Finding an Apartment in Shanghai: What You Need to Know

IMG_7833I’ve lived in quite a few apartments over the years–thirteen to be exact. I’ve lived in studios, junior one-bedrooms, a house, even a sorority house.  I’ve rented places in Florida, Washington, D.C., Seoul, and Bogota. So I thought finding a place in Shanghai, especially after living here for a year (in school housing) would be no different. I was wrong.

Shanghai is a bustling city, with a population of 25 million. That’s right, I said 25 million. People come here from all over the world for business, as it’s a global financial center and a major transportation hub. Needless to say, hotels are always booked, and realtors make a pretty decent living. There’s some hefty competition for apartments, though, and they go fast. I learned this the hard way. In fact, I learned a lot of things over the last few weeks–about Shanghai, the housing market, and myself. But don’t worry, I’ll save the lessons on personal growth for a phone call with my mother.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re ever in the market for an apartment in Shanghai, as well as a look at my new studio!

1.  SmartShanghai.com is a great place to start your search.

Before finding my place, and long before I was ready to leave my old one, I was obsessed with looking at apartments on this site. The housing section lets you see what’s on the market, and gives you an idea about how much you’re likely to spend, depending on size and neighborhood.

2. Almost all rentals go through realtors.

Most apartment deals are lead by realtors in Shanghai, and there a ton of them. I actually found a place by-owner, but this is very rare. Before I signed, I looked at other apartments by contacting realtors on Smart Shanghai, and by visiting real estate offices in desirable neighborhoods. There are real estate offices everywhere, and at least one employee will speak English. They will also have pictures displayed of current properties. Just let them know what price you’re looking to pay, and they’ll walk you to what’s available. Their fee is typically 35% of one month’s rent.

3. Shanghai is expensive.

Just to put things in perspective, the housing allowance for most single teachers living in Shanghai (Puxi district) is just short of $2,000 US/month. Of course, there is the opportunity to save some of this money, but you sacrifice space, or may not live as close to the metro as you’d like.

4. Space is a novelty.

Since I chose to save some money (yes, Mom and Dad, this is the year I pay back my student loans), I opted for a studio. Studios by definition are small, but mine is really small (apparently 35 sq. meters, or 377 sq. feet, possible 40 sq. meters with the balcony). Most one bedrooms seem to be between 40 square meters and 75. But keep in mind that these numbers are not always correct; realtors often exaggerate the size in order to pique the interest of potential customers.

5. You can negotiate.

As with most things in China, prices are hardly set in stone. It’s standard practice to offer a considerable amount less than the asking price and bargain until you are happy. You may have to pay more upfront (say 3-6 months’ rent) for a lower price.

6. You will have to pay a security deposit, and first and last month’s rent.

Unless you are taking over a friend’s apartment, or moving in with roommates, you will have to pay the equivalent of three months’ rent when you sign the contract. And if you used a realtor, you also need to tack on an additional fee (approx. 35% of one month’s rent). You will either pay in cash or transfer money from a Chinese bank account.

7. The process goes quickly!

Don’t start looking until two weeks before you want to move. Seriously. From the time I viewed my apartment ’til the time I was moved in was seven days. And unlike other cities, realtors in Shanghai will actually be irritated if you start your search the month before you want to move.

Even though I ended up moving quicker than I anticipated, I’m so happy I did. I absolutely love my new neighborhood, and am looking forward to exploring and sharing stories with all of you. Here’s a look at my new digs:

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The entrance to my apartment complex (a series of lane houses).

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My lane 🙂

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A look at my tiny apartment.

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See, it’s tiny.

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But it has a balcony. And wine. Well, I brought the wine. Wine makes everything better.

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And finally, a look at the neighborhood.

I plan on writing future posts about Shanghai’s neighborhoods and about living in a lane house. What do you want me to share?

16 thoughts on “Finding an Apartment in Shanghai: What You Need to Know”

  1. Wow, it looks much more home-y and not as overly modern as I was expecting for Shanghai, especially with the exposed brick. And what a cute balcony! I live in South Korea right now and I dream of having one of those!

    — Mel // http://www.marevoli.com

    1. Melody, Shanghai is really interesting in that way… in the shadows of the futuristic high-rises, you can find all sorts of traditional lane houses. It feels like I live in a 3-storey house with an adopted Chinese family! lol. I miss my time in Seoul too 🙂

  2. Wow we’re surprised you only had to pay 3 months rent in advance! We were living in Kunming and there it was normal to pay a full year (or 6months if you were lucky) in advance – obviously plus deposit and agent fee. Your apartment looks SO nice! Great, helpful post 🙂

    1. ONE YEAR in advance?? That is crazy!! Thanks so much for the comment. I am planning a trip to the Yunnan province later this year and would love to meet up 🙂

    1. Thanks, Laura! You should definitely visit Shanghai. It’s amazing, and I’d be happy to show you around 🙂

  3. Your experience sounds so similar to the one I had in London. Same realtors, same fees, same fast moving craziness. I’m actually perhaps moving to Shanghai next year with my company (we’ll see, fingers crossed) and your neighborhood is so beautiful. I was expecting 100% high rises and no character, but love the tree lined streets! Cheers!

    1. Thanks for reading, Julie! Good to know about London, and about the possibility of you moving to Shanghai! It’s a city of great contrast, so right behind a brand-new high-rises are thee cute little lane houses 🙂

  4. Sounds just like the process in Tokyo. When we moved in we had to end up paying like 2 months rent plus a security deposit which meant we needed to go to the bank and withdraw like $12,000!! Very interesting process that’s for sure.

  5. I think this is really a helpful article for many 上海 newcomers seeking to rent an apartment in Shanghai. We are showcasing many apartments like yours at our website, starting at around 8000 RMB/month: http://www.propertyrentshanghai.com
    And btw, we waive the agent’s fee for all rentals north of 15,000 RMB/month, thus making our service entirely free for most expat families.

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