At the end of last month, we got the awful news that our apartment building had been purchased by the Chinese government and would be torn down to rubble. We had 30 days to find a new place to live, pack up, and move. I will share with you the difficult journey it was to find our new apartment!
So I want to start out saying that November is not considered the optimal ‘apartment hunting’ season. Most people are settled in and don’t want to move because of how cold it is here! This meant that when looking for apartments, are apartment choices were already limited. Now that we had been here over 3 months, we knew a little bit more about what we wanted in a Beijing apartment. We knew we wanted to live nearer to the city because our current apartment was a 15-20 minute walk to grocery stores or any sort of good eating. Haidian is a mix of both suburbs and city, our first apartment was definitely in the suburban part. Location was considerably more important to us this time around. Our other big requirement was that we were insistent on keeping a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom living arrangement. I love my kid but there is no way I was sharing a bathroom! We gave our realtor our requirements and he set out to find what we were looking for!
Honestly, the first apartments we looked at were nothing like what I wanted. Mostly because we were shown 2bed/1baths over and over and over. I know there is a language barrier, but come on! We were shown one place that was gorgeous though, but by the time we go home an hour later…IT WAS GONE! As in, the owner met us and then got a call from another realtor with a couple that was interested. As I said, winter is the absolute worst time to be apartment hunting in Beijing. Anything worthwhile is gone instantly. The realtor showed us more apartments and FINALLY a 2bed/2bath…but the current tenants had pulled everything out of the master bath and made it a third bedroom. *slaps forehead* I couldn’t get a confirmation that the owner was going to put the bathroom back the way it was AND the place was beyond filthy. At first, I thought the kitchen had black tile AND NO IT DID NOT. That was just the amount of filth the current tenants thought was acceptable to be leaving behind. Anyways, after searching for over 1.5 weeks, we started to wonder if we should go through another realtor (the one we had was provided by the school) because he said there were absolutely no other 2bed/2bath available at this time.
We got another realtor through a friend and he started showing us an amazingly beautiful complex with an underground parking structure and a park area for Calvin to play in. The first one we looked at was gone almost instantly, so we were a little bummed. But as soon as we told realtor #1 that we were looking with someone else, he promptly quit and said he would return the realtors fee. For those considering moving to China, a realtors’ fee is actually a large chunk of change. It is almost always the same amount as the rent and ensures that the realtor will take care of things like paperwork, being a liaison between renter and owner, responsible for fixing things, etc. This fee is for a year and we had only lived in the first place 3 months. We were so excited to be guaranteed this fee back because it was roughly $1000. We saw another place with realtor #2 and absolutely loved it. It was big, modern, and fit all the requirements we were looking for. Sure it was 1000 rmb over our budget but it was too beautiful not to get it. Negotiating is a very important part of renting a Beijing apartment. Because most apartments come furnished, you can negotiate new furniture or increase/decrease in rent to fit your needs. ALL we wanted in this place was a new bed because my husband is over 6 feet and he could barely fit on the available bed in the master bed. Believe it or not, the owner wouldn’t budge. He said that he had purchased that bed himself and it was too expensive to throw away. It was over an hour of negotiating with a friend helping us out via phone, but we finally acquiesced and agreed to buy our own bed and slip their deconstructed bed beneath ours. Easy right? Not quite the end of the story, unfortunately.
I brought the information as well as the new realtor’s number to my school. They said they would take care of it and that is when things went awry. I started receiving text messages from realtor #1 about signing that night. I was super confused because that realtor was the one who quit and not the realtor that found me the apartment. I told him as much and he said the school contacted him because the school wants me to go through him. I went and talked to the school during my break and they confirmed they would rather me use this realtor because this one negotiated for the first apartment and the school had money tied up in the old one (apparently the school pays rent 3 months at a time). So now I was stuck because I had both realtors #1 and #2 texting me about signing that night and giving me conflicting information. I was upset all day because I didn’t like #1 by this point and #2 was potentially being screwed out of a commission when he did all the work. I was even crying in the school office because the pressure was just all too much. Eventually, realtor #1 said he would pick us up to sign the contract. I was so heartbroken over it that I sent realtor #2 a red packet for his wasted time. BUT I am a firm believer in karma and knew this would not be the end of it. Realtor #1 came to pick us up and informed us that the owner was not willing to meet with us because realtor #2 told him all of this drama (as well as a few lies maybe) and we were not getting this apartment. I am sure most people would be super upset, especially because all of this was out of my hands. But actually, I was almost relieved. I did not feel right with how the school had handled this and was happy that I was not signing under the wrong pretenses. Realtor #2 didn’t get screwed out of his commission and I was not having to sign a contract whilst crying. But no apartment still, so back to the drawing board.
