12.10.2012

Expensive Tastes

Try silver spoon for size
Harder than a needle 
Through a camels eye
Folks gather around the table find a place
Boys that girl don't have expensive tastes
-Cold War Kids

Searching for an apartment here in Beijing is different than in the United States. In the United States, the apartment hunt-and-find may take months. The prospective renter will search advertisements (i.e. Craigslist), talk to friends, or visit property manager websites. The apartments are not furnished; but a decent landlord will repaint the walls, repair damaged fixtures, and ensure the home is reasonably clean. 

In Beijing, an real estate agent shows the prospective renter several apartments. Conveniently, the apartments are furnished, usually having the bare minimum of a couch, bed, coffee table, television, wardrobe, and refrigerator. Inconveniently, the state of the apartment is the state that it will be rented, even if the floors are disintegrating due to water damage. Nobody cleans it. No repairs are done. 

We commenced our apartment search as most Beijing renters do: by seeking the help of a real estate agent and letting him/her show us apartments. The first day of my apartment search, I met an agent who called himself Patrick. He spoke a little English, and was extremely pushy. He took me to a large apartment that looked like it hadn't been dusted in 10 years. The kitchen was laden with grease and extremely small. The living room had three huge velvet couches that were probably luxurious in 1975. A broken TV and computer from the same era decorated the cupboards. Dusty vases of garish colors donned the shelves. The bedroom mattresses were stained and sunk in the middle. The toilet bowl was black and crusty. I felt like I had walked into an Edgar Allan Poe short story. I walked around and pointed at pretty much everything and said "不要! 不要!" (Don't want this). He repeated over and over, "Are you satisfied with this?" I said no! This place is disgusting.

I have read about this rental tactic. First, an agent will show an apartment in deplorable condition. The second apartment will be in much better condition. The hope is that upon seeing such a nice apartment, the renter will be grateful to the agent and immediately sign a contract. This tactic did not work with us. We like to shop around and explore (or rather, exhaust) our options. Patrick just succeeded in annoying me for wasting my time.

Also different from the United States, agents will show the apartments while the tenants are still living there. They do not notify the tenants to check if the time is convenient. We followed a different agent (much more likable than Patrick) to an apartment on a Friday evening. A Chinese man wearing long underwear with his T-shirt tucked in answered the door. After they exchanged words, the man amiably invited us in to enter his apartment. This place should have been on an episode of TLC's "Hoarders."  Ok, I know he and his wife and baby were moving… I can understand disorganization. But really!!! It was ready to explode with boxes full of clothes, books, furniture and stuff in every corner. And don't get me started on the bathroom. I remind you, there were people—with a baby— living there. The bathroom floor was crusting over with black mold or dust – I am not sure what and I did not want to find out.

So the apartment hunt continued.

The following is the worst of what we saw (all from the same apartment):
  1. The bathroom floor was about a half inch higher than the hallway. The bathrooms here are usually wet bathrooms, having no division between the shower, the sink, and toilet. Obviously, the bathroom floor higher than the rest of the apartment is a big problem. The landlord tried to distract birdMAN from inspecting the extensive water damage by pointing to desk chair, "看看!很好!" ("Look here. So great.")
  2. The one bedroom apartment was actually a studio apartment with a six-foot tall panel wall enclosing a bed. The panel walls were decorated with four ornamental lights, each one a different color- yellow, purple, red, and blue. The landlord turned them on (probably to keep me from noticing that this was not actually a bedroom), and the real estate agent exclaimed," 漂亮!" ("Beautiful!") Those lights reminded me of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland.
  3. Opening a kitchen cupboard and seeing a layer of black grime inside. I don't care how cheap this place is. I am definitely not moving here.
Not all the apartments are bad. There are plenty of nice apartments here. Eventually we found an apartment with a large living room, roomy kitchen, and a nice view with minimal furniture. The landlord was friendly. We signed a contract. Since we do not have much, moving was easy—two bicycle rides and a 13 RMB taxi was all it took.  After a few trips to IKEA and some serious cleaning, we feel like we are home.

Sorry no pictures on this blog. We do not have internet at our home yet; therefore no access to our VPN (that is another story). Please anticipate our next blog with a lot of pictures. I would like to add…I love having a functioning kitchen!

Chinese word of the Blog: 太脏 tài zāng
English translation: Too filthy (say it to the agent when you are walking through a filthy apartment that you have no hope of cleaning enough to make it livable)