How to find and rent an apartment in Shanghai

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Posted by HAOrealty on August 8, 2018
  1. Property sources: Where to find your new home?
  2. Timeframe: How long does it take to find an apartment in Shanghai?
  3. Drafting the contract
  4. Asking for more (or less): Negotiating a good deal
  5. Signing the contract
  6. The cost: When to pay how much

Property sources: Where to find your new home?

Generally speaking, you have 3 ways to find properties:

Through your own network – if you have friends in Shanghai, or if you know of a colleague who is going to vacate his Shanghai apartment, these can be valuable ways to find a nice place quickly. While the selection of properties is naturally very limited, you can count on getting honest insights and information about the property.

Walk into a real estate shop – This is the recommended way if your budget is limited and if Western interior design is not a must for you. Disadvantages are that you already need to be in Shanghai to begin your house hunt, and that some Chinese agents working for the local market take their customers on real adventures, applying misguided sales strategies like quoting far too high prices at first, or showing their absolutely worst stock first, to make the actually barely acceptable properties look like rare gems.

Online research – nowadays you can find 10,000s of property listings on various websites, including communities like smartshanghai, portals like craigslist, and Chinese sites like anjuke and ganji. While you may be amazed by the amount of proeperties you (seemingly) can choose from, you might soon find out that due to the pace of Shanghai’s real estate market many properties are rented out before you can visit them. Thus, the real purpose of your online research is to identfy an agent you want to work with. No matter whether you opt for HAO Realty or not, we strongly recommend against working with a wide array of agencies but instead to choose one or two agents/agencies and work closely with them. At HAO Realty we put great emphasis on training our agents to quickly understand our expat customers’ needs and preferences, and to understand the house hunt as a personal affair for our customers. As we maintain our own database and use 3 external listing aggregators, which allows us to cover around 95% of expat-suitable properties in Shanghai, finding the right property basically comes down to understanding exactly what our clients need.

During this process your agent will send you a number of apartments and adjust his preselection based on your feedback. The more detailed you can let us know what you like and what you dislike, the better will be your final selection to choose a property.

Timeframe: How long does it take to find an apartment in Shanghai?

How much time you need to find your new home and to get everything done depends on your situation and the scope of your relocation:
If you are single or a couple, and the main location criteria to consider are the surroundings and the distance to your work place(s), HAO Realty can usually find an apartment quite quickly for you, typically within 2 to 4 weeks. For mid-range and high-end properties this is also the time that most landlords are willing to wait for your lease contract to start.
If you are bringing your family over, that means more places have to be considered and balanced. Most family homes, like villas, are sprinkled throughout Shanghai’s ample suburbs, which makes property visits more effortful and often requires dedicated day trips. Most times it takes between 4 and 8 weeks to find a suitable home for an expat family in Shanghai. As those properties are often more costly, many landlords are also accepting longer wait times for the contract to begin.

Drafting the contract


If you are working with an agent, the paper work should be handled by them. If you are on your own, make sure the contract includes at the very least:

  • your name and passport number,
  • the landlord’s name and ID number,
  • exact property address,
  • the rental fee,
  • the deposit,
  • the payment schedule,
  • items (e.g. property rent, management fee, tax invoice, clubhouse membership, etc.) covered by the rental fee,
  • conditions and consequences for early contract termination by either side.

Asking for more (or less): Negotiating a good deal

By now it is well known that Chinese (business) culture is very welcoming towards negotiating final prices, and renting a property is no exception. While HAO Realty has great negotiators on its team, making sure we can always achieve attractive packages for our clients, below items are always worth a try to negotiate about:
  • lower rent: asking for a rent discount of 3-5% can never do harm and can often succeed.
  • (light) renovation work: If you are not super happy with the property’s current condition, ask to have broken/too old items be replaced or for a fresh wall finish (If you have any health concerns, for example regarding the chemical composition of the paint, be specific about your requirements).
  • gym or swimming pool access: if you found a property in a compound with onsite facilities, first find out whether access is free for all residents, or whether a paid membership is necessary. If it is the latter, it is not uncommon to ask the landlord to have the fee covered by your rental payment.

Signing the contract

When it is time to sign the contract, make sure that the contract is unchanged from the contract draft you have agree upon before.
Be sure that you have seen the landlord’s ID card and the property ownership certificate. You should receive photocopies of these documents.
If you are using a bilingual contract, please note that the Chinese version will always prevail in court. It is highly recommended to have a Chinese friend, colleague or lawyer to check the contract before you sign.

The cost: When to pay how much


The exact payment schedule will depend on your contract. Most commonly, tenants pay the rent every 1, 2, or 3 months in advance, with a security deposit of 1 or 2 months. Most times the first payment, covering both the deposit and the first rental payment, amounts to 3 or 4 months, which can be a very hefty sum for a newcomer. Make sure you will have sufficient funds available in China. The first payment is normally due at the date the lease starts. If there is a gap of several days or weeks, it is advised to make an appropriate down payment.

On the day you sign the contract your agent might also charge their commission or service fee. For properties with higher price tags, the agency fee is often fully paid by the landlord. At HAO Realty we have a cut-off at 10,000 RMB, meaning that if your rental fee is less than 10,000 RMB/month, we charge a service fee of 35%. 10,000 RMB/month and above, no service fee is charged from the tenant, making our world-class service totally free for many expats in Shanghai.

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