Feb 19, 2008

Viewing some Beijing apartments

The lease on my apartment was about to expire recently, so I took the opportunity to see some other rentals in the area before I renewed. I wanted to see what I could get for the same price range as far as comfort level, location, cleanliness, and size. So I contacted some rental agents, who were posing as landlords of course, through some Chinese language web sites. For those of you that don't know the scam, rental agents charge one month's rent, charged directly to the renter, for low-end apartments, or charged to the landlord, and then added to the monthly rent. The end result is that apartments are about 10% more expensive than they would have been without the rental agent.

First, a short digression. Dealing with rental agents stirred up my past memories of these parasites that control the Beijing rental market, and it made me think, "Beijing rental agents are more despised than lawyers are in the US, what if we did a find-and-replace on some old lawyer jokes? I bet it would work out nicely." Check this out, I did a quick modification of some traditional lawyer jokes from this page, and most of them converted pretty very well:
Q: What do you call 5000 dead rental agents at the bottom of the ocean?
A: A good start!

Q: How can you tell when a rental agent is lying?
A: His lips are moving.

Q: What's the difference between a dead dog in the road and a dead rental agent in the road?
A: There are skid marks in front of the dog.

Q: What do have when a rental agent is buried up to his neck in sand?
A: Not enough sand.

Q: How do you get a rental agent out of a tree?
A: Cut the rope.

Q: Do you know how to save a drowning lawyer?
A1: Take your foot off his head.
A2: No. Good!

Q: What's the difference between a rental agent and a bucket of shit?
A: The bucket.

Q. What's the difference between a rental agent and a gigolo?
A. A gigolo only screws one person at a time.
Now back to the original story. I saw some apartments over the course of a day or two, and it was highly educational. In summary:
  • By my quick calculations, Beijing rental prices have gone up 20% or so over the past couple years.
  • In Beijing, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a rental agent
  • There are some real shit holes out there being rented for a lot more than they should.
Here's a recap of my day's adventure viewing apartments, which started at around 8:30 in the morning. Floor areas sizes and prices converted into American for your viewing pleasure.

Apartment 1: 700 ft², $420 per month, 6th floor, no elevators.
Slogan: "The cardiovascular fitness apartment."

This place was pretty decent inside. It's long and skinny (板楼), with windows facing both north and south (南北通透). Problem was that it's in the middle of an area infested with Korean students (韩国人猖獗), and it requires walking a good 10-20 minutes to get anywhere. Plus I think it would get tiresome at some point living on the sixth floor with no elevators.

Apartment 2: 488 ft², $538 per month, 12th floor of a relatively new high-rise
Slogan: "Pinching pennies so hard that Lincoln screams."

This place was in a pretty nice development with a lot of upper-middle class local families. I even saw a girl driving a BMW in the parking lot. The main problem is that the couple that owned this specific apartment very obviously purchased it as a rental-only unit. They've never lived in the place themselves. They invested the absolute bare minimum in the internal plumbing, fixtures, and furniture. Check out the ratty cheap couch covered with a Jo-Ann Fabrics bargain-bin remnant:

And here's the bathroom that looks like the deserted chamber in the first Saw movie where the guy cuts off his foot:

Apartment 3:
646 ft², $405 per month, 4th floor, no elevator
Slogan: "Well worn, lots of character. Dirty mop water aplenty."

This was another north-south facing apartment, but it's pretty old. I'd guess 15 years or so, which due to the local construction techniques, really shows its age. The nice thing was that it's a very lively community. Outside there were lots of vegetable and food vendors. Nearby was a small community heath clinic with outdoor giant color posters of every flavor of IUD, as well as a pictorial time line of a developing fetus.

This particular apartment was a bit too-well lived in for my taste. When I visited, the previous tenants, three senior citizens, were still there loafing about on various beds and sauntering around in bathrobes with their hair in curlers. There were leeks and sunflower seeds and watermelon seeds everywhere. I think this was a group of regular pack rats. If I lived there, I'm sure I'd discover lots of hidden treasures that they'd stashed. Needless to say, this place would require extensive decontamination with a solution of bleach and water before I were to move in.

