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Sound advice for house-hunting expatriates
By Nie Xin

American Seje Seretse arrived in Shanghai in April 2011. Like many expatriates living and working in town, Seretse, who is a manager at a foreign invested enterprise, found it difficult to find a good apartment when he arrived.

Seretse, 28, is now living in an old apartment on Dalian Road W. in Hongkou District. He pays 2,100 yuan (US$333) a month for the 33-square-meter apartment.

“This is my third place in Shanghai. Previously I was in a hotel in Putuo District. Then I moved to Jinqiao and now, Hongkou,” he says.

Seretse is still looking for a new place. His requirement is a well-refurnished residence of approximately 50 square meters with a budget of about 3,000 yuan per month. This time he is asking for an agency to help find a place.

“Care should be taken during the negotiation and contract signing stages,” Seretse says. As an expatriate with some experience in renting a residence in town, Seretse recommends that foreigners looking for apartments get a Chinese friend to help them search good real estate websites.

Experts also have plenty of good advice.

“We suggest that clients start searching for a place one or two months before their desired lease commencement date,” says John Zhang, marketing manager of Fullhome Real Estate & Relocation Services, one of the top real estate and relocation companies in China.

If you start house hunting too early, landlords will likely be unwilling to hold a property, thus diminishing the chance of negotiating the best lease rates, Zhang says.

The agency says there are three key things to consider when choosing a residence — budget, type of accommodation and location.

Before you decide to rent in a specific area, consider your family’s needs — budget, office location, schools for children and other preferences like shopping and medical facilities.

Most properties for rent in Shanghai are furnished. A fully furnished property usually provides electrical appliances such as a TV set, refrigerator, water heater, microwave oven, washing machine, dryer and DVD player. Furniture will include bed, sofa, coffee table, dining table, dining cabinet and study table.

However, some landlords are flexible and will remove some or all the furniture. In some newly developed compounds, you may also request that the landlord decorate the property according to your tastes. All of this depends on negotiation with the landlord.

If you find the property through an agency, they usually will prepare the lease agreement and send it to both parties for signing. When expatriates lease a property in Shanghai, a residence permit or work permit is generally not required.

“When expatriate clients sign the agreement, generally only an identification document such as a passport is required,” says Alice Ai, marketing manager in the Shanghai office of Joanna Real Estate, one of the largest real estate consulting companies in China.

Zhang says expats need to remember to register at the nearest police station whenever they change residence in Shanghai. Expats need to provide their passport and the signed rental agreement to the police, according to Zhang.

During negotiations with the landlord, pay close attention to rules about damage and compensation, rental and pets.

Things you should not do during your home search:
1. Do not decide on any property just by looking at pictures without a physical visit.
2. Do not sign a lease for any property when it is just an empty shell (during the construction phase).
3. Do not rent a property in a new compound where all the neighboring apartments or houses are being decorated.
4. Do not provide the landlord/potential landlord or landlord’s representative with your name card or contact information until you move into the property, otherwise you may be contacted by many strangers for different sales promotions.
5. If this is your first overseas assignment you may want to consider avoiding compounds where the majority of residents are locals, even if you feel you are looking for a “cultural experience.”

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