Rising rents in Shanghai have made finding a great flat on a budget even harder. Time Out
talks to renters, landlords and estate agents to present eight tips you need to know before you start your search for the ideal home
1 Hit the streets
Don’t limit your search to the easiest portals for entry-level househunters: sure, SmartShanghai and Craigslist can throw up some gems. But, remember; only a fraction of the apartments available in this city are posted online. Henry at Carveout Property, says that ‘if a property is online, it’s probably been on the market for a while.’
Usually, he adds, these properties are there because of a landlord’s over-ambitious pricing, specifically aimed at people who are new in town. Instead, find an area you like and scout around. Walk-ins to high-street agents are usually more fruitful, and, while not totally risk free, more soberly priced, too.
2 Love thy agent...
Most of the thousands of letting agents in Shanghai are from surrounding provinces; few earn more than 1,500RMB/month; and all are chasing hard-fought-for commissions. Dealing with them requires a balance of patience and caution. The best way to work with agents, says Seri, from Apartment in Shanghai, is to be super-specific about what you want. ‘If you tell me “anywhere in the French Concession,”’ she says, ‘the list is endless.’
Also remember that most agents will give up on you after showing you five or six places if they think they’ve met your initial criteria. Being direct and clear about what you want will limit the potential for wasted visits to dud apartments. Street names, metro lines and a specific budget are a minimum before you speak to an agent.
3 ...but not too much
Some agents will ask questions which, on the face of it, sound like small talk: how long have you been in Shanghai? Do you have friends here? How many places have you seen already? What’s your deadline for finding somewhere? This is usually to gauge your hold of the market and try to exploit any naivety. Be assertive and
bring pictures of places you’ve seen if necessary.
Time-poor, freshoff-the-boaters can expect a long tour of less-than savoury places at bloated prices to create a false impression of the market in order to make a mediocre apartment seem comparatively livable.
4 Be realistic
Yes, we’ve all heard the story about a friend of a friend of a friendwho found this amazing 100sqm converted warehouse space on Yongfu Lu for 2,000RMB last year. Even if it’s true, the market has changed, and rents have soared. Using a friend’s place as a benchmark for what to expect is seriously hazardous.
'For a long time, Shanghai rent was increasing ten per cent year on year,’ says Kevin at Dooioo on Anfu Lu. 'But last year it was more like 20, sometimes 25 per cent in the good areas such as French Concession and south Jingan.’ That means what you could reasonably expect for 4,000RMB last year – a decent-standard, one-bed in a good location, say – is more like 5,000RMB now.
5 Sell yourself
All landlords have had at least one rogue renter. Most would rather let to a reliable tenant at a small discount than a potential trouble-maker at top whack. At most viewings, the landlord will be present. Dress smart, address them in Chinese if you can and always offer to take off your shoes.
If you like a place, be sociable– tell them about yourself, your job, how your party days are behind you, and that work takes up most of your time – but, a golden rule, never appear overly keen: ‘If the landlord sees you’re really happy,’ says Alex from Zeal Property on Huaihai Lu. ‘It’s harder to negotiate.’
6 Find out about the landlord
For the most part, landlords here will own just one extra property and are exercising their right to let their family nest-egg. Even so, make enquiries about an apartment’s ownership and try and get the gist of the landlord’s character. ‘I almost took a 92sqm one-bedroom, but I had doubts about the landlord,’ says one house-hunter we spoke to, 30-year-old Winnie, who says she saw over 40 places on her recent search. ‘It turned
out he was probably a gangster; he ran a “KTV bar” around the corner.’
As competition at the bottom end of the market is so fierce, major climb-downs on rent are rarer than, say, mid-range rentals (6-10,000RMB) where margins for negotiation are broader. That said, it’s always worth a try. For the most part, the agent will do the bidding for you (especially for non-Chinese speakers), but if you like a place, linger as long as possible, be thorough in your checks, ask lots of questions and be personable (see ‘Sell yourself’, above).
Landlords, who are likely to be present at viewings, are much more likely to engage in serious negotiations if they’ve invested an hour or so of time in a viewing.
8 Ask for extras
As noted, sizeable, lifestyle-altering reductions in rent are rare. But, if the landlord isn’t budging, there are a number of extras worth asking for: microwaves, convection ovens, new curtains, mattresses and even electrical goods like DVD players and flat-screen TVs are common sweeteners.
Other tenants we’ve spoken to have been given discounts for promises not to cook too much and not needing a fapiao can lower the rent by up to 15 per cent. Paying cash sometimes helps too.