For expats, the most important and challenging thing is to find a nice new home to settle down quickly and smoothly. Come and see JRE's tips on Home Search Program to make your new life in Beijing easier and more enjoyable.
Property Ownership & Different Types of Landlords
Like all other major metropolitan cities around the world, properties available in China include the basic condominium apartments, townhouses, semi-detached houses and fully detached houses which are often generally referred to as “ villas”. There is one particular type of property that differentiates Beijing from other cities which is called “Si He Yuan” in Chinese or Courtyard House in English. They represent the traditional residences of China’s Han nationality and are typically located in the north of the compound, facing south, mostly consisting of inner and outer yards. The courtyard is usually landscaped with many flowers and decorative rocks. Sitting out in the courtyard one feels relaxed and comfortable as if they were in a giant outdoor living room. Most of the courtyard houses have been newly renovated and are quite attractive inside. However , the old water drainage system and electrical wires which are hidden inside the walls of the house may cause problems from time to time. Furthermore, the local environment could also present itself as an adventure, in terms of communication, safety, privacy and bugs, that may make life not as comfortable as one would like. If you are a new comer to China and not sure if you are really ready for this “Real Chinese Lifestyle” adventure, you may think twice before moving into a Si He Yuan.
Ownership of Property
All properties available for rent to the expat in China are owned by either individual landlords or developers. It is common that the prices for similar units in the same compound may vary quite a bit as landlords may use a totally different grade of material for renovation and furnishing. Properties owned by individual landlords generally tend to cost approximately 10-20% less than those owned by developers. One reason for this may be that the quality of the decoration and furniture in the property owned by the individual landlord is often not as high as that of the one purchased by a good developer. This is not always the case but rather the usual condition. Those units which developers have invested in will be designed and decorated by professionals. Another reason is that individual landlords usually provide less services to the residents as compared to developers who have a whole team providing 24 hour service.
Things to Be Aware of During Property Visiting
Washer and Dryer
In China, it is quite common that the washing machine doesn’t connect to the hot water pipe and will only wash the clothes with cold water. More expensive machines will use electricity to heat the water within the machine during the cycle. Clothes dryers are also not popular as Chinese usually will hang the wet clothes out to dry. If such conveniences are absolutely necessary for you, please make this very clear to your property consultant before you start viewing any properties and ensure that it is stated clearly in the offer letter to the landlord and in the contract before you sign it.
Very few Chinese people use dishwashers at home or leave any space in the kitchen for installing them. This may be due to the popularity of using a house keeper to wash the dishes as the cost of maid in China is very low. Some landlords may have installed UV sterilizers or the likes in the kitchen which look very similar to dishwashers. Don’t be fooled by this! If you really need a dishwasher please ensure that the item you are looking at is the real deal.
The weather in Beijing is quite hot in Summer (up to and sometimes beyond 40℃) while rather cold in Winter (-5 to -10℃ but with very little snow that lasts). There are several kinds of air conditioning and heating system used in Beijing. First, either only hot or only cold air is run through the pipes depending on the season, i.e. in summer only cold air is available while in winter only hot air is available. If you feel too cold in summer you can’t turn on any hot air, and vice versa if you feel too hot in winter you can’t turn on any cool air. The management office will only have one temperature of air flowing in the respective season. There are exceptions in high end buildings that may run multi-pipe systems. You should pay attention to when your heating will be turned on in your building and who is paying for it. Heating may in some cases be turned on and off centrally in the whole building. In some cases there are both the hot water heating radiators and air-conditioning units in each room. When you check the property you should ensure that there is an air-conditioning unit in each room that it is cooling down properly and is of adequate power and efficiency to cool down that size of room in hot weather. Remember it will be much harder for the air-conditioner to cool the room in hot weather, so if you test it in the cool weather it better be very cold.
If you do your house hunting during the cooler seasons you may forget to consider the mosquito issue. As those little pests may keep you up a whole night when the warmer weather hits and they start on their dreaded blood sucking quest. This is definitely an item not to sleep on. So make sure you will request to install fly screens if your selected property is on lower floor or a garden villa.
