Apartment Hunting: Beijing Style Part II

7 06 2011

By Chris Lam

Luckily, I’m still here despite the chaotic nature of traffic here in Beijing.  I’ve only seen 1 accident so far and it was a minor fender bender.  I learned that the pedestrian never has the right of the way and to beware of the turning motor vehicle.  The cross walk lights offer no protection!  It has been a hectic 2 weeks so I’m trying to catch up in my blogging, so my apologies.  I just got back from a trip to the Shanxi province for 2 village visits and a conference on chronic diseases hosted by the George Institute at Changzhi Medical College; plus yesterday was the Dragon Boat Festival.  So more blog posts about those events after I finish this one, I promise.

Wudaokou Subway Station

So to catch up from my prior post about apartment hunting, I’m on my way to Wudaokou Subway station to meet up with my rental agents RY and BT. I finally arrive about 35 minutes late and dripping with sweat.  They laughed when I told them I had been walking everywhere for exercise and was afraid to use the subway station; because I thought the signs were only in Mandarin.  But they reassured me that the stops were announced in English and were written in Pinyin (Arabic lettering)  and Mandarin characters.  Plus it only costs 2 RMB per trip one way, no matter the distance.  RY and BT came to Beijing about 3 years ago in search of a better job opportunities available in the area compared to what was available back in their home provinces.  This isn’t that unusual since it has been estimated that nearly 30-40% of the people in Beijing that comprise the 20+ million population aren’t originally from Beijing.  They found that rental housing was in high demand and decided to target the demographic of expats and foreign students.  Typically in Beijing, rental agents work on a commission basis  similar to realty agents back home (from one half to a full month’s rent and depending on the price range of the leased property in person, either the shopper and the landlord both pay the fee or for very high end listings only the landlord or property owner will pay the fee).  Through networking with Chinese landlords who are looking for tenants; but don’t have the connections or know how to advertise their listings.  Rental agents like RY and BT write up a dual language leasing contract.  I found them through a well design website that a former user of their service had developed for them.  I liked it since it was in English, had an easy to navigate database of listings, and they were prompt in my communications with them.  Plus in person RY is pretty hilarious.  Her English is very good and I felt comfortable with the both of them.

As a trio we set out to look at about 7 apartments near Wudaokou Subway Station that included: shared apartments,  studios, and  larger multi-bedroom

Typical Apartment Bathroom in Beijing

apartments that were within my budget.  They had several other properties that would have been a 45 to 60 minute commute by subway; which wasn’t doable or feasible in my mind. The units that the showed me ranged from less expensive than my rented room in Durham to quite a bit more expensive to anything I had rented stateside.  Furthermore, I found out that many landlords were not willing to rent for just 3 months; furthermore many of those that were willing to rent out for this short term period wanted a surcharge of between 10 to 25% of the regular monthly rent.   This was somewhat surprising to me since the cost of food is very inexpensive; where  I can survive on about 3-4 USD a day for 3 square meals.  But as I found out in Beijing the demand has pushed housing cost soaring despite a boom in construction.

My first load of laundry in Beijing, hanging just outside the living room

There are a couple of distinct differences in terms of apartments compared to those back stateside.  Most of the units I viewed had a washer machine and a “Western” style toilet; however none had drying machines.  Clothes are hung dry and the shower isn’t separated from the toilet.  Not sure if this was a retrofit of the older squat style toilets or in fact the original design with a shower only bathroom. I noticed that there are common toilets in the courtyards or at the base of the apartments; which are separated by gender and sometimes by age.  Though, I won’t complain as I will have cold & hot running water, electricity, internet, and largely don’t need to worry about mosquitoes, things some of my compatriots doing their research this summer might not all have.

Shared dining room, note the traditional styled furniture

I didn’t get a chance to snap pictures of all 7 places; but most places were built in the early 2000’s and had around 20 floors (think Chicago / NYC style apartments with an Asian design influence).  I was definitely leaning to the 2 shared apartments that I saw with my agents.   I also didn’t want to leave alone; because I’m so used to having my dog Sammy with me so it would be a little too lonely.  There was only 1 unit that had any students or expats living there currently.  My choice was therefore easy to make.  I have a bedroom to myself and share 1.5 bathrooms with 3 other students / expats.  Quite randomly, two of my roommates are from NC and the other is from Britain.  They were all very friendly and highly recommend the place.  Two of them had used RY and BT to find apartments and have lived in Beijing for at least the past year.  Our Chinese landlords are a husband and wife duo who are empty nesters.  They  are probably close to my parents age and live directly above us. We get share the living room, dining room, and kitchen with them. About 2 week ago, my landlady had to register me with local police department; since I’m a “laowai” or foreigner and living for an extended period of time.  I also had to pay 120 RMB per month as a registration fee / tax.  In summary, I found a place that is only about 15-20 minutes by subway from the George Institute Offices (or about 40-50 minutes walking).  There is a ton of shopping, food, and what not nearby and it was within my project budget.  I was really glad to find a place and settle in with my research project at the George Institute.  Next blog post I’ll go over my project and my meeting with the PI Dr. Z from Beijing Anzhen Hospital.

View from my room to the courtyard below

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