Home Hunting in Haikou

I thought I had a decent amount of apartment hunting experience, but Haikou was beginning to kick my ass. The problem is a simple one — pretty much all the decent apartments are owned by Mainlanders, and so most potential landlords are either not here or here but on their way off the island until nicer weather returns later in the year.

This causes a lot of rather flaky agents, as they frequently have outdated, or completely wrong information.

Fortunately I had read Nicki’s excellent primer on renting in Haikou and so had prepared myself as best I could for a challenging go.

Take this little tidbit:

When we were negotiating the rent with my last landlord, he mentioned he wanted to keep the use of the smallest bedroom. “I just want a place I can nap in the afternoons”, he explained. “I’ll be quiet, you won’t even know I’m there!” We explained that we’d be using all the rooms, and we couldn’t agree. Luckily, he didn’t insist.

When I read that I laughed and figured it was just one eccentric landlord, but in talking to another friend here he confirmed his girlfriend’s place has a locked room reserved for the landlord’s secret cache of treasure (which, as best he can tell, is a 100 kuai peddle bike).

Then today, sure enough, we had to turn down a showing by a landlord that wanted to, yep, keep a room for his own private use.

If it’s not the landlords, it’s the agents. I’m fortunate that Maggie is a bit of a dragon lady when it comes to apartment hunting, having gained much experience from a series of rapid fire moves over the last couple years in Suzhou. Still, despite her very clear instructions on our price range/size/payment limits, we continually had to harshly cull the agents’ lists of showings, which included virtually every apartment on their roster that even remotely smelled of what we might be looking for.

We thought we had struck lucky when the first apartment we looked at on our first day of hunting was perfect. The open concept apartment had a bar, a loft room, and a backyard with palms installed specifically for hammock usage. That and the owner was a dog loving father of two. So after a few cursory peeks at other apartments on our agent’s list, we headed back to finalize the details only to learn that the landlord wanted 1 year (eventually dropped to 6 months) of rent up front, and a 5000 RMB deposit.

As much as we loved the apartment, there was just no way we were going to hand over 33,000 RMB (nearly $5K) to a stranger. I understand the landlord’s desire for security, and their need for convenience as they were leaving the island for the Mainland and wouldn’t be back for 6 months or so, but that put entirely too many of my balls in their grip court.

We returned to our temp. accommodations a bit physically and mentally worn down. Rain kept us indoors yesterday, and so we took the opportunity to regroup and hit things full force today. We checked out a few places of wildly varying degrees of livability (oddly, for virtually the same prices) and happened to stumble into accidentally re-visiting a place we saw our first day. At the time we liked it but didn’t pay much attention to it as we had our hearts set on the place with the bar and the yard — lesson learned.

The second time around though we realized it was a bit of a gem. At 144 sqm (1550 sq ft.), the 3-bedroom place is a great size. The 2500 RMB price tag, while a little bit more expensive than some of the other places we saw, is a solid 500 RMB/mo. cheaper than what we were paying in Suzhou for about 115 sqm. What’s more, it’s brand-spanking new. Not just sort of new, but never-been-lived-in new. The owners purchased the place about 4 years ago, but only a couple months ago decorated it, so we’ll be the first tenants.

And if all that wasn’t enough, the nearest gate to our apartment exiting the community backs on to the sea, and we’re only a couple blocks from the park I mentioned in my last post.

There are a couple downsides; the biggest being that it is in a rather barren part of the city, with the nearest collection of shops/banks/restaurants about a 20 minute walk away, and the nearest supermarket a taxi ride away.

Really though, with Haikou being as small as it is, a 20 minute walk — or, more likely, a 5 kuai bengbeng che ride, for restaurants versus a 5 minute walk to the sea seems like a nice trade-off.

And so we signed the contract and forked over a nice fat stack of Maos this afternoon. We are no longer homeless!

The apartment is coming mostly furnished, but hasn’t been yet, so all that’s being done tomorrow — new TV, mattresses, AC units, washing machine, fridge, screens, etc., are all being put in. We’ll then head over later in the day and check things out and gather up the keys.

Knowing that things don’t always go as planned, we’ll be holding our breath until then, but if all goes to spec, we’ll be moved in tomorrow night, or Friday morning — just in time for our stuff shipped from Suzhou to arrive.

Assuming we can sort out Internet quickly, my next post will either be a series of pictures/video of the new place, or a massive rant. I’m hoping for pictures and video.

Oh! These photos are from a rather amazing community here in Haikou called Jiangnan Cheng, which is designed to look very much like a classical Suzhou garden. Turns out that my worries about not finding apartments like in Suzhou was unfounded 😉

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