For some reason my title reminded me of Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London. No idea why. Maybe because I’m hunting for apartments? Maybe because I’m Armenian and Jewish and have hairy arms and legs? That was probably way more information than you wanted to know. Forget it, back to the apartment hunting.
Apartment hunting. Like nothing we have in America. I guess that goes without saying since i’m in a country halfway around the world but it bears repeating and here’s why.
It is basically impossible to find an apartment by yourself in Beijing. Being that I don’t speak Mandarin, the dominant language in Beijing, that might be a silly point to make to everyone. However, the language has nothing to do with it.
Landlords deal directly with rental agents here. You all an agency, they come pick you up in a private car, and then they call different landlords at each apartment complex and set up appointments for you. If the landlord is busy, you don’t see an apartment. If they are free, they may or may not be there when you see the apartment, it is very different from America.
I met Cathy and Christina, which are definitely not their Chinese names, and they were both 24 years old, college graduates and spoke fantastic English. They were also both very friendly, happy and considerate. They also smiled a lot and were very professional about everything they did and tried their best to find out exactly where I wanted to live.
They showed me a few different apartments that ranged from 600 square feet studios to 1000 square feet one bedrooms. Prices ranged from $1000 to $1800 American and, if these apartments were in San Francisco, they would cost about twice to three times the price. They were all in the Western District, called Sanlitun, and this is similar to the best districts in San Francisco. The rooms were recently renovated and are beautiful inside. Some of the apartments have gyms inside them and others are located on top of malls that have restaurants that will actually deliver to your door if you call them for a meal. Winning!
Something I really love about Beijing are the names of the apartment complexes. So far I’ve visited East Avenue Apartments, Chateau Edinburgh, Forte International, International Wonderland and will see Private Castle tomorrow.
At the end of my apartment hunting, I mentioned to Cathy and Christina about how apartment hunting is done in America and the differences between the two. We also talked about how you can bargain for a lower rent with the landlord and this is almost expected in apartment hunting, as it is with many things in China. This is part of their job as your real estate agent.
However, this is where it gets tricky: Real estate agents, like Cathy and Christina, get paid to find you an apartment. the hunter, in this case me, won’t pay them directly but they will get one month’s rent from the landlord. Therefore, there is a serious conflict of interest in regards to them bargaining for lower rent for you because they are immediately giving themselves a cut in commission. That being said, both Cathy and Christina were recommended by my agency and seem to be very honest and upfront about the money issue and did not try to hide it. I appreciate the honesty as many foreigners don’t know about this business issue and they could have not mentioned it at all.
As to how apartments are rented in America, they seemed very surprised and thought it would be difficult to find a home in a city you don’t know well and I agreed. I could not imagine trying to find an apartment by myself in this city. It would be more than one blog entry, that is for sure!