If you read our last apartment blog from November, you know that we were forced to sign an 8-month lease in an emergency to get housing. Now, that 8 months is almost up and we may have to move for a third time in less than one year. I say may because even though our current landlord was intent on selling her 2 bed/ 2 bath apartment eight months ago, the COVID-19 crisis may force her to reconsider. Either way, we decided to start looking in our area in case we had to honor our July 11th move-out date! We saw a LOT of different apartments this time around, so I have conveniently numbered them to avoid confusion.
Our realtor surprised us one afternoon after our inquiry and asked if we could go looking at apartments in a few hours. We had no plans and we agreed to be picked up at 4 pm in front of our current place at Tiancun. He brought us to his realtors office nearby and handed us off to the man who would be showing us apartments. It turned out, it would be a 30 second walk away to an apartment complex we mentioned in Beijing Apartment Hunting 2.0, where we tried and failed to get an apartment. We walked a long ways into the apartment complex past playgrounds and well-decorated sitting areas, to the first place in the back of the complex. This particular housing complex housed one or two teachers friends across this massive community. There was plenty of room for us and our son to roam around, which was a big benefit compared to our current home. The downside was that this area was a further distance from Tiancun subway station, our main mode of transportation. Plus, there was a bit of a pro/con issue regarding this complex’s policies. This residency does not allow any cars or scooters, which at first sounds great; no one to run you over! But the con is delivery, if you are having groceries, food, or water delivered, then they have to cross this vast area on foot. It all depends on how you look at it.
The first apartment we visited was a 2 bedroom/2 bath on the eighth floor of this building. While it was very nice, within budget at 8000 rmb, and had our required 2 bathrooms (one with a bathtub), everything in this apartment was very small compared to our current one. Usually I wouldn’t mind so much, but having just spent several months at home due to quarantine, it is considerably more important this time around. The family room was small, master bed was small (which matters when your husband is 6’2”), and the amount of storage for clothing was even smaller. The bunk bed in the second bedroom was cute and would have been great for 2 small kids, but not ideal for a growing teenager. If this had been our first year in China, it probably would have been a top contender. But we will have lived here 11 months by the time we have moved in and have accumulated our own furniture, TV, appliances, etc. We need to make sure we have the room for it!
The second apartment would be our favorite out of all six shown this day. Apartment #2 was also a 2 bed/2 bath, but way larger than the first apartment. Of course, this means that it came at a higher price tag at 8800 rmb a month (but the realtor made it seem that we could negotiate down to at least 8300 if need be). This would be our favorite because the bedrooms and beds were huge, plenty of storage, and the kitchen was not a galley design. A galley kitchen is a small, straight line with all cupboards and appliance along one wall. Not completely inconvenient, but unattractive to say the least. The kitchen in this apartment was squared off, although it did have a cracked countertop and the design forced the refrigerator to be in the living room instead of the kitchen. This place also had a bunkbed in the second bedroom, but it was much larger than the first apartment and had a desk for Calvin to do his school work. The only downside…the stickers. It seems that as a sort of Chinese rite of passage. Stickers are bestowed upon a child as young as one year old and told to put them wherever the f*** they want. We have lived in apartments where they are everywhere and we were still finding them in weird places months later. This apartment was no exception, with stickers coating the master bedroom headboard and the walls. If you plan on moving to Beijing, this is something you will encounter and I can tell you where to get adhesive remover. Since this was the only downside, we are actually pretty excited about this apartment.
Apartment #3 was on the other side of the apartment complex from the first 2 and was a little more bare than the ones we had already seen. Most of the furniture was missing and the bedrooms were small, large only enough for the bed and closets. This one I considered a little pricey at 8500 rmb considering that this place only had one bathroom. It was significantly larger than the other bathrooms we had seen and had an enclosed shower, but only one bathroom is a dealbreaker for me. Not a bad place for a couple or a single person, but I needed a little more for the money! I would say more about this place but it wasn’t very memorable compared to the other apartments we saw that day.
The next apartment was the last one we would see in this complex. Another 2 bed/2 bath, it was by far the most expensive at 9600 rmb, so of course it was also the nicest. The rooms and beds were very large and clean and had a lot of the necessary furniture already there. Even the couch was comfortable and clean, which is not always easy to find when apartment hunting. The cons were that there was very little storage and the location wasn’t ideal. The apartment was located a few stories over a grocery store and we were very close to the main road. It was only 5 pm in the afternoon and the honking from the street was very audible. Since the bedroom off the street is what would have been Calvin’s room, I was very uneasy about this place. I had no idea if the noise would be better or worse during bedtime or in the middle of the night. My potential bedroom, on the other hand, was on the other side of the apartment and would have not been bothered by noise at all. Either way, the combined potential noise and price led us to believe this apartment was not for us.
After visiting the fourth apartment, we crossed the street to another apartment community. The Little Universe complex housed many of my school’s teachers and I knew I would have many more friends here. It is a bit more modern and western than other Chinese complexes because it was newer. We were seeing our last 2 apartments of the day in this complex and I had high hopes because I have heard a lot of good things. Apartment #5 was an apartment still occupied by its current tenants, we got meet a young family with a little baby boy just sitting down to dinner. If this ever happens to you, it is a little awkward running around in people’s personal areas and judging whether it is or is not right for your family, but there is a chance that it could happen. It is especially hard to imagine when their personal belongings fill every nook and cranny of the apartment. In any case, this 2 bedroom/1 bath had an interesting layout. The one bathroom was split into a bath/shower room and then the toilet next-door. This made it much easier for families to do their business and not disturb one another in a small space. I included the floorpan below because before now, I hadn’t seen anything like it before. In any case, I felt weird enough imposing on another family so we just said thank you and left.
