience there.
When should you start looking for an apartment in Beijing?
Many people want to have a nice place to live lined up when they move to a new location. You could try to do that and find a home in Beijing online and with the help of real estate agents. But this is not really necessary.
I would say it is not even advisable. You could be in for a huge surprise when renting something unseen, without visiting the neighborhood and actually seeing the apartment and the building.
Beijing rentals are usually available for immediate move-in, so it doesn’t make much sense to look long in advance.
How much does rent cost in Beijing?
Apartments in Beijing are expensive, compared to other cost of living here. 2-3 bedroom flats in an expat-friendly residential compound with some Western amenities can easily cost 20,000 RMB and more a month (as of mid 2015).
At the lower end, expect to pay 7,000 RMB and up for a small 2 bedroom place in an older Chinese compound. Less if you are willing to live further outside the city. You won’t find many Western amenities in this price range. (Read here what you can expect instead in a Chinese style apartment.)
If that is still too much, a room in a shared flat starts at around 3000 RMB.
More about lease terms and fees
Apartments in Beijing are usually offered with 6 or 12 month lease terms, sometimes even longer. Rent is paid in advance in 3 or 6 month increments.
In addition to rent, the landlord usually requires a refundable deposit of 1 month rent. I heard stories that some people had difficulties getting their deposit returned when they moved out but I never had any issues.
Usually apartments are rented through the help of a real estate agent. The agent is paid a fee equivalent to 1 month rent. The amount can be negotiable though.
How to find an apartment in Beijing?
You can enlist multiple agents to help you find the right apartment for you. Once you narrowed down the area or even the compound where you want to live (for things to consider, check out this post), you can look for agents there. They are easy to spot, often outside with signs in front of a real estate office.
One challenge though is that most agents don’t speak much English. So you will need the help of a Chinese-speaking friend or colleague. You can also ask around for recommendations for English-speaking agents.
Be prepared that agents show you a lot of apartments, including crappy ones and ones above your price range. Be firm with what you are looking for.
If you are only looking for a room in a shared flat, you can sometimes avoid agents. Look at the classifieds section of The Beijinger website. The ads posted by agents are easy to spot. Private posts clearly say “No agent fee”
In general, if you look at apartment ads from agents online, be aware that photos are often not real and show a different place than the one advertised. Often the bathroom or kitchen are not shown at all. When you contact the agent, he or she may not know which property you are referring to and may try to show you other apartments instead.
The easiest way to communicate with agents and everyone else here is via WeChat, a Chinese messaging app similar to WhatsApp but better. It is available in English (read more about apps you need to have). You can easily delete or block contacts that you don’t want anymore. It is also a great tool for requesting more photos before you invest the time to go and see a place.
Happy house hunting!