Renting in Shanghai Part 2 – Checking Out Places with an Agent

Renting in Shanghai – Get Prepared with LTL Mandarin School

Renting in Shanghai - Agents

Renting in Shanghai – Agents

Previously, we went over the prep work to do to get started on the renting in Shanghai process.

Hopefully by now you already know your non-negotiables and keep a list either on your phone or in your planner if you’re old school like me.

Now let’s move on to the next step in the process.

Getting in Touch with Agents  (中介)

Why you need an agent?

Real estate agents can make your life a lot easier for the whole renting in Shanghai process. Most expats find their apartments through an agent. Think of them as your personal assistant during the process of apartment hunting. They will help you sift through the hundreds and even thousands of rental listings and find the ones that fit your criteria. If you are worried about the language barrier, worry not because there are many agents in Shanghai who speak English and can communicate with the landlord (房东) on your behalf.

They can help with negotiating and organizing everything such as necessary paper works, so you don’t have to! Most of them can also help with police registration, internet and electricity. My favorite part about having an agent is how much time they can save you. If you are in a rush, they are able to find a place for you within days (although personally I recommend allowing yourself more than a couple of days to find an apartment so you don’t feel too pressured).

How to Find Agents?

Many of the listings on or any other apartment website you might have come across on the internet were posted by agents. Check for their WeChat information or phone number on the listing and add them on WeChat and BOOM! You’ve found yourself an agent. After you’ve been added to a rental WeChat group, you will get notifications on available apartments, most of which are posted by agents. Add their contact if you find something you like.

USEFUL TIP – Another way to find agents is to ask people you know for recommendations for agents they’ve worked with and had a good experience with in the past.

Working with Agents

If you have noticed, the title of this section implies that you should get in touch with more than one agent. Yes, it’s okay to work with multiple agents. In some places in the world, real estate agents will tell you that you are only allowed to work with one agent at a time. It’s not the case here if you are just starting to look at apartments. Talk to as many agents as you feel necessary. You want to shop around and explore various options so you can compare. Chat them up on WeChat (see what I did there?) and tell them your criteria and ask them how they can help you.

In Shanghai, the standard agent fee is either one month’s worth of rent or 35% of one month’s rent. If they ask for more, be firm and tell them 35% is the standard. It’s a good idea to ask about the agency fee before you start checking apartments so you’re not hit with a surprise at the end and waste your time.

Looking At Houses

You'll get used to views like this if you live in Shanghai

You’ll get used to views like this if you live in Shanghai

By now, you will have talked to a number of agents over on WeChat and narrowed down on a few agents you want to see apartments with. Now it’s time to move on to the next renting in Shanghai step and go to view some houses. Some agents might have already told you they know a few places that fit your criteria. A helpful tip here is to ask for actual pictures before you see the apartments. This way you are able to weed out any obvious ones that you definitely won’t like.

It’s also a common practice for agents to show you apartments outside of your budget. It’s annoying but it’s expected, as most agents earn commission, which means the more expensive apartment they can rent out, the more they get paid. You must be firm with them when that happens. If an agent keeps showing you apartments outside of your range, feel free to ditch them. You don’t want to waste any more of your time. All of this is assuming that your understanding of the rent prices is realistic. In general, 3000 rmb – 5000 rmb can get you an average room to share in city center. But expecting to find a room to share for 1500 rmb in city center is unrealistic (sorry, it’s true).

There are three main types of places you will see: apartments, lane houses, and compounds. They vary in terms of price, number of rooms, and amenities.

Apartments (公寓)

New and old apartments can be found in Jing’An, Xuhui, Huangpu districts. Not that surprising as all of them are considered city center areas. They are usually elevator buildings with modern design and some might even have a gym in the building. This is closest to the western apartments that many expats are used to. Price is on the high side.

Lane Houses (弄堂)

Renting in Shanghai - Lane Houses

Renting in Shanghai – Lane Houses

Lane houses are great if you want to live alone, as a couple, or with one other roommate as they usually only have one or two bedrooms.

There are also studio and loft-like styled lane houses. They are more affordable compared to new apartments.

On the flip side, because these are old houses, there is less light, and you might have problems with humidity, old pipelines and insects.

Compounds (小区)

Compounds are very common in Shanghai. Many of the local families and Chinese professionals live in them. They offer a lot more bedrooms; most commonly two to three but they can have up to six or even seven bedrooms.

Shared Apartment Complex in Shanghai

Shared Apartment Complex in Shanghai

The buildings themselves are either five to six story walk-ups or a thirty-story building with multiple elevators. If you are trying to get in shape, living on the top floor of a walk up might be a good idea. I kid, I kid. But do remember to tell your agent if you don’t want to live beyond a certain floor on a walk-up. Speaking of which, first floor of buildings here tend to get mouldy easily; some will have a very strong smell which you will notice immediately when you walk in. If that is something you care about, I would avoid first floors as well.

Hope you enjoy checking out apartments and rooms for now. In the next and final part of this series, I will take you through the final steps of this process and share some helpful resources. We are almost there!

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