Finding a place to live in Beijing – where do you begin? In a city with over 22 million people, roughly the population of Australia, it’s a daunting task. Using a good real estate or relocation agent to help you through the process is important, especially if you are new to the city. By weighing the pros and cons of city versus suburb living, you can immediately cut your choices in half.
considering the city?
Pros: Living in the heart of the city is a great Beijing experience. You will likely be within walking distance of historical sites, restaurants, shopping hubs, embassies and schools. Medical facilities, should you need them, are convenient as well. The subway makes it easy to get around and cabs are plentiful. Many company offices are downtown, making a commute for the family wage earner a relatively easy one. Living quarters range from the more economical local options to the fancy (and expensive) modern high-rise complexes. In the city, you’ll be immersed in Chinese culture, and you’ll likely improve your Mandarin much faster.
Cons: If you are a dog lover, your pet must be less than 35cm tall to live within the Fourth Ring Road (see p28 for more details). The inconvenience of dog ownership when living in an apartment might also play out during the many trips to take the pet outdoors. While you may have grassy courtyards or nice parks nearby for outdoor recreation, it’s not your yard, and going home means walking up stairwells and down corridors. You’ll need to ensure that getting your youngest children to school is safe and convenient from where you choose to live. Not having your own car may be a blessing, but if you have multiple children or young ones that you want buckled in a car seat, getting places in a taxi can become a chore. Air and noise pollution is more abundant in the city, too.
settling in the suburbs?
Pros: Once nothing more than countryside, the suburbs outside Fifth Ring Road have become a fast-growing extension of the city. Proximity to the International Airport, Beijing’s largest international schools, and the option of detached houses, town houses or apartments has created an attractive neighborhood for expats. Families with kids have the convenience of spur-of-the-moment play dates and activities to help foster friendships, while children can safely roam around gated compounds by themselves. You likely have a car or driver to get around, and far less traffic to contend with. If you don’t have a driver or a car, subway Line 15 makes trips downtown much easier. You still get the China experience with local hutongs, restaurants, and the occasional herd of sheep on the road to remind you of where you’re living. Large dogs? No problem here.
Cons: Unless you’re pulled out of your cocoon, it’s easy to miss all that this historical city offers by being "so far out" in Shunyi or nearby suburbs. Life gets busy and time flies by, sometimes without taking advantage of the city experiences. You can occasionally feel isolated in an expat bubble. Other than the gardens inside the compounds, there aren’t as many public parks as there are in the city, and you’re ability to get out and explore is limited. The commute to work is likely longer and more expensive, and taxis from the city to Shunyi are hard to come by as the taxi drivers find it difficult to get a fare back into the city. Downtown cab drivers rarely know how to get around in the suburbs, which can make traveling difficult if you don’t speak any Mandarin.
The list of pros and cons changes and grows depending on who you talk to. People with children suggest that you choose your school first. Explore all facets of city and suburb schools. Many are stellar and it’s worth the effort to visit them and see what fits your family best. If possible, choose your housing location based on your school of choice. Schools have many after-school events your kids won’t want to miss, and likely their schoolmates will live nearby. Be aware that sometimes schools have long waiting lists and it isn’t possible to get into your number one choice. School bus services are almost always available going to and from the city and the suburbs, so transportation is still readily available if the coordination of school and home does not work out.
Be sure to get a realtor that will work for your needs. Ask for another agent if you are feeling any undue pressure. And be sure that they know what to ask for: Can you get a free month’s rent? Is there a furniture allowance? Are you allowed to paint inside? Are clubhouse facilities included? No question is a silly one – ask before you sign.
Here are some tips from people who have gone through the house-hunting process:
• If you’re here on a relocation package, try adding the option of moving after the first year. Often, it takes that long to know what really suits you and your family. If you’re not on a package, sign a one-year lease only.
• Rental prices tend to increase in July and August. The cheaper months to move are between January and April, when more houses are available and fewer tenants are looking.
• Many people suggest never using the "company preferred" real estate agency, as they know your budget and maximum price. Lease negotiation is exactly that, a negotiation. You should explain what you’re looking for, not what your budget is.
• If you have time to spare, consider using multiple agents and choose several houses and apartments that would fit your needs. Different agents often give different prices on the same house, and you’ll always want something to fall back on should one agent not pull through.
