Finding a reasonably-priced, quality apartment in Guangzhou can be mightily complicated. There are plenty of apartment-blocks out there, but that’s part of the problem – shopping for the one you want, in the place you want. District-by-district searching sounds at face value like the best idea, but it’s not as easy as it sounds since, like many Chinese cities, most Guangzhou districts have exorbitantly-priced condos sitting just blocks away from ageing apartment towers.
How much does it cost to live in the different districts around town?
Although the district search is only partly helpful, it can still give us some idea of where to begin, so let’s look at the prices by district for a moment. All the prices below are for 1 bedroom apartments, with some furnishings and appliances, between 35 and 65 m2. Information is taken from http://rent.gz.soufun.com (Chinese language only).
Tianhe, as always, ranks most expensive, with a range usually between 1,600 and 4,000 RMB a month, and an average of 2,600. Some of the more upmarket developments are the International Apartments, Zhujiang New Town and Tianhe Bielu, all generally above 3,000 RMB.
Yuexiu District comes in next, ranging between 1,500 and 4,000 RMB, and averaging at 2,300. Dongshan and Beijinglu are both expensive areas, mostly above 2,500.
In descending order of price, the other districts stack up as follows:
Liwan: 1,500-3,000 RMB. Average: 2,100. Fanciest: Xiguan, Chen Clan Academy, Zhoumen – mostly above 2,200 RMB.
Haizhu: 1,400-3,000 RMB. Average: 2,000 RMB. Fanciest: anything by the riverside – 2,400 RMB and up.
Baiyun: 900-1,800 RMB. Average: 1,300 RMB.
Huangpu: 700-1,300 RMB. Average: 900 RMB.
Luogang: 500-1,500 RMB. Average: 800 RMB.
Panyu: 600-1,800 RMB. Average: 800 RMB. Fanciest: Panyu Country Garden, Star River, Qifuxincun, Southern Olympic Garden – 1,600 and up).
Zengcheng: 650-1,400 RMB. Average: 1,000 RMB. Fanciest: Zengcheng Country Garden – 1,300 RMB. Note: This district is rapidly developing, so price changes may be faster than normal here.
Huadu: 600-1,500 RMB. Average: 800 RMB. Fanciest: Yajule Housing Community – 1,400 RMB.
Nansha: No full price range was listed. Average: 500 RMB. Fanciest: Nanhai Country Garden – 1,100 RMB.
Keep in mind that the apartment price range will be generally narrowing, as older buildings are replaced by new ones. So even when the top prices are not rising, the bottom ones are. Also, in the outer-lying districts, the lower-priced apartments are usually going to be located further from center. There are still a few older villages located centrally, but this is getting rarer and rarer.
And remember that you’ll be expected to pay a (refundable) damage deposit when you move in – typically the equivalent of two month’s rent.
How about finding the best deal for a foreigner?
Agencies can always help, although if you are capable of doing the search yourself, this could save you some money in agent fees. Try to contact the owners directly if you are competent in Chinese or have a friend or spouse who is. Agents can be very helpful, but they are also a gamble. Chinese language will definitely assist you in finding the best deal, but certain owners will not even rent to foreigners. If you do go through an agency, as many foreigners do, a good search of the comments on their webpage can help in deciding whether to use them, as can a recommendation from a friend. Larger agencies with many outlets probably have more experience and respectability, but this really guarantees nothing.
One starting point besides agencies is to look on expat blogs and start asking questions. Check out the eChinacities Guangzhou classifieds section to get started. You can find good, friendly recommendations from expats here, as well as some agents looking for clients. Other websites simply advertise housing for very short-term visitors, offering modern flats for between 100 and 400 RMB per day. These rates can get hiked up during Canton Fair, or lowered if your stay lasts several months.
Can I negotiate if I don’t like the price?
Negotiating price is a definite “yes” in most places in China, and can save you a few hundred RMB or more on your rent. Some of this is dumb luck (finding a flat that is desperate for residents) and some of this is skill (being able to just say no if you don’t like the price). I know someone who talked his way into a modern apartment overlooking the Pearl River for only a little over 1,000 RMB, which is truly a rare deal. A part of being able to do this is knowing what other deals are out there and what other levels of quality are like. You can use these to make a strong case for a more-likable price.
How else can I save money?
A different route you can take in finding the right apartment for the best price, is getting an older place and doing a fix-up job on it. A friend of mine and his wife did this, even painting the whole flat, and the owner was good enough to reduce the rent by half. After all, it makes the place look much nicer for later residents, so the owner benefits too. If you choose to rent an old apartment, and do the fix-up job, you could do the painting, as well as installing new items, such as a bathtub, modern oven, etc. Be sure to cut out the middle-man as much as possible, by going directly to the factory or other cheaper stores yourself. You can cut costs by as much as three-quarters this way.
The refurbishing route, however, is not the one most of us will take. Most of us are transitory residents and do not want to put in the labour. We are still left with the quality, price and location debate and will probably end up making a few sacrifices for one of those things. If you are unfamiliar with China in general, and wish to live in the cheaper flats, do be prepared to give up a few comforts of home, as you can expect most low-rent places to be missing one or more of the following: bathtub, oven, insulation, nice furnishings, modern water-heater etc. If you have the money to spend on something better, then look to the 1,500 RMB and up range anywhere central, and negotiate with confidence. Good luck!