Accommodation is probably one of the biggest headaches of moving to a new country. Especially in China, where tricksters are a common occurrence in the real estate business, there are definitely a few things to watch out for. For our house hunters, Hello Nanjing has prepared a guide of how and where to find flats. Also watch out for our guide on how to rent flats, coming soon. Good look with the hunt!
Flatmate or no flatmate, that is the question
One question is of course whether or not to look for a flatmate; the obvious advantage being you will save money while the biggest drawback is that you do not know whether the other person will be reliable in terms of payment or whether they are a joy for you to live with. If you do want a flatmate, should it be another foreigner or a Chinese person. Here are some points to keep in mind:
If you are a professional and your flatmates are students (or sometimes teachers) there is a slight risk that you have very different schedules, i.e. they enjoy a good night out even during the week and wake you upon their late return when you are trying to get your very necessary sleep before a busy day of work. Of course, not all students are like this and it is possible you will find a quiet person who is really just here to study, but from experience I think it is fair to say a fair share of younger people here enjoy a good many nights out.
Then again it can be so much fun to have exciting people around and enjoy fun evenings cooking, watching movies and just hanging out. Plus, if you are new, a foreign flatmate will quickly help you integrate and find a bunch of friends.
The more serious issue tends to be that very few international flatmates are in it for the long haul, as they generally tend to stay in Nanjing only for about half a year to a year. Hence the question of what happens when they leave. Will you be the main tenant? If so, if that room is unoccupied come payday, the financial loss will be yours. Then there is of course the stress of finding a new flatmate at regular intervals, which is not much fun either.
So, you have just moved to China and you are super excited to get down and deep with Chinese culture! One great way of doing that is by living with a Chinese person, as you get to practice your language and learn about Chinese culture every single day. Definitely, some of the most enlightening and enjoyable conversations come out of living with someone local, who can explain to you all those strange cultural practices you encounter and never quite understand. This will also make sure that you don’t drift too easily into the foreign circles and don’t hang out with Chinese people at all. However, you should take such a step with your eyes open; there might be some issues along the way.
One has to acknowledge that the cultural difference can cause conflict. For example, I have found in the past that my female Chinese flatmate went to bed at 10pm and then asked me not to shower or make any noise after that time. For a night owl this can be very difficult. You might also encounter very different hygiene standards or expectations of what involves cleaning.
Finally, there is the question of sharing food. This also depends on your personal preference, however coming from a Western background I find most people I know feel that, while it is no problem for a flatmate to take an egg or steal some bread, if they have run out, it is not great if this happens all the time. It is not uncommon for local flatmates to take food items bought by you on a regular basis, and you might often return home to find you do not have the ingredients you need to cook that meal you had planned. This is simply based in the cultural roots of China in communism where there was no individualist notion of “this is my food, and this is yours” but everyone shared everything. Of course not every Chinese person is like this, but from speaking to others this type of behaviour does seem fairly common. If this is something that ticks you off, you might want to reconsider living with a local.
Finally, especially if you are a newcomer to China, not living with foreigners might be a bit full on, as it can increase the culture shock you experience, whereas if you live with international flatmates it can be very calming to know they have had the same experience.
Living on your own
If you want to make sure that your home life progresses at its own pace, you can clean, shower and cook when you want and no one but yourself touches your food, you will want to opt for living on your own.
Then again, there are of course negative aspects to this, such as the higher rent and at times it can get a little lonely, or if you are fresh off the boat even a bit scary in an entirely new environment. In the end, it is up to you to decide, which type of living arrangement suits your character best.
Which Area of Nanjing?
Depending on whether you are here to work or study and on the address of the institution you are spending your time in most days, e.g. your office or uni. Here is a list of typical areas in Nanjing to rent:
Downtown Shanghai Lu
This is where you will find most students who attend Nanjing University, Nanjing Normal University or Hohai University, as all three of them are located in close proximity. This is a very vibrant part of the city with many international restaurants and going-out options, while the universities offer a lot of classes to workout. If you are a student or young professional looking for the action, the is the place to be. Because of the large number of foreigners, prices tend to be rather high.