The last apartment we saw this day was the same as #5, 2 bedrooms and 1 split bathroom for 8500 rmb/month. Apartment #6 was unoccupied and had two terraces, one on the East and the west sides. I had never seen anything like it and was quite amazed. The kitchen was also lovely with a seating area for meals at the end, which again I had never seen before. If I was living as a single person or couple, I could definitely see myself in this home. With so many other teachers living in the area, it is much easier to get acclimated and make friends. However, I do have a family and need to consider our sanity when picking a place, so separate areas is very important. Even though I would probably not accept this apartment due to the one bathroom, I am going to suggest it to incoming teachers because of the convenience and how modern it was. I still spent a lot of time looking around at all of its features even though I knew for sure I was not going to make an offer to move in. There was also the fact that this apartment was completely unfurnished. While most apartments do have some furniture when you move in, having a completely empty apartment does leave room for negotiation. I know a teacher that had a similar situation when he picked an apartment with no furniture. He was really happy about this because that meant he could pick out all the furniture he liked and know it had not been used by previous occupants. He even negotiated with the landlord to lower his rent and agree to buy all the furniture when he eventually leaves China. Great deal for everyone!
We stopped looking for a few weeks because we were almost 100% sure that our landlord was going to let us renew the lease. She had the realtor telling us to keep waiting for several weeks and we thought we were in the clear. Unfortunately, about 3 weeks before the lease was scheduled to be up, we were informed that she was going to sell our current apartment. We were bummed but had to start looking for an apartment again. Out of the original 6 that I already mentioned, we only liked apartment #2 and were still unsure about it. The realtor offered to take us to a few more places the next day and had 3 more places to show us. Unfortunately, the resurgence of the pandemic in Beijing had also thrown a wrench into the realty process. Many apartment complexes were not allowing any visitors and so we knew that it was probably going to be a problem. Luckily, the first one we saw this day, apartment contender #7 was in the same complex that we currently lived in! While we the realtor was unable to get into the apartment, we were! We took the key and headed to a building significantly closer to the gate than our current home. It was even bigger than our place and there were 2 bedrooms and 1.5 baths. There is only one shower, but I didn’t mind that so much because the second toilet is what I cared more about! There was a windowed patio off the master bedroom and there were also big windows that allowed in natural light in every other room. It was missing some furniture and an air conditioning in one bedroom, but also exactly at our budget so this became my #1 choice. The idea of staying in our current complex, across the street from a grocery store and mall that we were familiar with sounded so good!
We went to go see another apartment, but that pesky pandemic got in the way! They would not allow the realtor our ourselves in to see it. We were only a little upset because we had a really good friend living in this complex and it would have been awesome to live nearby. Either way, we continued onto apartment #8! We went to an area a little farther away from Tian cun subway station, to a significantly larger array of apartment buildings than seen previously. This community was humongous, so much so that it had its own pool, community center, and grocery stores (yes, as in more than one). I was really excited to see the apartment…until we actually got there. It was very disappointing compared to the other places we had seen. The floor plan of the apartment was really weird and it had only one bathroom. I wish I had a picture of the floor plan because it was just wonky and small. Several different entrances into what I could only assume was the master bedroom leading in a circle to the laundry room and kitchen area. Then there were three different beds in the larger room? That along with the small family room and linoleum floors peeling off, it was a quick no. The positives were really only the larger kitchen and the community, not enough for me to move in.
After all of that looking, my husband and I sat down and discussed our options. Out of the eight, there were only 2 that met our criteria, apartments #2 and #7. After everything we had seen, we decided to go with #7. It was large enough for all 3 of us to live comfortably, was a corner unit and wouldn’t give us too much grief with the neighbors, and it was already in the complex we lived in! Moving would be a cinch and we already knew the area. However, there was still some negotiating to do with the landlord. The apartment was missing the couches that were originally pictured there, there was no air conditioning in what would be Calvin’s bedroom, and the master bedroom needed a dresser. The beds in the bedroom also needed to be switched, but that is easy enough. My husband and I weren’t interested in negotiating on the price at all, because we knew that the landlord was going to have to shell out a little money to get everything that we wanted in the apartment. However, our realtor did us a solid and managed to not only get everything we wanted, but also negotiated the price of the place down! I was amazed! We are signing the lease tomorrow and I am so happy that this whole thing is done with. Best part, we won’t have to consider moving for another year!
Tips for Renting in Beijing
I had some other tips in my second apartment blog, Beijing Apartment 2.0. However, I figured I would give some slightly different tips to those thinking of looking for an apartment in Beijing, China that may help make it a little easier.
- The early summertime is the absolute best time to look for an apartment in Beijing. I have looked in the months of June, August, and November. Out of all these times, I have had more options and variety in June (even during a pandemic). November was the most difficult because people were all nestled in their apartments and few were moving. August wasn’t so bad but you are also competing with all the other expats in Haidian. Because there are plenty of schools in this district that means plenty of teachers moving in. If you can look early, then I would suggest it.
- Look past the dirt. Almost always, you will be shown apartments that have not yet been cleaned. It is not ideal, but is not uncommon. If you choose that apartment, I promise you they will clean it. If it is one of those ‘scary filthy’ places, then you can ask to see it after it has been cleaned. Don’t sign if you are unsure.
- Negotiate!!! This was a tip brought up on my second blog, but I wanted to reiterate. Just assume that all of the apartments are being overpriced because they are anticipating a negotiation. Feel free to look at apartments a little above your price range because 9 times out of 10 you will be able to bring it down a little.
- Read my past 2 blogs on renting an apartment in Beijing so you are fully prepared for your own hunt in this concrete jungle!