The next day, realtor #1 said he had another apartment to show us that had just opened up. It was right next to the highly coveted Tiancun subway area and had a mall across the street. Not only that, but my school has a bus pick up teachers right across the street so if I got it, no more paying for Didi! We had been in this building before, it was the one that had the bed in the bathroom. I didn’t feel very optimistic by that point but it was worth a look since I didn’t have any other choices and 3 weeks left to move out. I was pleasantly surprised that it was a 2bed/2bath within our price range on the 14th floor. The location was the big seller and the inside was actually a little bigger than our current apartment. It actually had a lot that our current place didn’t have; like a windowed balcony, separate washer area for clothes, and big bay windows and potential seating area. There wasn’t a refrigerator or washing machine in the apartment, but the owner already said that they would be putting new ones in! It did have a few things we weren’t super excited about, not as much storage and the showers were not enclosed. But it was so close to everything we wanted that we decided to take it anyway. We negotiated to also have a new couch put in (current was filthy), have the kitchen counter repaired and to have the place scrubbed down good by a professional company.
The next day, realtor #1 texted me with more bad news. The landlord wanted to sell the apartment in May and only wanted us to sign a 6 month lease. Now, there was absolutely no way I was moving 3 times in one school year (school doesn’t end until June). There is no way I was going to consent to moving my family and our possessions that many times. The realtor went back to the landlord to see if there was a way we could negotiate. After another day or two, we came to an agreement. We would have an 8 month lease that would last until July, but we would allow people to view the apartment on the weekends ONLY after May 1st. The landlord also took several hundred rmb off the rent as extra compensation. Weekly visitors isn’t fun but this actually worked out for us in the long run too! If we signed another year long lease, we would have had to move out again in November when apartment season was at its worst. If we decided that we didn’t want to renew my teaching contract for next year, that meant breaking the lease anyway and pay big time. At least this way, if I don’t re-sign then there is no lease to break. If I do re-sign my contract, I get to look for a better apartment when all the good ones are available. Win-win for me!
We signed with the new landlord (who happens to be a teacher too) and now had to negotiate with the old landlord. I know what you are thinking, what do you mean negotiate with the old landlord? Because the school pays rent 3 months in advance, the landlord had money the school was owed. Not only that, but our deposit and breach-of-contract needed to be negotiated too (by the way, don’t be worried about the landlord whose apartment is being torn down. He is being richly compensated by the Chinese government so he is just fine). We went to negotiate the night after signing the new lease. The landlord was not wanting to give up an entire month’s rent because we already had been there the first 1.5 weeks of the month. So we negotiated that he keep that month’s rent and we didn’t need to leave until the deadline given by the government (Nov. 30). We also asked for the breach of contract (one month’s rent) to be returned to the school because they were now paying one month rent for new AND old place simultaneously. The old landlord agreed and we signed the paperwork. Best part, he gave us our apartment deposit back right there! In between paying the new deposit and receiving back the old, I only lost about 200 rmb ($28).
So a week after the signing and the necessary changes were made to the new apartment, we began moving some of our belongings in! We wanted to clean some more and begin the process of moving even though things like internet hadn’t been installed yet. The new apartment’s location is way better than our old one, but the old apartment was considerably newer and more modern. As we began cleaning and looking around, we realized there were a lot more little repairs that needed to be done. The master bathroom toilet seat was barely hanging on, there were a bunch of drawers that were broken, etc. The biggest surprise came when we moved the dining table to clean beneath it and the entire row of tiling fell down! It turns out, the table and a piece of tape was all that was holding it up. We scheduled repairs for everything and keep reminding ourselves it is only 8 months we will be spending here! Either way, this place was a considerable step up from most of the places we saw, so I am happy.
Some good news though. Because we needed to get a new internet provider in this new place, we ended up bundling our internet and phones so they are cheaper through China Unicom! As a bonus, they gave us an extra phone line for free and now my son will have his own phone! By the way, internet is considerably cheaper here in China. My new bundle-deal of internet and 3 phone lines is 299 rmb ($42.5) a month. Now we have the fastest internet possible (unlike our crap internet at the old place) and for a very reasonable price! Moving in will be a few week process and I have learned a lot of things that may be helpful to people moving to Beijing:
- Negotiate!!! You can negotiate furniture, rent price, utilities, taxes (required to pay). You may not get everything you want but it is practically expected so see what you can get!
- Don’t be pressured into signing if you are not comfortable. I realized this was a tactic often used by both realtors. Yes, the apartment can disappear very quickly. But if you are not 100% sure about agreeing that second then don’t. Also, nothing is official until signing. You can say you want the apartment and then take it back if you aren’t happy with it.
- Realtors fee and deposit are expensive! Especially since most schools don’t pay for that and paychecks in China aren’t issued until one month in, be prepared for a lot of $$ to be spent your first weeks here.
- Talk to your school ALWAYS about which realtors they want you to use.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my second apartment hunt! I will let you know how the third one goes in 8 months!