Finding an Apartment in Hangzhou

Finding an Apartment in Hangzhou

Finding a good apartment is difficult, regardless of where you are. Needless to say, finding a good apartment in a foreign country can be a major headache. Before you even start dealing with the issues that occasionally arise from living anywhere (roommate issues, utility problems, creative plumbing), there’s the search for that ideal place to put your stuff and rest your head at night. But don’t worry. Finding an apartment to live in Hangzhou can be a great experience. It all depends on how you go about it.

If you want professional help in your apartment search, there are three major real estate companies in Hangzhou, each with a slightly different specialty. Huabang Dichun (华邦地产) focuses on apartment purchases. Unless you plan on buying a place in Hangzhou, don’t bother with them. If you ARE interested in buying though, their staff is extremely helpful. Their website, http://www.hzhuabang.net can at least give you an idea of what sort of services they offer. Wo Ai Wo Jia (我爱 我家) helps with both renting and buying apartments. Their website address is http://hz.5i5j.com. Finally, Shengshi Guanjia (盛世管家) serves people exclusively looking to rent. Their website is http://www.34home.com/index.action. Plan on bringing a Chinese friend along to any of these places if you can’t speak Chinese, as the staff will likely not speak English. These certainly aren’t the only real estate companies in Hangzhou, just the biggest.

If you prefer to perform your own search, which foreigners in Hangzhou typically end up doing if their housing isn’t included in their contract, the Internet’s the best place to start. There are two useful discussion forums that serve Hangzhou’s expat community. The first is “Hangzhou Expat Forum”, and the second is the classified section of “More Hangzhou” Magazine’s website. These sites are also great if you’re looking for roommates, an ayi, E-bikes, a place to drink, whatever.

In addition, three Chinese forums focus exclusively on apartments. Most expats find “Hangzhou Expat Forum” and “More Hangzhou” sufficient, but these other sites are worth checking out if you want to expand your search outside of Hangzhou’s expat circle. They are http://hangzhou.koubei.com , http://www.19lou.com , and http://hangzhou.fangtoo.com .If you can’t read Chinese, then you’d better ask a Mandarin-reading friend to help you out.

Like any other city, the two largest determinants of housing prices in Hangzhou are location and amenities available at a given property. Because development for the past three decades has been so rapid in Hangzhou, it’s easiest to deal with amenities in terms of a property’s age. Properties built during the same time period tend to offer the same sorts of comforts and quality to their residents. In terms of location, the three most expensive areas are West Lake, the Qiantang River in the south, and the Grand Canal. If you can see any of these three things from an apartment, expect to pay significantly more.

Though the Internet’s a powerful tool, it’s important to have a feeling for real estate prices before you commit to anything. Since most expats settling in Hangzhou are short-term renters, we’ll focus on prices first. The following prices are just to give you an idea of what to expect. If you look around a bit, it’s not hard to find outliers both on the absurdly low and absurdly high end of the pricing scale. Based on personal experience, I’d recommend avoiding dirt-cheap places. Unfortunately, I still lack any first-hand experience of living in the exorbitant villas and sky palaces that occupy the other end of the real estate market.

Hangzhou’s available housing stock is fairly new, and there are very few free apartments built before 1980. Apartments built in the 1980s through 1990s generally rent for 2,000 RMB per month for a basic one bedroom, one bathroom apartment, usually with a small kitchen and living room. Basic two bedrooms on average go for 2,500 RMB a month. New one-bedroom apartments (i.e. apartments built since the turn of the millennium) rent on average for between 3,000 RMB and 4,000 RMB a month. If you need something bigger and would prefer a new apartment, post-millennial two-bedroom apartments generally rent for between 4,000 RMB and 5,000 RMB a month. Hangzhou’s real estate market is diverse enough that you’ll eventually find something that aligns with your living preferences, more or less.

