Robert and I have finally moved and settled in to our new apartment, woohoo! It feels pretty damn good to hang out in our own home after 3 months of hotel living. But believe me, the road getting here was not easy. Turns out that apartment hunting in Shanghai is a pretty huge pain in the butt. Here’s my take on the whole process:
Robert and I lived in Beijing a few years ago, and we absolutely loved our home back there. We had the best location, new building, bright modern apartment, 30th floor and the most spectacular view. It was just perfect. So when we came to Shanghai, the part of China that’s much more modern and international with higher standards, we obviously had even higher expectations. With a decent housing budget in our back pocket we assumed that apartment hunting would be like cherry picking, mainly made difficult by having to choose the best out of endless amazing options. Well, that wasn’t quite the case.
We were hoping to find a nice, modern, bright 2-3 bedroom apartment with a great, central location, but we quickly learned that this was a difficult equation even for a generous budget. If we wanted the location, we would have to compromise significantly in size and quality. And yes, we wanted the location, that was definitely a priority.
The Former French Concession around Huaihai Lu/IAPM Mall was at the top of our list, but we we’re also considering the Xintiandi area. Both are very popular and sought after both by expats and locals, which means prices are crazy and you don’t get too much for your money. But what surprised me most was how run down many of the apartment buildings were, both inside and out. We were mainly looking at newer, 5-20 year old high-rises and compounds (not lane-houses), but even they looked old and tired. If we wanted sparkly and new, it would have to be in another area. We decided to be open and flexible on the degree of fanciness and prioritise finding a place in the part of the city that we wanted to be in. Good move, because in the end we eventually found something not at all too shabby!
Getting priorities straight
Unless you have a gigantic housing budget, be prepared to compromise on your requirements. Robert and I went in to this having the longest list of wishes (rooftop pool included), but got a harsh push back to earth as soon as we were presented with our actual options. We had to completely reset our thinking and start over with prioritising as clearly as possible what we absolutely didn’t want to live without, and what we could be flexible on. Our top requirements ended up being location, functionality and a fresh, modern feel to the apartment. We also moved here with all of our stuff, so a big enough non-furnished flat with some extra storage space was pretty important. Most expats move in to fully furnished apartments, but as Robert and I don’t have a defined home to return to after the assignment, bringing everything with us, including furniture, was the best option.
I’m sure it’s possible to find an apartment and make a lease contract all by oneself here in Shanghai, but I think most of us expats are definitely better off with an agent. Negotiating terms with the language barriers and cultural differences, ugh. And even finding properties to visit in the first place… Better leave it to the pros. But finding a good foreigner-friendly agent can also be difficult as expats and locals often have very different standards and taste. The safest bet is usually asking for recommendations in the expat community, preferably by someone with a similar budget and situation as you.
Keep cool but act fast
Trust that the universe has your back and you’ll eventually find the right home for you. That’s so easy to say now that I’m sitting here in my awesome new living room writing this, but I can tell you there were quite a few desperate moments before we got here. If we hadn’t found this place, we probably would have ended up with the runner up apartment that featured a very shady hot-tub in the middle of the master bedroom, and an insanely colourful living room floor that put a knot in my stomach. If home-search in Shanghai is in your near future, be prepared that the process will take time and you might not find exactly what you’re looking for. Be patient and keep an open mind. And when you see something that has the right vibe, act fast because demand is huge! If you are in Shanghai (or wherever) as an expat for a limited time, embrace the fact that you can try something fun and different (like a hot-tub in the bedroom). This is only temporary and if you end up hating it, at least you’ll know what you DON’T want for your next home. It’s all about silver linings. :)
So what kind of apartment did we find, where have we moved in to? We ended up getting super lucky and finding a beautiful 3 bedroom flat in an excellent location on Changle Lu in the heart of the Former French Concession. The building is a bit run down and doesn’t look too impressive from the outside, but the apartment itself has just undergone renovation and everything inside is brand spanking new. Even our storage problem is solved as we pretty much turned one of the bedrooms into a huge closet. Yay!
I’ll post more pictures once the place is more decorated, but for now I’ll leave you with these snaps from the apartment viewing and moving day.