So you're renting an apartment in China. This is going to be fun, said no-one ever. Your success and experience will depend on a number of factors, not least who you're dealing with. If time is not a factor, you can choose between renting an apartment via a real estate agent or seeking out landlords directly. Here's the lowdown on the road ahead.
Renting from agents
Along with taxmen, mothers-in-law and people that shout into their mobile phones on public transport, real estate agents are some of the most despised people on the planet. For good or for bad, however, they’re here to stay, and China is no exception.
The volume of rental agents in China is, indeed, astounding. It’s not uncommon to see a row of five or six consecutive real estate offices on an average city street. On the one hand this can be great for the China house hunter, as results can be gleaned very quickly. On the other, it can be a damning curse when 25 agents all start WeChatting you at the same time.
The services –a loosely used term – offered by agents, vary from agent to agent, but there are alternate means of renting an apartment in China.
Renting directly from landlord
If you have the time and energy to seek out a landlord directly, there are a number of channels you can go through.
Word of mouth - This is by far the most preferable method as it’s very likely that you’ll also be able to glean information about the landlord’s treatment of tenants if you’re getting a tip through friends.
The internet – The good news is that there is a cornucopia of online resources, such as the classifieds of expat websites, that list apartments for rent across China. This allows you to go directly to a landlord and negotiate prices, terms and conditions if you’re lucky enough to find the needle in a haystack of agents.
The bad news is that some of the adverts posted by “landlords” turn out to be posted by agents after all - a fact that the kind agent reveals sometime further down the line at his or her leisure. That’s not to say that genuine landlords cannot be found online; it’s just that finding them is a challenge in itself.
The main benefit of dealing directly with a landlord is that you don’t have to pay an agent’s fee. This is a somewhat contentious issue when house hunting in China these days. In Beijing, for example, it was previously accepted that the agency fee should be shouldered by the landlord if the monthly rent was in excess of 3,000 RMB. In practice, however, this does not always work. Agents will often insist that the tenant pays.
For this reason, finding a bonafide landlord is the holy grail of apartment hunting in China. In China’s biggest cities, where it is expected that on signing a contract the tenant pay one month’s rent deposit, one month’s rent in agents fee and three month’s rent up-front, moving apartments can be financially crippling.
As always, however, when paying for something in China you’re expected to haggle. If you’re renting with an agency and they insist on you paying the fee, it’s worth trying to bargain for either a lower fee or a reduction in rent. Should you be planning to lease the property for an extended period of time, it might be wise to take the agent’s fee on the chin in exchange for a lower rent and more savings in the long run
Paper chase - important documents
Whether renting an apartment in China with or without an agent, it’s important to check that the correct documentation is in order. If the agency you’re dealing with is not one of the big easily recognisable real estate chains, ask to check their credentials and certification. Freelance agents will often work on a more casual basis without the right paperwork. This is fine as long as you have a solid contract with the landlord, just don’t let them squeeze you for fees.
Either way, you’ll need a photocopy of the landlord’s state issued ID card and a contract, preferably translated into English. If you’re dealing directly with the landlord, their should be certification to show he/she is legally permitted to lease the property. If they can’t produce this it means they’re not paying tax and you can negotiate further.
Some agents simply act by connecting a landlord with prospective tenants. In this case, once the contract has been signed and the money exchanged, they generally wish to have as little to do with the affair as possible.
Alternately, agents sometimes receive a month or two’s rent from the landlord to manage the property in its entirety. This isn’t necessarily a good thing for the tenant. If something breaks in your apartment, you have to chase someone to get it fixed. If you’re chasing a landlord, he/she’s likely to have at most a handful of tenants to deal with. An agency, on the other hand, will potentially have dozens of dissatisfied tenants to appease at any one time.
Ultimately, if dealing with a landlord directly, you’re most likely to receive the most attentive service. If someone has a personal stake in a property, they’ll obviously be more likely to provide a better service to ensure that care is reciprocated by those living in their property.
1) Before signing a contract, be sure to check all of the property’s fixtures and fittings are in good working order. If anything is damaged, dated photographic evidence is the best way to provide proof in the event of a dispute about the return of a deposit. Take photos/videos and email them to the landlord.
2) If there is an agreement about additional furniture being added or necessary repairs made before moving in, make sure that this is written into the contract before signing.
3) If you run into problems with the apartment and think that withholding your rent is a good way to make the agency or landlord take notice, first check the fine print of the contract. Most contracts state that a tenant should incur a penalty of one month’s rent should they be late in payment, for whatever reason. This is a huge sting, so always read the contract.
For most Westerners, we relish in the independence of renting our own apartment. However, renting culture is different in China and is rife with hassles. The best way to learn is to prepare in advance, so we’ve listed tips for new and seasoned renters in China.
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