In China people believe that a very firm mattress is good for health. Please ensure that your JRE consultant is made aware of the type of mattress you and your family will be comfortable to sleep on so that they may try to negotiate this for you. Also you may like to inspect the item personally before it is ordered, as the term “soft” is relative and mattress comfort is quite an individual item.
Make sure all curtains in the bedrooms are fitted with black-out curtains to ensure that your rooms are completely dark in order to have a sound sleep.
Never drink water from the taps unless you are informed by the relevant health authorities that the water is safe for drinking. Generally speaking, the water quality in China is not very high. In some areas publicly treated water that reaches your home is not of a very high quality at all due to the technology in the treatment plants or the old piping in the delivery lines. This may be especially true in the suburbs of the city. It is therefore suggested that when choosing your property, especially in the villa compounds, that you ask for a water filtration system. Also, for drinking water you had better stick to bottled water from a very reliable company ( check with your neighbors and friends on what they’re using). Water in 19 liter bottles may usually be available for delivery to your home at a very reasonable price. Again check the reputation of the water bottling company and packaging of EACH bottle very carefully, as many cases of “fake” water have occurred in China. For the installed filtration systems it would also be good to know when they were installed and if they’ve been maintained as filters could also harbor harmful bacteria if not properly maintained.
If you require internet speeds above 2M/4M make sure you let your JRE consultant know before you start viewing properties and that it’s clearly written into the offer letter and housing contract before you sign. Additionally most homes will only be provided with one internet jack in only one room for the whole house. So, if you need more access points you may either use a wireless system or install a new wiring, both of which will cost extra. You should also ensure your consultant is aware of your requirements and that the paper work reflects this. Wifi is necessary for nearly everyone for its convenience. It is suggested that tenants buy Routers by themselves and let staff of China Unicom help with the installation for a service fee.
International TV Channels
Developer owned properties usually have international TV channels including HBO, CNN and so on, up to 15 English Channels only. For some individual –owned properties , international TV channels are available through satellite TV offered by Management Office at the cost of ￥ 1,300-2,000 per year. If it is not available, tenants can request the installation of Internet to access international TV channels.
If you would like to choose an apartment that is close to a main road or public area, make sure the windows facing the road are installed with double-glazed protection to reduce the noise entering your home.
Since the winter in Beijing is very cold people tend to choose south-facing properties in order to get in more sunlight. We do suggest that you visit the property during daytime so that you can more easily judge whether the property is bright enough or not.
Beddings & Kitchen Utensils/Appliances
Usually most of the properties owned by individual landlords do not provide bedding and kitchen utensils, such as pots, pans, forks, chinaware knives and so on. You may either bring them from your home country, purchase them in China at your own cost, or try to see if your landlord may include their purchase into the rental cost.
The standard voltage in China is 220V at 50Hz. If you are going to bring any electrical appliances make sure that the label specifies it’s ok to operate up to 220V. If the appliance must be run on 110-120V ensure you are using a step-down transformer that will convert the house current in your China home to 110 V that you may then safely plug your appliance into, otherwise you will fry it and may start a nasty house fire! Additionally be aware the electronic appliances with any sort of timer in them may not work properly in China if they can’t accept the frequency differences. In countries that use 110V the frequency is usually 60Hz. But in China it’s 50Hz. If you use a step-down transformer in China and convert the voltage to 110V it will still be 50HZ. Therefore, a clock will run at a different speed in China on 110V and 50HZ than it will in the USA on 110V and 60Hz.
Basements provide you with excellent additional storage space, another place for children to play, or even a good location for your home gym. However, basements may create a lot of problems if they have not been properly built. Water leakage problems and mould growth especially during the humid Summer season may plague certain properties. Therefore when choosing properties with a basement it is important to consider those properties that have a good track record already with their previous tenants. If you insist on an unproven site, you may at least carefully inspect the property after a heavy rainfall for any signs of trouble if possible and also any signs of past leakage.
Things to Understand While Visiting Properties
Most of the people will feel surprised to find that the rental prices may be so different for the same type of property shown by different agents. This may leave people to feel quite confused about whose quotation is correct? Here are some points to consider when faced with such confusion.
Ⅰ. What’s included into the rental:
Rental pricing proposed and quoted by JRE will usually include management fee, heating fee and tax fees. Other companies may only quote the net rental price.
