Searching on the Internet
If you just landed in Shanghai and don’t have contacts, the fastest way to find an apartment is probably to check International websites like smartshanghai.
The pros are that you won’t have to hunt for an agency on the street and most luckily you will deal with a landlord or an agent able to speak English.
Also, if you have a tight budget (less than 5000 RMB per month) and you don’t want to live too far away from downtown, getting a room in a shared flat will be your best choice. In this case, since very few agencies manage shared flat, searching online is your best choice.
Other ways to find a room in a shared apartment
There are several expats groups that focus on Shanghai. You could sign up and see if there is anybody looking for a room. In this case, you could propose him/her to join you and look together for a flat. If you team up with 1 or 2 other people that are also looking for a room, you might also be able to rent a whole apartment.
With several advantages
• You will have much more choice because Shanghai is full of empty apartments while empty rooms in a shared apartment are more difficult to find.
• You can contact with a formal agency so you don’t have to rely solely on your online search.
• You will get a better deal as renting a whole apartment is usually cheaper than a single room in a shared one.
Looking for an apartment through an established agency
In this case, your best bet is to choose a reliable agency (like us http://www.flatsh.com)
The advantages of using an agency to find an apartment in shanghai
• Most of the agents can speak fluently English (except agents on the street.) They can communicate with you smoothly and understand your needs.
• Established agencies will have property resources covering the entire city. They will suggest you the best area according to your situation such as office location, metro station, friends’ community, etc.
• It will help to save your time. If some street agents bring you to a very bad apartment, tell him that you want something better. If the second flat is like the first, just walk away since they might totally don’t understand what you want but just want to sale what they have. There are plenty of honest agencies so there is no reason to deal with someone that is trying to rip you off.
• It will help you to save cost. Agents working for established agencies usually care about their reputation. They will try to bargain the best rental price for you, this is a common practice in Shanghai and usually, you will get a 5%-10% discount according to your agent bargain skills.
• It will provide you support and service. Agents working for an established agency worked with corporate company’s client.
• They will have more experience to avoid scams in contracts (especially if the landlord is a local private owner as the contract might be only in Chinese).
Expenses to consider besides the rental (deposit, agency fee, electricity, etc.)
In Shanghai, you should pay the rent every month or, in some cases every two months. You will also have to pay a security deposit. Be aware that you shouldn’t accept to pay a deposit higher than 2 months-rental.
When you find an apartment you like, you should “block” it. Meaning you have to anticipate a small amount of money. In exchange, the landlord will provide you a signed receipt.
You will also pay a commission to the agent, usually 35% of one month rent. If the agent asks for more just tell him that 35% is the standard fee (Sometimes, big agencies charge the service fees from the landlord not from the client).
Most of the time you will have to pay the electricity, water, gas and internet bills by yourself.
What you should pay attention to on your lease contract.
• First of all, the house contract should be in English or both in English and Chinese languages. Don’t sign any contract in Chinese if you don’t understand the language.
• The name of the landlord should be in the contract. And also ask the landlord to provide a copy of his ID card and ownership certificate.
• The address of the apartment should be properly written in the contract.
• The monthly rent fee, the deposit fee and the rent scheduling (every month or every two months) should be mentioned in the contract.
• The duration of the contract should be specified. It is also something that you can ask your agent to bargain (with fixed or flexible terms).
• The contract should state that the landlord is responsible to fix major damages (like a broken fridge or air-con).
• The contract should state that in case the landlord asks you to live before the end of the contract, he should pay a penalty (at least the same amount of your deposit).
• Read your contract and check that everything we mentioned is written. If it’s not written, it doesn’t exist. And you won’t have any power to enforce the landlord to respect his word.
Last but not least!
• If you don’t want to use an agency, avoid signing a contract with a landlord that doesn’t live in the apartment (or next door). Also, avoid intermediaries. Third-party could just run away with your money. And this doesn’t only happen with Chinese intermediaries.
• Get a receipt for anything you pay. It may seem obvious, but there are still people forgetting to ask for it.