Pay less for a better Shanghai apartment

Pay less for a better Shanghai apartment

Shanghai real estate bubble be damned, these three local websites will help you find the best deals
Rent a Shanghai apartment

We've all heard how Shanghai is overflowing with real estate at the moment. But it seems whenever you're ready to look for a Shanghai apartment, you can't find a single good option. Everything seems either beyond your budget or less than livable.

But we have some news: it's time to broaden your housing search past City Weekend, SmartShanghai and Craigslist. 

Whether you're looking for a cheap RMB 600 flat share or simply a nice pad, you're going to find the most options on local real estate sites with new apartment listings updated several times an hour, plenty of photos and information about the properties, the complex and floor, even the direction in which the rooms are facing. 

Soufun.com - rent apartment ShanghaiWith the massive number of apartments posted on Soufun.com, it's no wonder looking for your own is a full-time job -- at least for a few days.Shanghai apartment finder no. 1: Soufun.com

Soufun.com is one of the most frequently updated housing sites and is favored by real estate agents, although you'll find a few savvy landlords posting as well. Properties here are mostly middle range.

Weekday mornings are the best times to visit as every real estate agent in town will be updating their latest properties (we're not kidding, check out the site around 9 a.m. and you will find about 30 pages of new properties updated just within the hour). But lots of new properties pour in throughout the day as well. You can refine your search by district, monthly rent, number of bedrooms and living arrangement (shared accommodation or individual). A second tab allows you to search properties by proximity to specific subway stations. 

After you narrow down your search, keep your eye out for a green “多图” button on the resulting listings, which indicates that the post contains multiple photos of the apartment. In addition, every listing title includes the asking rent per month in bold red, the number and size of the rooms, floor number and a reputation rating for the agent/landlord. 

The listings include a mapped location, nearby bus routes and subway, information about the apartment's renovation and the complex. On the right-hand side, you'll see a feed list of properties titled “十万火急出租房源” -- these are apartments that the listing’s landlord is seeking to rent out ASAP, and you'll often find especially good prices there as a result. 

Cons: In our own apartment search, we found that the best properties can be snatched up in as little as an hour from the time of posting on Soufun.com. According to Alexa, a company that provides information about website traffic, Soufun.com is the 33rd most visited site in China, so you can be sure you're not the only one out there looking for a good deal. 

Tips: When you see an apartment that you are interested in, call the agent's listed mobile immediately and book an appointment for that day. Do this even if you can only meet late night as most agents will meet you as late as 10 p.m. If you can get a (legit) haircut in this city as late as 1 a.m., are you really surprise you can view an apartment at 10 p.m.?

Our favorite Soufun.com listing: RMB 2,300 for a one-bedroom renovated shikumen apartment with balcony on Shaanxi Nan Lu, French Concession, near Line 1 Shaanxi Nan Lu station and Line 10 Jiashan Lu station. 

rent Shanghai apartment - Baixing.comIf you're set on avoiding agent fees Baixing.com is the place to try.Shanghai apartment finder no. 2: Baixing.com

Baixing.com is the Chinese version of Craigslist. You can buy and sell almost everything here. It even has the infamous dating section. Baixing's housing listing is the “people's apartment finder” -- meaning you'll find many more listings by the landlords themselves so you can skip the agent fees. Expect cheaper rentals than on Soufun and Haozu, and more listings in working-class and blue-collar neighborhoods. If you're looking for a gong fang (lanehouse) and a neighborhood of wet markets and dancing grannies, Baixing is a must-visit.

Properties don't move as fast as on Soufun, but the best ones are still taken within one or two days. If you're looking for roomshares or shared apartments, this site will have the most affordable options. We've even seen roomshares from RMB 400 a month and apartment shares from RMB 800. Be warned though that the cheapest accommodations can be very humble -- so inquire carefully about them before you take time out of your day to make a visit. 

The housing listings are busy throughout the day. Shared rental openings and individual apartments are listed separately under “房屋租售”. Enter in your own keywords or price range to search, or refine by district and rental type. On the title of each property listing, a green “图” will indicate if there is an image in the listing. Click on the tags “中价” or “个人" to show only listings posted by agents or by landlords.

Cons: Baixing can be a bit overwhelming with its rows of small, crunched characters. You'll have to pay careful attention to not miss anything. Unlike Soufun and Haozu, the information in each listing is not standardized, so you often have to go into the listing or call a listed contact for all the details.

Tips: Be especially careful as “二房东” (second landlords, or people looking to sublet rooms) more often post on Baixing's housing listings than on Soufun or Haozu. Second landlords are people who rent an entire apartment then sublet rooms without the consent of the original property owner. They will act as landlords and ask you to sign a lease and give them a deposit. It's a common scam in Shanghai. Despite this “contract,” the reality is that 二房东 cannot guarantee the safety of your possessions or even the space, and there is no legal recourse available to you if you are kicked out or burgled. Confirm with your contacts that they are the actual property owners before meeting with them. If you're suspicious, ask to see the chopped ownership documents.

Our favorite Baixing.com listings:

 Haozu.comHigh-end Shanghai apartment hunters look here first. Shanghai apartment finder no. 3: Haozu.com

Haozu's layout is pretty much ripped from Soufun, except that they favor a soothing blue hue. The majority of listings are posted by real estate agents, with properties tending to be more high-end than the other sites. Consequently, most posts go up in the morning, with less frequent additions throughout the day compared with Soufun. High-rollers who want a beautiful, no expenses barred base in Shanghai -- this is where they (or their assistants) are looking.

In the listing title you'll find the principle information, like size (in square meters), number of rooms, floor, complex and rent per month. Sometimes information about the complex, renovation and a floorplan will also be provided. On the bottom of the page, the site will recommend properties according to the ones you've viewed, and apartments in the same area or price range on the right hand side of the page. Most listings come with photos, and those with “多图” come with multiple photos.

Cons: Less frequently updated and a smaller property price range.

Tips: Take a look every day to get in on the rare good deals posted here on upscale apartments -- we've seen several good Haozu exclusive properties.

Favorite Haozu.com listing: RMB 8,800 for a three-bedroom, two-living room high-rise apartment on Xikang Nan Lu, Huangpu District, near Line 8 Xiaonanmen subway station.

Rent shanghai apartmentShanghai apartment hunting? Things to keep remember:
1. Take a few days off work and dedicate yourself to the hunt. Plan to see five to eight properties a day, but structure your time wisely -- being late to a meeting with a Shanghainese landlord can ruin your chances of renting the apartment.

2.  Treat a landlord meeting as a job interview: dress well, bring business cards and be prepared to answer questions about all aspects of your life. Many landlords aren't in a time crunch, and will wait months to find “the right tenant.”

3. Negotiating rent is standard. You can use anything to negotiate, including the direction that the rooms are facing. Rooms facing south are preferred since people believe these spaces are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
Joanne Yao is a writer and editor based in Shanghai.
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