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This causes a lot of rather flaky agents, as they frequently have outdated, or completely wrong information.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

15 Responses

  1. Apartment hunting in China was never easy…it all seemed to depend on luck and timing. Hope everything works out and you post pictures instead of a rant.

  2. That’s a pretty good price, although I’m sort of surprised to hear you’ve moved to Haikou. Having lived in Beijing and Shanghai has inured me to the markets here in Santiago. Renting a 120 square meter apartment costs us something like $800 a month, much less than Beijing in a country where people’s average salaries are probably double.

    The price of buying is apparently quite low too. Apartments downtown start at something like $60k. If I had any money I’d probably buy something just out of the novelty of being able to afford it.

    • I’d love to move to South America at some point – maybe Ecuador. Still, $800/mo. for a relatively low-income place isn’t cheap — roughly double the $380/mo we pay for our 144sqm place. Local income isn’t really a factor for me, other than it might indicate the prices of other aspects in living there.

      Buying, however, seems much cheaper in South/Central America. I can buy a home in Canada for what it costs for an average apartment in the “hotter” real-estate markets in China.

  3. I wish I could find a decent apartment that size for that cheap here in Shanghai. I’m living in 60 square meter apartment for 4500 RMB. The community is very nice though, and it is close to two metro stops, a lot of restaurants, and several grocery stores. I guess you can’t have everything.

    • Wow, that’s rough. I’ve never lived in a 1st tier city (Chinese or otherwise), and the Price vs. Space ratio is the biggest reason why. You could quite easily get two apartments in Haikou for that price, each of them twice the size.

      But then, opportunity takes us where it needs us I suppose. And living in Shanghai surely has some big advantages over us more provincial city dwellers.

      BTW: Not had a chance to say it, welcome back to China!

  4. “The good news is that compared to where we’re staying at the moment,
    pretty much anything above a tent in a garbage dump would be an
    improvement. It really is the first place I’ve stayed that I could quite
    accurately call a slum.”

    All these years in China and you’ve only had the posh life, unlike the majority of expats who venture beyond the Shanghai-Suzhou-Beijing-Shenzhen circle of myopia.

    • KoM – been a while.
      You’re wrong about that though. You were wrong the last time you tried to make that point too. It’s not hard to sort out, my entire China experience is online and searchable — y’know, just if you care to correct your inaccuracies. But feel free to continue being a patronizing and ignorant asshat. Really, your call.

      I’ll even make it easy on you:

      1. I started living in China in a small (pop. 300,000) town and lived there for 8 months.
      2. I then moved to a larger city (Dalian), but still firmly 2nd tier, and still very basic accommodations. Most of Dalian’s ESL crowd don’t live in anything anyone could remotely be called “posh”, but making “posh” even a more distant concept was the fact that I lived in the outskirts in a series of rundown crappy apartments and taught at a poor, effectively rural public school.
      3. I left Dalian and moved to Suzhou, but not the Suzhou that most foreigners who live in Suzhou know. Well, scratch that, certainly the Suzhou a lot of ESL-teaching foreigners know. But Suzhou isn’t “posh” because of its ESL teacher population. Suzhou’s development zones (SND and SIP) are super foreigner friendly because well-paid expat-package people live there (along with what little middle class China has). The downtown is a series of small alleys and run-down communities built 30 years ago.
      4. From about 2008 until this year I lived in SIP — which is posh (with Chinese characteristics). This seems to be where you got stuck in your opinion.
      5. I’ve never lived in Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen. I’ve only travelled to Shanghai and Beijing a handful of times and I’ve never been to Shenzhen.
      6. MOST foreigners DO live in these places. Some venture beyond, but rarely for anything other than a brief bit of travel.

      Where we stayed when first arriving in Haikou was not the most basic place I’ve ever stayed. I’ve stayed in SEA guesthouses that made the place we stayed here look like a palace. However, this was literally (and I mean that literally) a slum. It backed onto a garbage dump/recycling centre, its only method of entrance was down a mirror scraping alley and it had virtually even number of dead rats, stray dogs and dirty half-naked children playing in garbage.

      That all said, I’ll take the opportunity in revisiting this post to say that after staying there for a week, I became quite endeared to the apartment and neighbourhood. I’m not looking to stay there again, but my first opinions were definitely coloured by the fact that it was not a cushy place to come back to after a long day of apartment hunting.

      So, what’s your story KoM? What made you into an anonymous-commenting overly-judgmental douche? Surely you didn’t start out that way. Seriously, I’m curious. Just a bored troll? Disenfranchised expat? Marco Polo-syndrome sufferer in pain for all the others wearing your trail? What’s the deal?

  5. Hi Ryan,

    I will be studying Chinese and working on long-term agriculture research for a PhD program, so we’re interested in longer term housing options.
    We’re an American family, and my wife and 2 daughters are looking to move to Haikou next year and would like recommendations on housing. Do you have any websites that have apartment listings? I read a little Chinese, so even if it’s a local site, that would be helpful.

    Of course, because of many of the issues you pointed out above, we’re going to want to see the apartments after we arrive, but I’d like to limit the amount of time we stay in a hotel so we can get settled quickly, so if I can setup apartment tours in advance, that would be helpful. Of course, I’d welcome any other ideas on this process, too.



    • There are a bunch of Web sites with apartment rental listings, though they tend to be loaded with fake photos, out of date listing and just general time-wastery. In my opinion, your best bet is to find temporary accommodations (cheap hotel or short-term apartment rental) and hit the pavement. Find a location you wish to live, get the names of the nice communities in that area and then approach real-estate agencies in that area and ask specifically about those places or places near by.

  6. Hi Ryan
    I’m an English thinking of moving to Haikou after spending 2 years teaching in Shanghai. My only worries about moving there are that I’ve heard there aren’t many teaching opportunities and that salaries are pretty low (I heard that from a friend who worked there 4-5 years ago).

    I’m not expecting to get rich quick through teaching and I don’t do it to make money but I do need to save a little. So, from your experience do you know if you can make a decent salary in Haikou? And are there more jobs now than 4-5 years ago?

    Your website has been a good read and a nice insight into aspects of life on Hainan, thanks!

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