“Ready for your first challenge in China? Buckle up!”
If you’re dreadfully hunting apartments in shanghai, you are not the only one, the majority of us are like this. You would rather overpay for an apartment you don’t love than go out there and look for a new one. We get it; it’s not the most exciting thing to do. Looking for an apartment is not only time-consuming but can also be emotionally draining. But it doesn’t have to!
A few months ago, we wrote an article about: What’s special about renting an apartment in Shanghai?
This time, we thought we’d compile a list of rental platforms to get you started on the dreaded process in the comfort of your own home.
There are many different places you can look for apartment listings. A myriad of APPs and websites have been created for the purpose of displaying rental listings. In general, a rental platform falls into one of the following categories:Personal Listings，Mixed Listings，Agency Listings，Youth Apartments，Dispersed Managed Listings.
We will first explain the different categories, then go into the detail information about exsiting platform/websites for shanghai renting. If you don’t really mind the categories, skip the following section and go directly to the popular selections of rental platforms.
1. Personal Listings
No commission, Direct landlord contacts, Less apt options
A personal listing is an apartment posted by an individual who is either the owner, looking for a tenant, or in most cases, an existing renter looking for a replacement. A platform with only personal listings is very rare. In fact, we only found one for our list. The advantage of using a personal listings only platform is that you won’t have to pay for agent fee upfront, which can cause up to 50% of your monthly rent amount. But the downside is that the number of listings is very limited.
2. Mixed Listings
Personal & Agency listing, More apt options
Most of the platforms allow anyone to post an apartment listing. As long as someone has a phone number, they can create an account and add a listing to the existing apartment pool. Platforms with mixed listings contain both personal listing and listings posted by agents. After checking out a number of platforms with mixed listings, we found that most of them have way more agent listings than personal listings.
3. Agency Listings
50 % of 1-month rent commission, Sales games, More apt options
In some cases, real estate agencies have created their own platforms to showcase apartments they have access to. Lian Jia is a good example. They are perhaps the biggest real estate agency in China. However, like most of the agencies, agents need to make sales to meet their targets, so you should expect to see sales games being thrown at you.
4. Youth Apt Listings
Hotel Style, Service fees, Flexible rental length
These apartments are a relatively new concept in China. The first youth apartment popped up in 2009. Now they are all over Chinese cities large and small. Youth apartments mostly cater to young, single, professionals hence the name “youth”. They are usually concentrated in one or multiple buildings in one area and have multiple branches scattered across different areas in the city. Many of them have their own platform with updated vacancies. For our list, we included just one as they work the same way: each renter has their own apartment inside the building with some shared amenities such as a common area, gym etc.
5. Dispersed Managed Listings
Service fees, Poor management, More apt options
It’s not a new idea for companies or individuals to acquire and manage multiple properties in different locations. They will often fix up the places with some renovation, add some style, and manage the properties on behalf of the owners. We included Ziroom in our list because they’ve taken this concept to a much greater scale than the rest. You can find them in almost every corner of Shanghai and many other larger cities in China. And yes, they also have their own platform with all of their empty apartments and rooms. We will share more about Ziroom coming up. Besides them, there are many other real estate companies who do essentially do the same thing, but on a much smaller scale.
That concludes our explanation on the different categories of platforms. Without further ado, let’s get into the platforms themselves.
Category: Mixed Listings
Meerkey is a newcomer, but it checks all the boxes for an easy-to-use and trust-worthy platform. Although it is still a mixed listings platform, it doesn’t have the problem of having mainly agency listings. In fact, the majority of the listings on MinisterH are personal listings. The listings on the platforms are also carefully managed by the team to keep them updated and free of spam and fake listings.
The most noteworthy feature has to be roommate matching, something not offered on any other platform in China.
1) Roommate matching. The only platform in China that offers this feature. The user profile allows you to find out more about your roommate to help you decide whether you would enjoy living with him/her.
2) A lot of personal listings. Despite being a mixed listings platform, MinisterH has a disproportionate amount of personal listings to agent listings. Good news for those of us who do not want to fork over a sizeable amount of money in commission.
3) The website is available in three languages: Chinese, English, and French. Parlez-vous français?
4) Clean and fresh design
5) Quality listings. We check every single listing before it’s posted on our website to make sure it’s an apartment we ourselves actually want to live in.
1) Cannot filter by metro station or neighborhood. However, you can type in an area and select from a drop-down list of options. (It’s on our development list!)
2) Not currently available in the app store. We are working on that!
Category: Personal Listings
Wellcee is one of the better platforms for personal listings, which make up 99% of their total listings. Most of the users of the app use English. Registering is as easy as scanning a QR code with your WeChat account. All listings on the platform go through a pre-approval process to ensure validity.
1) 99% personal listings
2) No agent fee
3) Easy sign-up
4) Has short info about the poster
1) Not that many listings on the platform. I searched for whole apartments in Jing’An district from 3500–8000 RMB and only 16 results from the last month showed up.
2) Since it’s up to the original poster to update the status after the place has been rented, listings are not consistently updated. Many listings still show in search results after it’s been rented.
3) Can only filter by district and metro line and cannot specify more, which means you will have to spend more time scrolling.
4) Not all listings tags are accurate. Some single rooms showed up in whole apartment search result, which is a bit confusing.
