In case you missed it last week, I was finally able to share the news that my husband and I bought a house here in our city and was inspired to share a few pointers about buying a house in China from my point of view as a self-proclaimed expert.
This week? Part two of those pointers (because there were a few things I thought of after last week’s post that I figured you might find amusing or useful or interesting…or that I just wanted to rant about)!
Q: Should I use a real estate company to help me buy a house?
The short answer from me is probably. It’s probably easier to go through a real estate company and have an agent help you through the all the paperwork and visits to all the offices that you have to make. And I have to say probably because in our experience, it seemed as if it was the first time our agent had ever gone through the process as well. She didn’t know where some of the offices were located, sent us to the wrong tax office, didn’t know the order in which things had to be completed, and didn’t have some of the paperwork ready when we needed it (like when we had to have the fake contract [with different prices] ready to show at the tax office so that we could pay a lower amount – and yes, that is apparently perfectly allowable here; it’s another way to try to get around some of those wonderful new policies to curb prices). And because getting anything done in China is all about having the right relationships with people, on at least three different occasions we had to call the manager of the real estate company to come to whichever office we were in to smooth things over, because our agent didn’t have those relationships.
Because of all this, there were many times where I thought to myself, “Sheesh, since we’re just fumbling through the process, asking where we need to go next, we could have done this well ourselves!” In the end, everything got done (I hope!), but I think with the right, experienced agent, it would have been much less hassle.
Q: How large a house should I buy?
Well, of course the short answer is that it is up to you and your needs. We wanted a house that was going to suit our needs for many years – and that includes us, any children we may have, and possibly my husband’s parents coming to live with us. If you think you’ll be happy sharing a room with your child, or giving up your bedroom so that your in-laws don’t have to sleep on the sofa, then go right ahead, but I wasn’t about to agree to those things. We wanted to have enough space to be comfortable, and luckily we were in the position to be able to afford such a place…because remember, prices here are set per square meter, so the larger the house, the more expensive it will be.
Another thing I should warn you about is the discrepancy between the advertised area and useable area of homes here. All houses, whether new or second-hand, are advertised as being a certain area, but that area is the absolute total area. That means it includes the stairwell, at least part of the elevator shaft (if the building has one), and all the wall thicknesses. The actual, useable area of your house will be lower than what they advertise, sometimes by 20 to 30 square meters. This could mean that the 100 square meter house you think will suit you may end up being rather small for your family.
Q: Chinese people haggle over prices for everything, so I’ll be able to do that for a house I’m interested in, right?
Hahahahahahaha! Oh man! You kill me! Hahahaha! Stop it, I can’t breathe!!
Oh, you were serious?
Uh, no. No, you won’t.
Why? Because of what I like to refer to as the “Great Chinese Housing Shortage Myth”.
You see, Chinese people believe, to their very core, that there are truly not enough houses in this country.
And some people may argue with me that it’s true, but I’m going to go ahead and say that I don’t believe that, or I at least don’t believe that the situation is quite as grim as they do. I mean, when you think about the old residential areas they are demolishing, and the sheer number of multi-building high-rise, hundreds-of-apartments-in-just-one-building areas they are building in those same locations, as well as expanding the cities and building completely new areas in the surrounding countryside, it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to find a house if you want one. There are other things to consider as well, I know, but overall, I just don’t think it is as bad as everyone here is told.
(And make no mistake, they are being told this. It’s just one of the lovely pieces of propaganda this country spews out to its citizens.)
So when it comes to buying a house, these people are so convinced that there aren’t enough houses that they will jump at the first chance they get to buy a house, any house, often regardless of anything else (large enough size, location, layout, price vs. value), because they believe that if they don’t buy it right then, that they will absolutely never have another chance to purchase a home.
Of course, this has made China a seller’s market almost like no other. They refuse to negotiate the price of their house at all, because if you don’t want to buy it for that price, then they know that all they have to do is wait, because the next guy who comes along will be so desperate that he will pay whatever they want, no questions asked. This also contributes to what I mentioned last week, where the sellers demand that you, the buyer, cover their portion of taxes and real estate fees, increasing the cost to you. Again, if you refuse, there will be someone else next week who will agree.
In short, look at homes in your price range and be prepared to pay what they are asking, possibly more.
Q: What kind of amenities will Chinese people use to convince me to buy their house?
Oh gosh, all sorts of wonderful things that you probably won’t give two hoots about! Here is just a short list of some of the different selling points about houses that I heard:
- “It’s near the park” – and by that, they meant a ten minute bus ride away.
- “It has an elevator” – hmm, yes, but given that I know that every building in China taller than six or seven floors has one, the fact that your 32-story high-rise comes with an elevator is not particularly impressive (also, armed with the information from above that I would have to pay for the space the elevator takes up but have it taken out of my total house area, I was even less impressed).
- “The living room is very large” – oh jeez, do Chinese people love huge living rooms! The problem is that they love them at the expense of all the other rooms in their house. No word of a lie, I visited one house (the home of one of my husband’s colleagues) and while the living room rivaled a basketball court for size, the other rooms were barely bigger than closets. I mean, I understand that you want to be able to visit with guests in your living room, but wouldn’t it also be nice to be able to turn around in your kitchen?
- “We’ll leave the furniture” – oh, you mean the cheap, mostly ugly furniture that is there now? Lucky me! Oops, I mean, no thank you.
- “Look at this mechanism for raising and lowering the rod for hanging your laundry on. It’s so convenient!” – yes, it is. Wow, really cool (and I mean that genuinely for once). Alas, once you’ve paid for the house and finally gotten the keys you may find that they have removed this and taken it with them, along with the curtain rod from the living room…but not the ones from the bedrooms (although they did leave you a random assortment of mismatched old shoes in the basement storage room, really old, half-full soy sauce bottles in the kitchen, and an almost-full pack of cigarettes on the floor to make up for it).
So there you have it! I’ve now shared with you my knowledge and wish you well in your hunt for a house in the Middle Kingdom. I suppose if you have any other questions and want a fairly sarcastic, only possibly helpful answer, you can always ask.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to figure out how to make a shower stall drain to the opposite side of the room when the floor is made of solid concrete (don’t ask).