Ⅱ. What factors will influence the rental:
1.Different Landlords-Some landlords are very eager to start getting returns on their property investments while others may be waiting only for an “ ideal” tenant and be content just to watch the property price increase and keep the unit in clean condition where it may be liquidated quickly should they want to cash out. Every landlord will have different expectations, some reasonable and some not.
2.Different Floor-Usually the higher the floor, the higher the price.
3.Different Decoration & Furniture- The rental for a nicely decorated and furnished property should be higher than for a similar one in the same building and floor with simple low budget furnishings.
4.Different Timing-Rental price will keep on changing due to supply and demand on the market.
Ⅲ. What factors may be useful to negotiate a good price:
1. How many people will live in this property - Often you may achieve better pricing if the number of occupants is fewer.
2. How soon you can start the Lease - Starting sooner is favorable to most landlords.
3.How many additional requirements you ask towards the property - Less requirements equals less money the landlord needs to spend and more savings that can be passed on to you.
4.How long is your lease term - Usually a longer lease term is favorable by the landlord but you may not like to “ lock” yourself into a really long term if you think you may consider to move later if you become not happy there for some reason, or if you feel the price may drop in that compound next year.
5. If you want to have the landlord remove all the existing furniture and put your own furniture in, it will not help too much in terms of negotiating the rental. If however it is NEW and the landlord has not bought furniture for it yet then in this case it may help.
Noise: If you are sensitive towards noise you may wish to consider avoiding the following:
1.Brand new properties - Since every individual landlord in the building will have their own time schedule to decorate their property, you may be constantly subjected to hammer drills and renovation noises. Definitely annoying!!
2.Properties with large open empty lots nearby - NO ONE can say for sure what will happen in those lots but most likely it is NEW CONSTRUCTION!! Think HUGE hammer drills now, lots of dust in the air, and big noisy diesel engines running around all the time. Definitely stuff nightmares are made of!! Even if the consultant does their best to check about the future of the empty lot no one can guarantee what will really happen.
3.Property facing the road - Since most windows in Chinese housing are not very efficient at blocking out the noise, try to avoid properties that are facing the road no matter if it is a main road or small road.
Quite a lot of individual landlords will use low quality paint or glue to decorate their properties and many expats do not realize this until they move in and start to feel uncomfortable. So if you choose a newly decorated property, check with your consultant to see what brand of paint the landlord used to decorate this property or you may wish for an environmental assessment if you have young kids or feel very concerned on this issue.
Tips on Lease Negotiation (Especially Note About Damage & Compensation)
Before you sign any lease Agreement, make sure you consider carefully ALL of your requirements fully and ask your property consultant to negotiate them with the landlord. All the agreed requirements must be clearly written in the lease contract to legally protect both the tenant and landlord in case of dispute. We strongly advise that you never rely on any verbal agreements made with the landlord as they will be difficult to prove in court in case of a dispute.
Ⅰ. Replace Furniture & Buy New Furniture:
If the property you choose is unfurnished or you would like to ask the landlord to change some of the existing furniture you should consider the following points. If you don’t pay attention to these items many arguments may arise during the purchasing of the furniture or you may have troubles getting your deposit back.
1.Make sure that the contract clearly lists all the items you want to buy.
2.Make sure that you negotiate enough “furniture budget” and put the budget into the contract. Usually for an unfurnished property an amount equal to 2-3 months rental price should be sufficient to buy all the furniture, electrical appliance and curtains.
3. Never buy any furniture without the landlord’s permission. It is better to let the landlord go with you to buy all the furniture and let the landlord pay for it since the furniture will ultimately belong to the landlord.
4.If the landlord doesn’t have time and gives all the money to you to buy the furniture, try to finish all the purchasing within one month and keep all the receipts.
5. Be timely to ask both the agent and landlord to fill in the final furniture check list and make sure both you and your landlord sign the final furniture list.
Ⅱ. Lease Term:
Usually the standard leasing term for a typical contract is one year, but you may wish to consider the following during your negotiations:
1. If the property compound which you choose is very hot and popular in Beijing( Usually your agent will tell you), and your assignment in China is longer that one year, then we suggest that you negotiate a two-year lease term with break clause in order to prevent the rental from increasing in the 2nd year.
