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From staying in a Serviced Apartment to living in our own four walls: We wanted to achieve this after one or two months, this was our goal. So we started homesearching straight after arriving in Shanghai at the beginning of January. After we had seen only a few apartments, we could tell already what we wanted: The decision between modern Compound and traditional Lane House was taken quickly. For us it was more important to stay in an apartment with flair and character right in the middle of a local community in Former French Concession than in a high rise building. We rather renounce a gym, swimming pool and a shielded area, which for sure also has quite some amenities to offer. But for us a Compound feels too isolated, anonymous and too similar to living in a Serviced Apartment compared to our vision of daily life in Shanghai.
These are the most significant differences between Compound and Lane House:
Compounds – High rise buildings with amenities:
A Compound is a complex of a few high rise buildings, which are also spread out across the city, yet a bit more shielded from the everyday life in the small alleys and sidestreets, not only because there is a porter and a secured entrance gate. Often there is a gym, and / or swimmingpool integrated in the complex. Sometimes even supermarkets, some shops for daily needs as well as a small green area, playgrounds, tennis courts or similar facilities. For us the clear signal: It´s a great place to stay mainly for families. The area is kind of protected and daily things can be reached in short distance.
Because of the several floors (~20-40), there are always elevators and depending on the floor you stay, you enjoy breathtaking views. The apartments are often newly renovated, appear bright and spacious, so are actually comparable to Western standards. Some are even decorated kind of fancy. 🙂
Lane Houses – traditional row houses in Chinese neighbourhoods
Lane Houses offer the traditional Chinese way of living, which is still very common in the Former French Concession, the area we are planning to move to. The so called Shíkùmén (stonegate-houses) in the typical Lilòngs (small alleys) are community areas, which can be found behind the bigger and smaller stonegates throughout the alleys of Former French Concession – and most of the time you only recognize them at second sight.
But right upon entry of such an alley, you have suddenly arrived in the middle of real Chinese everyday life: Laundry is hanging out of the windows, inbetween also some parts of drying meat or even a whole duck. Scooters park along the small alleys, which are lined with entrance doors and small mailboxes. Everywhere people are busy, still it appears to be surprisingly quiet within these backyards, compared to the big mainstreets outside the stonewalls. Lots of these Shíkùmén-settlements unfortunately get sacrificed for the big Compounds, because these 3-4 floors high Lane Houses are already pretty run down and only offer space for a small amount of apartments and people, compared to the high rise buildings with dozens of floors.
Because the traditional Lane Houses are quiet old, mostly they are also modest and even weird looking from the inside. The stairways are often dark and narrow. Nonetheless the Chinese residents store literally everything there what doesn´t have a place inside their apartment. Sometimes the houses offer so called „shared kitchens“, means: Not everybody has their own private kitchen, but shares a small corner in the hallway to cook in the wok over gas. That doesn´t feel too inviting when visiting in the first place.
But what can be found behind some apartment door, completely amazes us: Totally renovated, modern and charming apartments, which you would definitely not expect behind these kind of facades from the outside. We are overwhelmed.
The rooms in the Lane Houses are mostly less spacious, but therefore sometimes have a second floor, a so called „Duplex“, offering a kind of a Loft-character, which makes our hearts jump with joy. So our decision to aim for a Lane House is taken quickly, even if it will be a challenge to fit in all our furniture, which at this point is already packed into the container and on the way to Shanghai. Because of the Duplex-style the rooms often are contorted and sometimes slanted, so arranging the interior must we well thought of. What makes it even more difficult: Measurements are different in China, no matter if you think about a Compound or a Lane House: If you are searching for a 80 sqm apartment, you will mostly get only 50- 60 sqm presented in reality. So better look for 100-120 at least to get an adequate comparison. 🙂 But for us it´s more than crystal-clear now and we are on a mission: Homesearching in a Shíkùmén-settlement in Former French Concession.
Homesearching can easily change to househunting over here… Because the housing market is fast-moving in Shanghai. Flats are often rented out immediately, very latest after 7 to 10 days. Therefore you need to be fast, flexible and keen to make a decision. No sooner said than done: We start searching for a flat via the online-platform SmartShanghai, which is an online-magazine covering all daily needs, like restaurant-tips, job opportunities, purchase and sale as well as rent advertising.
The advertising is set by different real estate companies, who rent out the flats via agents. If you like a place, you just contact the agent, of course via WeChat. And after telling your reqiurements, you will have received a choice of 10 or more apartment options on your mobile. Also the agent-side operates fast: Within a few days you will have the opportunity to visit several options. So househunting basically works like this:
Your agent will set viewing appointments and take care of getting the keys or codes to enter the apartments. That way we visit one after each other, without hardly ever meeting the landlords, but sometimes other visitors with their agents, the current tennants or even the Ayi (household help). We take pictures and notes and after each visit we discuss pros and cons with our agent, so with every visit it gets clearer what we really want. At that pace it´s not difficult to get 4 to5 apartments visited in a row during one morning and up to 11 apartments on an entire Saturday, which was our record. In case you are really interested in one of the flats, you will visit again and start negotiations afterwards. But this chapter I will have to fill in another BlogPost.
QUESTIONS & COMMENTS?
Have you ever been living abroad or even moved to China from a foreign country? Leave me a comment and share your experiences! Do you like the article, still have any suggestions or critics? I am happy to read what you are thiking! If you like my content, please feel free to share this article with your friends!
Are you curious about how living in China is like? In the Shanghai you can find further articles of our move to China. I the category China you can find travel stories from the land of the rising sun.
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