Many expats consider it a blessing that, increasingly, companies are not providing us with their own housing but instead a housing allowance. This way we can have the freedom to choose a suitable apartment to our taste as refuge from the hustle and bustle of Dalian. However there are many pitfalls in this for the unwary expat. As with many things in Dalian, one thing to keep in mind is ‘buyer beware’.
First you need to decide what kind of apartment will suit your needs. Do you want to be able to walk to work and shopping malls, or are you happy to live out in the suburbs and catch a bus? What kind of price-range is acceptable? Are you willing to live in an old apartment or would you prefer a newer one? Once you’ve figured that out, you’re ready to start searching.
Dalian has two major city centers, Qingni Waqiao and Xi’an Road. Apartments there are the most expensive, while further out in the suburbs prices are generally cheaper. A good general rule to note is that if the apartment is near a major shopping center it will cost more. Another major factor influencing price is the age of the house.
Older houses can be between 600 RMB and 1,600 RMB a month for one to two bedrooms. The lower priced ones are often unfurnished, in poor condition, with a squat toilet and no shower facilities or internet access. Even for the ones costing more, the quality can be very low by Western standards. Some common issues include windows that need taping, unreliable heating systems, mold, ubiquitous cockroaches, a shower without a cubicle and foul smelling drainage.
As a result you may prefer a newer house with more western amenities. Newer studio and single bedroom apartments cost between 1,600 RMB and 2,500 RMB, depending on size and location. Larger or two bedroom houses can cost between 2,000 RMB and 4,500RMB per month. Luxury apartments can cost as much as 10,000 RMB. However, if the house is brand new you should watch out for the problem of hazardous fumes from building materials.
Finding the apartment
There are two good ways you can find houses to rent in Dalian. One is to search online for classified ads such as the ones here. A better way is to ask a Chinese friend or co-worker to check online websites for apartments to let. This way you can avoid paying more and get the local price. Some good Chinese language websites include: http://www.daliancity.com and http://chuzu.runsky.com/.
A second option is to use a real estate agent, who can give you a range of options quickly and efficiently. However the rental rate may well be higher as landlords will want to cover the cost of the agent’s commission.
Once you’ve got a list of potential apartments, you can arrange an inspection. Be sure to pay close attention to your potential landlord upon first meeting. Signs to be wary of include fussiness, irritability and avoiding eye contact. These could indicate that your landlord will be at best less than helpful when trouble comes up. Then you should look the apartment over carefully. Bring a checklist and make sure everything you need is there: furniture, appliances and fittings. It’s far easier to negotiate for anything extra you need before you have signed the contract than after.
Dalian’s houses are not well insulated or sound-proof, so also check out the area around your apartment. Are there any construction sites nearby? Some lay dormant for years, only to explode into action when you least expect it. Likewise the subway line construction can be particularly noisy, punctuated by explosions during the day.
Signing the contract
When you have decided this is the home for you, you can get ready to sign the contract. Have a trusted Chinese friend translate everything to you, and keep an eye out for any unreasonable clauses. Make sure you are clear on who is responsible for expenses including the TV, utilities, internet, body corporate fee and winter heating. Usually the landlord should cover the latter two.
Remember to bargain! If you are willing to negotiate over the price of a trinket, then you should certainly haggle over the apartment’s rent. Do not assume you are being offered the lowest possible price, even if told that is so. As far as payment goes, it is the standard to pay three month’s rent in advance plus one month’s deposit. Some landlords ask for six months. If you agree to that, try to lower the rent or get something extra.
After you have signed the contract, make sure you check everything in the house for any problems. Take photos and notes as necessary and report them within 24 hours to the landlord. That way you cannot be held responsible for anything that is already damaged or broken. And then, you’re done. Enjoy living in your new home, and make sure to keep a good relationship with the landlord!
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