Category: Mixed Listings
SmartShanghai is like the digital equivalent of your Sunday newspaper. The website includes a number of useful sections such as events, jobs, articles, food reviews, housing, even dating!
1) Listings are kept updated. (The platform keeps listings within one month)
2) It’s the most popular foreign-friendly platform.
1) Not that many personal listing. In fact, less than 3% of all whole apartment listings are personal listings. Although you can search personal and agency listings separately, agents still fake their identities and post in the personal section.
2) This might not be an issue for everyone; personally, the website design feels a little outdatedand the ads are distracting.
3) Filters are very basic, especially the price filter is not useful for > 8000 pricing range
4) The map is not accurate at all, as users manually drag a point to the map.
Category: Dispersed Managed Listings
A now popular platform that had its start about 10 years ago. Ziroom offers more standardized rentals with a handful of styles to choose from. Every apartment is equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, and appliances like washer and fridge. They send a cleaner every two weeks for shared apartments and a repairman if you need a light bulb change, and a manager (Guan Jia) to answer your questions.
1) No agent fee
2) Matching furniture and style
3) Regular cleaning and minor repairs included
1) An extra 10% service fee every month paid upfront for all 12 months of the lease. In other words, if your rent is 5000 RMB per month and you sign a one year lease with Ziroom. Then you are expected to pay 10% of 5000 in service fee every month multiplied by 12 months. That’s 6000 RMB extra upfront on top of the deposit.
2) Lack of professionalism and poor customer service. Most managers of apartments are fresh graduates with zero experience. You will have to chase them, multiple times, if there is a problem with your apartment is more than a toilet clog.
3) Random roommate matching. Actually, there is no roommate matching at all because the rooms are listed independently. You will have some information about your roommates such as their zodiac sign and occupation, but you don’t really get to choose who to live with.
3) As a result of 2 & 3, double occupancy of random people like, couples, friends, people with kids living in one room can be quite common. Daily conflicts between them or between all of you have no solutions except moving out. This is also the #1 reason Ziroom has a very high turnover rate.
5) Health hazard. Most of the apartments have a standard decoration, sets of appliances. BUT, the standard is quite low. They use substandard materials on the furniture and appliance which have caused major health scandals before.
Category: Youth Apartments
Mofang is the first of its kind in China. Since they started in 2009, many similar youth apartments has appeared and quickly disappeared in the past 10 years.
1) Great place to meet new people.
2) Matching furniture and style
1) Paying commercial utility. Typically you are expected to pay at least an extra 200 RMB/ month on utilities compared to residential utility rates.
2) Monthly rent is usually more expensive than similar-sized rentals in the same area
3) Lack of privacy. Although everyone has their own room, you are still living inside an apartment building that tries to pack as many rooms as it can. With that many people living on the same floor as you, it can sometimes feel like you don’t have enough privacy.
4) Only a few locations are expat-friendly. In fact, many of the youth apartments are accessible only to Chinese passport holders. Mofang Youth Apartment has only a few locations in Shanghai that accepts foreign passports.
Category: Agency Listings
Lianjia is the biggest rental agency in China. It’s a local company that hires a massive number of local agents to show apartments to prospective renters. You’d expect to see their stores on every street corner.
1) Access to a large amount of rental listings in all areas.
1) 50% agent fee. Lian jia recently raised their commission from 35% to 50%. It’s not a lot but it’s still money you cannot get back.
2) The quality of apartments varies. Most of their apartments are from local owners and the cleanliness, layout, and furniture and appliances can vary greatly.
3) Most of Lian Jia agents DON’T speak English
4) You might be prone to questionable practices, like being shown apartments above your budget at first and wasting your valuable time. This has happened to us a few times. The time and energy wasted.
Category: Mixed Listigns
Although not often mentioned, we thought we’d also include this website since it’s one of the top search results on Google.
1) It covers many major cities in China
2) Nice listings. As in no weird layout and dirty bathrooms; at least judging from the photos
1) Most listings are from an agency
2) CANNOT filter out agency listings.
3) Most of the apartments are renovated in a similar fashion, mostly of low qualities.
3) Can only contact the person via the website. This isn’t very convenient since 90% of most people’s communication on WeChat. Say you find an apartment you like on this platform; you’d have to go on the website regularly to check messages. If you’re like most people, you will likely forget about the apartment or the platform after a few days.
Category: Mixed Listings
This website is like the craigslist in Chinese. There are sections for home sales, jobs, second hand market and the list goes on. Rental housing is just one category out of many. It may seem at first glance to be a great website to browse, but we recommend you to proceed with caution. It’s a website notorious for scams and fake information.
1) A large number of listings
1) The entire website is in Chinese. If you can’t read Chinese, it will be very hard to navigate.
2) Many fake listings. Or as many agents would call them “sample” listings. They are not listings of actual apartments; they are merely the same type of listings an agent supposedly has access to. In some instances, the photos are not real; some of them outrageously different from what the apartment actually look like.
3) A disproportionate number of agent listings.
Category: Mixed Listings
There are WeChat groups for everything these days. They are easy to create and easy to use.
1) A lot of listings to browse
2) Communication is easy. If you see something you like, you can add the person directly on WeChat.
1) No organization or filters whatsoever. Expect a lot of scrolling if you decide to find your next apartment this way.
2) Most of the listings are posted by agents.
There you have it, a comprehensive list of rental platforms to get you started on finding a place you actually love.