Finding a new home is never an easy process and there is always a surge of anxiety involved. Finding and settling in the home of your wish in a foreign country can undoubtedly be full of stress and uncertainty. It is even more so if you are relocating to a country with cultural and language barriers.

It will be my seventh year in Shanghai. Throughout the years, I have heard constant complaints regarding the unprofessional practice and lack of integrity of the real estate industry here whereas many of the landlords are far from considerate. I have gathered a few thoughts from my knowledge and experience and would like to share them with you. I hope this article will provide some insight into locating, securing and settling in the home of your choice in Shanghai.

Locating:
Most of the agencies tend to list the premises for lease at a discount of at least 10% on the asking price offered by the landlords in order to attract potential clients. As a result, when you contact the agency, you may find the property that you are interested in, which is within your budget, is no longer available. This happens all the time! You will then be asked whether you will be interested in other similar properties but at a higher rent. It is recommended to have a general idea of the current market rent of the properties you are interested in so that you will not get too upset or disappointed when you find out that its unavailability. Moreover, the interior conditions of most of the rental properties here will give you a real shock. The quality of maintenance and cleanliness of a particular property does actually tell you quite a bit of the attitude and mentality of your potential landlord.

Securing:
After you have located the property which suits your needs, you will then start the process of securing it. This can be both a tedious and frustrating stage. It is frequently found that the landlords are rather ‘mean’ to provide all of your needs unless you are willing to pay more. Therefore, it is awfully important to get to know your agent and agency well to ensure that the agent is eager to negotiate for you while the company he or she is working for is supportive. You will need to also make sure that your agent is committed to help and care for you well-being instead of just interested in concluding the deal and making the commission.

Given the expatriate society here in Shanghai is very transient, the property agents and agencies are more interested in keeping a long-term relationship with the landlords rather than the tenants. While righteousness and fairness are not quite in their dictionary, the goodwill of the agent and agency you are going to work with is awfully important. Moreover, the lease agreement which you are about to sign has to be drafted professionally. You will have to make sure that you totally understand your rights and obligations whilst you need to be well protected. Not reading Chinese is not a plus since Chinese prevails English with regard to the property law. If your agent’s English is not as good or professional, you may find out later on that the Chinese and English in the same lease agreement do not match or the protection you think you have may not end up the same.

Furthermore, I generally advise newcomers not to enter into a fixed-term lease for over 2 years since variance does occur and you are better off getting stuck for a year than two, except that you have secured a very competitive rent whereas the landlord is very compromising and considerate. As a result, working with a well-educated, experienced, professional and honest agent and an ethical agency is irreplaceably crucial. However, since the industry is renowned for its high personnel turnover, it is advisable that you will work with someone recommended by reliable sources. Furthermore, you must sign a lease directly between you and the landlord of the premises since quite a number of agencies may ask you to sign a lease between you and the agency. I would not recommend entering into any agreement without transparent information. Even though the agency may say that it is the appointed agency of the landlord, you are highly suggested to carry out due diligence on the relevant appointment agreement to find out the rights and obligations of the agency.

Settling:
It is, in fact, very common to find that your home may not be totally up to your expectation on the day when you move in. Landlords here are, in general, passive or quite irresponsive when it comes to repair and maintenance. Therefore, a very responsible agent/agency is required to check on and ensure that all your requirements are fulfilled before or when you officially move in. If there is a very tight timeline between the lease is signed and the actual move-in date, ie less than two weeks or in the middle of a long public holiday, you will then need to make sure when all the outstanding items will be completed. Do not take a verbal promise and everything has to be in black and white as well as duly signed by the landlord. Verbal promises cannot guarantee enforcement!

During your stay, you will, from time to time, need help regarding repair and maintenance. Please make sure that the agency you are working with has a good and responsible customer service division since the sale person you deal with may anytime leave for another job. Therefore, the commitment of the agency to provide good customer care is the core. However, agencies always claim that they have after sales service and, therefore, you are recommended to rely on positive word of mouth.

Relocating to a new country is always exciting and full of challenges. Getting reliable references is always recommended. I wish you and your family a joyful stay in Shanghai.

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