I gave myself two weeks to look for a place to live once I landed in Shanghai. Partly to avoid paying too much for extended hotel bills, and party just want to get a must do item off the list. I made this deadline right on time.
Finding a place to live in a new country is a daunting task, especially if one has to commit to at least half a year or more on a lease. The key is to do some research before hand. Get familiar with the districts. Where is lujaizui, or Xintiandi? What does FCC mean? Where are the school locations? Which subway lines take you to the office? How bad is the commute from different parts of town?
Researching before hand is key to narrow down my choices. Best resources? Parents forums. We all care about quality of live beyond having good places to eat, but air quality, family friendly environment, access to schools and transportation. Ever since I have became a parent, all places I live I found that there are online forums and email lists that are formed by parents. These online communities have always been a great source of help.
Pudong vs Puxi
In shanghai one has to quickly decide on which side of the river does one want to live - pudong (east side) or puxi (west side). Since my office is in downtown at the heart of the financial district in pudong, I decided on stay on the pudong side as well. The reason is in Shanghai, car traffic across the river is terribly congested, like NYC. That leaves the only way to travel is via subway, while works, severely limits one’s options. For the first week I am staying in a hotel two stops away from work. Just trying out the rush hour traffic (you should do this way before apartment hunting) led me to the decision that I strongly prefer to find somewhere I can just walk to work.
Most expat lives in compounds. These are, sometimes very large, groups of buildings built by developers. These are self-contained mini city within a city. Multiple entrances with security guard and gates. Access to the gates, buildings, elevators and apartments are controlled by keycards. There are common facilities — green spaces and playground for sure, usually swimming pools, tennis courts, driving ranges and more. Sounds fancy? Sometime it is. Sometime it is not. One key point is that these compounds are large. With one thousand apartments for example, it does not take a lot of condo fees to support the common facilities. This is one case that scale is useful.
Not all compounds are equal. Many of the ones in pudong side is old. Most were initially developed in the early 2000. Unless the apartments went through a recent renovation, the interior could be 10 years old. Similarly the condition of the common facilities vary.
Real Estate Agent
Finding a good local agent to help is the key. There are two types of agent. There are agents that literally hang outside of main entrances of compounds. Their company has listings for the buildings within the compound. Their office is likely near the location. They show you a place, and you take your pick. They are highly localized, and are less expat friendly.
There are what I would think of as normal agents, who often will work with a local agent or owners, or have cultivated their own listings across different locations. They will be able to show you a wider range of properties. Since properties move very quickly it is all about timing.
I was lucky enough to be introduced to a agent, Jasmine, before I arrived in Shanghai. We exchanged a few emails the weekend before I arrived, and we setup an appointment to look at some apartments the day after my arrival. We spent two days looking at different compounds, got some advice as to the lay of the land and traffic, and quickly zoomed in on one compound and a few different units. We had paperwork in hand within one week. I could have moved in earlier except that it takes time to transfer money in from the US to pay for the deposits, and the place was just renovated so there were some last minute work before it is ready.
If you need a good agent who is quick to assess needs, professional and efficient to negotiate with landlords, and in general go out of her way to help, let me know and I will put you in touch!