For our current "Rad Rents" cover story, we arranged to meet up with Beijing-based author and etiquette guru Dr. Hedy Lee to profile her gorgeous Park Hyatt Residences apartment. After we had discussed some issues on finding the right apartment in Beijing, Dr. Lee sent us 47 tips on Beijing real estate. We were quite impressed with Dr. Lee's suggestions. She should know too. Her book Chasing Justice in Beijing chronicles her legal battles with Beijing real estate and property management companies. You can read 42 of Dr. Lee's tips here:
Look for manicured gardens, safe play areas, clean swimming pools and locker rooms and functioning exercise machines. Well-maintained gyms, lobbies and hallways are indicative of a good homeowners association. Do not forget the garages, boiler room and electricity room!
Look for good ventilation in public areas, especially elevators and hallways. Cooking smells from other apartments can easily seep into yours.
Check the most recent inspection to verify that the fire extinguishers are up-to-date, and loud speakers and fire alarms work properly.
Homeowners associations and property management are very crucial. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to find professional ones, even with foreign brands like FPD Savills, Grubb & Ellis and Jones Lang Lasalle, who hire local management to look after properties.
Talk to the security. Are their uniforms clean? Are they smiling and standing up straight?
Make sure that the receptionist of your property management speaks English, does not fall asleep at the desk, and has prior experience in the service industry.
Look for bulletins with memos in both English and Chinese.
It is best to find a place with back-up electricity and water-softening agents, although most developers will not invest in these.
Many embassies hang large flags and put bronze plaques in hallways or lobbies. It is both tacky and illegal to hang anything outside your front door.
SHOULD NOT HAVE
Never rent or purchase an apartment with restaurants, car repair shops, nightclubs, beauty salons or dry cleaners downstairs or inside.
Take a peek at the mailbox – illegal ads are signs of bad security and unsafe surroundings.
Check if there are any large dogs around. It is illegal to have dogs over 35 cm inside the Fifth Ring Road.
Look for illegal business and fishy employees – if even ONE owner objects, residential buildings are not allowed to have businesses.
Check for unleashed dogs; residents wearing pyjamas; people spitting, yapping, cursing or smoking in public areas; mysterious license plates; and children roller-skating or playing soccer in hallways or the lobby. These may portend future problems.
Look up at the balconies for ads, hanging underwear, neon lights and birdcages.
Bikes, plants, boxes, shoes, toys and trash at front doors are illegal. The fire department will fine property management.
Do not get an apartment with China Unicom ads.
If you live in villa areas, look for road signs, wild dogs, illegal construction and illegal taxis.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Do building spot checks at night.
Ask a resident who is not involved in property management or real estate about her experience living in the building.
Ask for the water inspection.
Check to see that all fire exit doors work but are not constantly propped open.
Read the residents’ manual, paying attention to the “no noise” hours. A good property should not allow moving and construction during weekends. Weekday moving and construction should be limited to 9am until 12pm, 2-5pm.
Google or Baidu the developer or property management to see if there are any existing lawsuits.
Know both the history and the head of your property management.
Examine empty lots around your building. Will a developer construct a new building right next to your bedroom window? What about future subway lines or another gong ti nightclub?
Test each satellite television channel list to make sure it works.
If you enjoy the single life, avoid apartments with many gardens and schools nearby. These attract children and dogs.
Notice if there are mysterious ladies living in your community. Some properties, such as St. Regis Apartments, are known to be mistress pads.
SIGNING THE CONTRACT
Sign a three to five year lease in order to reduce monthly rent.
Always ask the landlord to pay property management fees. Try to have them pay ADSL, electricity, water and satellite TV as well. An extra bonus would be parking space and gym membership. Try telling them you do not need a receipt.
If you are a light sleeper, ask the owner to double-tape your windows.
Do not trust real estate agents who force you sign statements – go to the apartments yourself and ask the property management or onsite leasing office.
MOVING IN & LIVING THE GOOD LIFE
All Beijing homeowner rules and regulations can be found in the State Council Information Office of the PRC, although individual communities may add their own amendments.
Keep a list of phone numbers for the police station, foreign police, phone company, ADSL company and embassies.
When a new neighbour moves in, purchase them a housewarming gift. Not only are flowers, chocolate, pastries and fruit one way of welcoming a new neighbour, it also “butters them up.” They will be more likely to obey the building’s rules in the future.
Do not allow other residents to leave their doors open.
Most properties offer a lounge for drivers. Do not accept drivers loitering around lobby areas.
Do not allow outsiders to park in your community.
Walk around with a camera, tape recorder and notepad to record illegal actions. The offender will usually back down or curse at you. If there is a lawsuit, you will have excellent evience.
If you run into problems with expats and property management refuses to take up the issue, you can ask their employers. Keep track of their embassy plates in order to know what country they are from.
If you are in a bad situation and must leave a binding contract, your landlord may relent somewhat if you lay out the facts.