A well-worn kitchen.

Is this a romantic bathroom? Check out the stagnant, dirty mop water.

Apartment 4:
377 ft², $488 per month, 11th floor of a brand new, hotel-style apartment
Slogan: "I'm a greedy douche, and I'm not embarrassed about it."

What a waste it was to see this place. It's basically a hotel room that someone has purchased as an apartment and is then renting out. Although an efficiency unit may be warranted in a place with scarce space, like New York City, I don't think it's necessary in Beijing. On top of that, there's a tiny tiny refrigerator, like you'd have in your college dorm room, and a small induction cooker rather than a gas stove. Oh yeah, and they plan to kick out whomever is living there at the end of July this year in hopes of finding a sucker to rent it for $140 per day during the Olympics. This landlord gets the Greedy Douche Award.

Apartment 5:
753 ft², $488 per month, 2nd floor, no elevator
Slogan: "Avian Flu Redux: Ground Zero"

This was an older community, 10 years or so. The apartment blocks looked like burnt-out Detroit crack houses from the outside, but the inside of the unit I saw was decent. Check out this window of a nearby apartment :

The guy was raising every kind of nasty bird you could think of in the windowsill of his apartment. It's sealed up with old newspapers, cardboard boxes, and plastic so they can't escape. Is this where you want to be living when the next avian flu outbreak hits?

Here's the Cabrini-Green staircase leading up to the unit:

Check out the nice sturdy door so that local gang bangers can't get in. To either side are the two rental agents poised to jump on the landlord as soon as the door opens, like jackals on a fresh kill.

Apartment 6:
818 ft², $530 per month, 4th floor of a white-collar Chinese style apartment high-rise
Slogan: "The a-hole landlord."

This was a nice, white-collar Chinese high rise community. This apartment, however, wasn't cleaned in the past three years as far as I could tell. It was used by a ragtag office gang, and there were bundles of Ethernet cables strewn everywhere. Broken, dirty desks were shoved against the walls of the empty apartment. The bathroom had a tub, which is unique for China. Most places have only a shower.

From what I've been told, girls really enjoy soaking in a hot bath. I'm sure this decrepit bathroom would really set the mood. I think the pungent orange juice dripping down the wall, and the rotten, splintered plywood above the faucet would really work wonders.

As an added bonus, the landlord of this apartment was a complete cheapskate. I asked if he had plans to clean up the huge mess before the prospective tenant moves in, and his response was something to the effect of, "Say what? That's the responsibility of the new tenant." To his credit, he did mention he'd purchase a bed frame and a couple cabinets for the unit. I wasn't surprised to hear this vacant apartment had been on the market for a pretty long time, over a month and a half so far. This is not the guy I want to be renting from.

Apartments 7 and 8:
431 ft², $488-558 per month, brand new, hotel-style apartment
Slogan: "The upscale flophouse."

More overpriced hotel-style apartments. Check out these blood sucker agents waiting around for me to make a decision. The jovial fellow to the far left was with the building's property management office. I think he was annoyed we woke him up from his siesta to show us a couple units.

Again, a totally inadequate kitchen. A little induction cooker hot plate is fine for ramen noodles, but not sufficient for my cooking requirements.

In conclusion, not finding anything that gave me enough inspiration to move, I renewed my lease and I'm planning to stay there for now. I feel more educated about the Beijing rental market, and I'm content to go on making condescending remarks about the rental agents.


Blogger Jason said...

Very intresting!!!!
I didn't give me this oportunity of exloring this side of the real world.
I've recently been in Argentina, and I felt very comfortable with the apartment rental in Buenos Aires you know? it was really easy and econmic.. I think I was just lucky this time!
Hope you to be satisfied with your final decision :)

9:09 PM  

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