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Advice from a real estate expert on finding accommodation in Beijing

Updated 29 Jun 2012

Tina Li has been working in the expat housing and relocation services field in China for over 13 years, and is currently a partner at Greenpath Relocation and Real Estate Services in Beijing. Here she shares her insights and answers some of the most common questions expats have about finding accommodation in Beijing.

What options are available for expats in Beijing to rent property? 

There is a wide choice of housing for expats in Beijing. Most expats prefer living in the high-end properties developed or newly renovated in recent years due to better quality, design, security and management service than local developments. We call these “expats housing compounds”, which are categorised as serviced apartments, high-end apartments and high-end villas. In recent years, a new concept of serviced apartments has appeared in China, which are owned by individual landlords and rented at much lower rental than traditional serviced apartments.

What areas of Beijing do most expats and foreigners live in?

Most expats in Beijing live in the eastern or northeastern part of Beijing, mainly in Chaoyang District, Dongcheng District and Shunyi District. Chaoyang District and Dongcheng District are home to foreign embassies, most of the international organisations or agencies, foreign companies, luxury hotels, restaurants, bars, shopping malls, high-end apartments and office buildings. Shunyi District offers an excellent living environment for expat families with children, as you may find half of the city’s international schools here, and for people who prefer a leisure lifestyle, lots of outdoor space, green trees and beautiful flowers, and those who want to escape the pollution of Beijing. 

What documents are needed when renting a property in Beijing?

No documents are required when signing a contract for renting a property. But once expats arrive in China, proper documents must be obtained step by step according to immigration policy. All expats need to be registered at the local police office within 24 hours upon arrival in China.  

Are there options available for furnished accommodation in Beijing?

Most apartments available in Beijing are fully furnished or to be furnished by landlords upon request, except for a small percentage of landlords who have no time to take care of the apartment, and would rather wait for a tenant who brings their own furniture. About 30-40 percent of villas are rented unfurnished or partly furnished, as many expat families prefer shipping their own furniture over to Beijing.  

Are foreigners allowed to buy property in Beijing?

Yes, but in order to curb foreign capital in driving up the property price, the authorities in Beijing have issued regulations stipulating only expatriates living in Beijing for more than one year and those who could provide details proving they would be the primary inhabitants could buy one house in Beijing. Mortgages are available from both domestic and foreign banks. 

Are utilities (such as water and electricity) normally included in the rental costs?

All serviced apartments offer a rental which includes utility cost (such as water, electricity and gas), some for unlimited usage, but some for a reasonable amount to cover the cost. However, for high-end apartments or villas owned by individuals, the rental only includes a property management fee. If the tenant has a higher housing budget than the requested rental from the landlord, a rental package can be negotiated to cover the other living costs, such as utilities, fitness club membership, broadband, satellite television, etc.

How much deposit is normally required for securing accommodation?

In order to secure a property, the deposit might be from a few thousand RMB to one month’s rental. If the landlord is an individual, the amount of deposit is up for negotiation and the landlord’s expectation.  A few serviced apartments even require two months’ deposit during the high season. However, many serviced apartments accept credit card authorisation. 

During the slow season, landlords might reserve the property upon signing an offer letter or a tenancy agreement without requesting a deposit.

Do expats need to go through an agent to rent property in Beijing? 

Most expats go through an agent to rent property in Beijing, or through leasing office/department or management office of a compound, which is, as a matter of fact, an agent as well. A real estate agent specialising in expat housing will efficiently assist expats to find accommodation among all housing options in Beijing. A professional agent will act on expat’s best interest and provide follow-up service during the expat’s whole tenancy term. Agent services are free to expats in Beijing, as agents are normally paid by the landlord.

Do most agents speak English or will a translator most likely be needed?

Real estate agents specialising in expat housing can usually speak English. A translator is not necessary at all, unless expats are exploring local communities through a local agent.

What language are rental contracts written in?

Rental contracts can be written in both English and Chinese if a foreigner is involved. However, should any dispute arise, the Chinese version shall prevail.

What is the best way to find accommodation in Beijing? 

The best way is to hire a real estate agency specialising in assisting expats to find accommodations in Beijing. Most of the classified property information in magazines, newspapers, websites, is provided by agents instead of real landlords. However, the information could be used for references or comparison. From time to time, you may find a direct landlord of a few apartments or villas. 

Is there any other advice you would like to offer expats who are looking for accommodation in Beijing?

In order to avoid any potential problems occurring during your lease, pay attention to the following points when you are looking for an apartment or house in Beijing: 

Noise: Downtown Beijing is noisy. Traffic and on-going construction are the main causes. Check if the noise level is acceptable.

Energy consumption: Some properties in Beijing only have individual heating systems for each apartment/house, instead of centralised heating for the city. Expect heating costs to be high in the long cold winter.

Basements: Many houses in suburban Shunyi have spacious American-style basements. Despite Beijing's dry air in most months, to prevent mould, it's important to have one or two dehumidifiers running in summer.

Drainage: Some older properties in Beijing don't include U-shaped reservoirs in the drainage system. Even in some recently developed properties, due to some irresponsible work of contractors, some apartments or houses still have a drainage smell in the bathrooms. Some of the problems take a long long time to get fixed. Check it yourself before signing the lease for a property.

Fapiao: An Official Tax Receipt, “Fapiao” in Chinese, might be a new concept to expats. Official tax receipts are requested by the Finance Department in most multinational companies, so that rental must include tax from a tenants’ point of view. However, prices quoted in advertisements or by some real estate agents are net rental without tax, as those are the rental income expected from individual landlords. Individual landlords need to pay 5 percent on top of the rental if the tenant’s company needs an official tax receipt for accounting purpose. Therefore, when you see a cheap house in an advertisement, make sure that it includes tax and other items you hope to cover, such as club membership, broadband, satellite television, etc.

Further reading

Accommodation in Beijing

Cost of Living in Beijing

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