2. If your assignment in China is one year or less, then we suggest you to sign a one year lease with break clause in order to prevent early termination and unnecessary deposit loss. However, sometimes this short term lease may be unfavorable to the landlord who will then ask for a higher or less negotiable price, or it may become more difficult to negotiate your additional requirements.
Ⅲ Damage & Compensation:
During the lease term, you are not suggested to drill holes in the walls to hang up any pictures or fix mirrors unless you have the landlord’s written permission!! It would be best to ask the landlord to have their people or the workers from the management office to come over and do such things. Also, please do not re-decorate the house or change the wall color without the landlord’s prior permission. Otherwise the landlord may ask for damage compensation by deducting money form your deposit which they will then not return at the end of the lease term. Make sure your agent carefully notes down all damage that was done BEFORE your move in and takes record of this ( you and the landlord should both sign on it) which may even include photos if necessary.
Terms of rental usually include the property management fee and taxes and certain other items. However the following fees could also be negotiated into the rental price depending on your company’s housing policy and if it allows such items to be included in the rental. Such items as : Club House Membership Fee, Internet Installation and Monthly Usage Fee, Utilities Fee ( usually there is limit), Garden Maintenance Fee ( only applicable to villas), Satellite TV Fee ( please refer to the above Satellite TV part), Parking Fees and others. On current market, common practice for rental payment is Quarterly Payment with a Deposit of Rental for One Month or Monthly Payment with a Deposit of Rental for Two Months.
Ⅴ Club Membership:
A club membership and usage of the facilities at your compound’s club house is not “automatically” an integrated part of the rental and usually needs to be negotiated with the landlord. Normally, a family membership card of any club house only admits two adults and one child under 14 years of age. If you have additional family members that you would like to bring there will be extra costs associated which must be negotiated with landlord into the lease before it is signed. Be aware that some of the facilities in some clubs, such as tennis or swimming pool, are provided to members requesting and extra usage fee that usually should be borne by the tenant themselves. Make sure you clarify this point with your consultant.
Ⅵ Pest Control:
Pest control is requested by a number of expats even though it is not a standard practice in China. It is available upon request and the service fee should be negotiated before the leasing contract is signed.
Quite a number of compounds, especially apartment buildings, don’t allow tenants to bring any pets, especially dogs and cats. Please confirm with your agent or landlord before you consider any compound and also check the local regulations. Dogs kept legally in China need a registration which is rather expensive and dogs more than 30cm tall at the shoulder will not be given registration if the address is in downtown.
Ⅷ Back-up Plan:
Once you find a satisfactory home, ( You should take your time to find some place that REALLY suits you), a quick decision on that home and signature on the contract will help you to secure it. The Beijing market is quite active and you may keep the phrase in mind “snooze you lose”. We also recommend that during your home search, you should prepare at least 2-3 back up properties in case your 1st choice doesn’t work out.
Things You Should Not Do During Your Home Search
Ⅰ Do not decide on any property just by looking at pictures without a physical visit. The exception MAY BE if the property is a service apartment or hotel for short stay, or your friend who exactly understands your requirement and has visited the property on your behalf is able to convince you that this place is really for you and you are willing to exonerate them from any mistakes ( not worth losing a good friendship over this and you would only trust a good friend with such important matters).
Ⅱ Do not sign a lease for any property when it is just an empty shell( during the construction phase).The final result may be far from your imagination!! Always try to choose the property which is ready for occupancy or of which the decoration is nearly finished.
Ⅲ Don not rent the property in a brand new compound where all the neighboring apartments or houses are being decorated.
Ⅳ Do not provide the landlord / potential landlord or landlord’s representative with your name card or contact information till you move into the property, otherwise you may be contacted by many strangers for different sales promotions as your contact information might be passed around very quickly.
Ⅴ If this is your first overseas assignment you may consider to avoid compounds where the majority of residents are local Chinese. Even if you feel you are looking for a “cultural experience”, you really have NO idea what you’re in for!!! Also communication problems, neighbors habits and lack of English speaking services might make you and your family’s life there very difficult.