Many of the most recently built one-bedroom apartments tend to resemble hotel rooms more than apartments. Some people like this, and some detest it - it all depends on personal preference. There is more diversity in terms of layout among new apartments with two-bedrooms or more, which makes sense as there is simply more space to arrange. In general, Chinese youths prefer newer apartments because they view them as slicker and more modern, while the older generation prefers older apartments, as they are perceived to have better social communities.

Two of the most expensive areas in the city are Hangzhou’s densely packed downtown, around the south east of West Lake, and the less densely populated rolling hills to the west of West Lake. Living space in Hangzhou’s city centre sells on average for 70,000 RMB per square meter. Part of this high price tag is convenience, but status undoubtedly also comes into play here. The priciest homes in the entire city are located in the hills above West Lake’s west shore, north of the city centre in an area called Jiuxi Meigui Yuan (九溪玫瑰园).  Houses in this neighbourhood go for around 100,000 RMB per square meter. Jiuxi Meigui is considered Hangzhou’s “Big Boss” neighbourhood, for obvious reasons.

Housing prices become more reasonable once you move away from West Lake. Older apartments – built in the 1980s or 1990s – located outside the city centre and away from any of the three bodies of water previous listed, go for between 25,000 to 30,000 RMB per square meter. New apartments in the same locations sell on average for 40,000 RMB per square meter.

The two newest areas in Hangzhou are Jiang Gan Qu (江干区), in the east of Hangzhou, and Bin Jiang Qu (滨江区), located south of Qianjiang River. Binzhan has developed particularly quickly ever since Wang Guoping, mayor of Hangzhou, decided to re-focus development away from the West Lake area and towards the Qiantang River in 2005. In 2009, old apartments in the city centre were comparable in price to new apartments in Bingzhen. Since the New Year, however, the price gap between Bingzhan and Hangzhou city centre has become increasingly narrow. A previously mentioned factor largely responsible for the steady rise in Bingzhan housing prices is the area’s proximity to the River. Like with West Lake, expect prices to be significantly higher if you have a view.

Hangzhou lacks an “expat neighbourhood,” so foreigners living in Hangzhou tend to settle wherever is most convenient to their schedule. Students tend to cluster in the area around Hangzhou’s Yellow Dragon stadium because of its proximity to Zhejiang University. Professionals, meanwhile, tend to settle near their place of employment. Hangzhou’s traffic is notoriously bad, and a miserable morning commute is enough to put anyone in a bad mood. But, the point is that you’re not going to find an area in Hangzhou that caters entirely to foreign residents. The closest thing to an “expat area” would probably be the Shi Ji Xin Cheng (世纪新城) development on Xi Wen Er Lu near Century Mart.

A neighbourhood that’s popular with Hangzhou’s middle class along with the odd foreigner is Guden Lu. This area’s development started in 1995, and real estate there has significantly appreciated in value since. The public square at Cheng Xi Guang Chang is surrounded by a number of appealing living amenities, including one of the largest and best cinemas in Hangzhou as well as restaurants and shops. The area also has lots of access to open space, including Xixi Wetland Park. It is a bit out of the way though, especially if you need to get to Hangzhou’s city centre on a regular basis.

An additional factor that has already started to affect housing prices is proximity to Hangzhou’s currently unopened Line 1 line. According to agents at Bui Hua, apartments located near future subway stops are already 10-20 percent more expensive than otherwise comparable apartments not located near subway stops. This trend will likely continue after Line 1 opens. Currently, the expected opening date is December 28, 2011. Upon completion, this first of Hangzhou’s eight planned subway lines will cover 48 kilometres, and connect Xiaoshan Xiang Lake, located south of the Qiantang River, Hangzhou’s city centre, Linpin District, and the Xiasha University District. If living near the metro is something that appeals to you and you don’t mind paying more, you can check out Hangzhou Metro’s website at http://www.0571dt.cn.

Hangzhou, like most other major cities in China, is changing rapidly and real estate is no exception. Trying to find an apartment in this environment can be intimidating, but if you take it one step at a time, you’ll find yourself in your new home in no time. Whether you are settling down for the long term or just for the semester, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

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