• If you speak Chinese, working directly with the compound management or landlord is often the best way to go. They are often most willing to negotiate fairly.
• Expats should expect to pay 20-40 percent higher than locals for accommodation.
• While many expats work in Haidian District and Financial Street, few families opt to live in the west of Beijing.
• Find out who lives in the complex you are considering. Tailoring your living environment with compatible tenants may help you settle in more easily.
There is an overwhelming amount of housing options to consider. To help begin your search, we’ve provided a selection of popular real estate options and ballpark prices. Real estate agents dealing with expat-friendly compounds tend to keep their prices in USD. Rents change regularly, so check with your agent for the most up-to-date figures.
Central Park: 63sqm-600sqm (penthouse); USD 800-10,000/month; great location and world-class facilities, wide choice of floor plans and modern style.
Palm Springs: 123-600sqm; USD 2,300-12,000/month; perfect view of Chaoyang Park, five-star club facilities.
Park Avenue: 98-370sqm; USD 1,200-8,000/month; bright with open kitchens, view of Chaoyang Park, convenient transportation.
Parkview Tower: 164-330sqm; USD 1,300-6,000/month; spacious layout, cost-effective, open balconies.
Hairun International: 77-250sqm; USD 600-3,500/month; Lido area, reasonable price, large Asian and European community.
Embassy House: 213-400sqm (penthouse); USD 5,500-18,000/month; built by Hines (American developer), great community atmosphere and facilities, located close to embassies and schools.
Other Options: There are many new communities available, such as Sanlitun SOHO, CBD Private Castle and Xanadu Apartments. Landlords of new apartments usually offer lower rents as they are eager to lease them as soon as possible. There is also the possibility to choose the furniture style of the apartment as a first tenant. The downside to new housing is possible ongoing construction noise, dust and smells.
Good to Know: Lido has long been known as a great family-friendly area, conveniently located between downtown and Shunyi. Meanwhile, Shuangjing has become a new hotspot for families seeking an inner city locale with cheaper accommodation options. If you plan to work around Guomao, this area is a great option.
Yosemite: 360sqm-800sqm (detached house); USD 4,200-12,000/month; close to ISB, great layout, American, Spanish and Chinese design choices.
Lane Bridge: 256sqm-380sqm (semi-detached house); USD 3,850-7,000/month; close to WAB, easy access to Airport Expressway.
Beijing Riviera: 130sqm-468sqm (detached house); USD 1,850-10,800/month; great club and facilities, perfect social environment, dedicated dog park.
River Garden: 160sqm-400sqm all detached; USD 3,100-8,000/month; great management, social atmosphere, many US embassy residents.
Capital Paradise: 160sqm-800sqm (detached house with pool); USD 2,000-8,000/month; cost effective, good environment, wide choice of styles.
Legend Garden: 265-400sqm; USD 4,500-6,000/month; close to Dulwich, large European community, great gardens, golf course.
Other Options: Some of the newer, larger villas in the suburbs such as Shadow Creek are now being purchased by affluent local Chinese families. These mansions have indoor swimming pools and can cost RMB 60 million. Often, an extended family will live in one of these houses.
Good to Know: Landlords in the suburbs have started preferring two-year leases. While they do not want to change tenants often, landlords are now either selling their properties, or moving into them themselves. Long-term leases might prove to be beneficial to both parties: they provide security of occupancy for the landlord, while resulting in more attentiveness to tenant needs and requests.
Beijing Goodview Property Agency Co., Ltd. 华嘉汇
Mon-Sat 9am-6pm. Contact Dinah Chan. Rm 6A3, 6/F, East Wing, Hanwei Plaza, 7 Guanghua Lu, Chaoyang District (6561 6166) www.goodviewpro.com 朝阳区光华路7号汉威大厦东区6层6A3室
Embassy House 北京万国公寓
Daily 8.30am-5.30am. Contact Ludovic Dumas, Director of Residences. 18 Donzhimenwai Xiaojie, Dongcheng District (8449 9000) www.embassyhouse.com 东城区东直门外小街18号
Midland Realty 美联物业
Daily 9.30am-9pm. Contact Huijing Xie (Barbara). B1/F, Euro Plaza, 99 Yuxiang Lu, Tianzhu Town, Shunyi District (8046 3208) www.midland.com.cn 顺义区天竺镇裕翔路99号欧陆时尚购物中心地下一层