While not at the center of attention as opposed to Shanghai Lu, this area is great for young professionals, whose office is close by and who are looking for slightly more affordable housing and a calmer lifestyle. The Wanda Shopping Centre offers everything the heart desires from great restaurants, to a cinema, KTV, shopping opportunities and even the Hilton bar, which is rather nice. The whole environment is rather modern, with big roads that have been constructed fairly recently.
Jiangning is very the place to be for families whose children attend the British School and for many teachers, as a lot of education institutions are located here. It is pretty far out, so unless you have a car, getting into the city centre can be quite a hassle (about 1 to 1.5 hrs each way). Still, Jiangning boasts its own Wanda shopping centre and entertainment options are steadily increasing. Also, since it is pretty much a suburb, the rent is a lot cheaper than in the immediate centre of Nanjing.
Xianlin is popular with families, as the International School is located here. In addition, most universities have a “new campus” in Xianlin, so university professors and some students also find themselves in this part of Nanjing. On the Northwestern outskirts of the city, this district is very big, very new and very far out. Since it lies behind Purple Mountain, the environment is so much better than the inner city. It has also turned into the test tube for Nanjing, as many restaurants open their doors out here to test their business proposition before they venture further East into the more central parts of the city and into more expensive rent. Hence, there are great food options in this area, though like Jiangning, a trip to the city centre will turn into a bit of a trek.
This is about as central as it gets. Xinjiekou is Nanjing’s central business district and boasts what is probably the largest metro station in the entire country (with almost 25 exits). Xinjiekou is busy, it is fashionable and it is exclusive. Shopping and dining options are so abundant you will never get bored. You better have a well-paying job though as rent in this area of Nanjing is as high as it gets.
Another business district, which after the Youth Olympics has become the in-place to be. Less cramped and more modern than Xinjiekou, this area is great for young and highly paid professionals, though it is also convenient for families who are sending their children to Eton House international School.
Hopefully this has given you an idea of where you might be best suited.
Finding A Flat
There are a number of channels to search for vacant flats both online and offline; depending on what type of living arrangement you are looking for (Chinese, Western or no flatmate), each have their appropriate channels.
If you are looking for a flatmate, online is probably the best option. If you want to find a Chinese flatmate and affordable housing, House365 and 58同城 are two of the biggest websites for vacant real estate. They are both in Chinese only.
If you are looking for a Western or an internationally-minded Chinese flatmate, the best places to look are the accommodation section on hellonanjing.net as well as nanjingexpat.com. An offline approach is to visit Nanjing University and Nanjing Normal University and find their classified walls, where people can also hang notices looking for flatmates.
If you do not want to share a flat, the best option is to look for a local real estate agency, such as Home Link 链家地产 or 5i5j 我爱我家, walk straight into their store and have the agents show you flats. If you cannot speak Chinese, The Nanjinger recommends Sun Home Real Estate, who handle rentals for many multinational companies.
BEWARE of fake flats online. Because real estate agents are under a lot of pressure to sign contracts, they have developed a trickster method that has become very common on online real estate websites. They will upload pictures of an entirely different place, of course a lot more fancy and often bigger than the real deal to lure customers. Most of the time sadly you cannot trust those images on websites. If you go straight to the agent’s office you won’t waste your time on a pipe dream; also you can tell them your exact requirements and they will try their best to meet them.
If the online listing is looking for a flatmate and is a private person, there is less chance of you being taken for a fool since obviously someone already lives in the flat and therefore it must be in an inhabitable condition.
Also, if possible bring a Chinese friend. Knowing that you are a foreigner might tempt people to try and overcharge you for rent, as they tend to think you have lots of money. A Chinese friend can give you feedback as to whether the prices you are being given are realistic. Moreover, when it comes to the legal side of things, they can make sure everything is ship-shape.