Housing in Beijing is as varied as the accents you hear on the streets. There is an abundance of options for expats in terms of what kind of housing and where in the city to live. Much of residential Beijing is made up of high-rises and can be as expensive or inexpensive according to how “local” you’d like to go. Most foreigners live in “international” apartment complexes that are considered luxury developments, or out in the western-style suburban housing/villa complexes with free-standing homes and yards.
Many of the city’s new luxury apartment buildings are on the east side of town in Chaoyang District and were built within the last five to seven years. These apartments may include Western amenities from ovens to washers/dryers. Out in the northeast “villa area” where many of the suburban housing complexes lie, you will find even more reminders of Western living, such as backyards, clubhouses, and sidewalks for kids to ride their bikes on. Villa living is one of the most expensive options. Another expensive, but romantic option, is to rent a renovated courtyard or “siheyuan”, which are located in surviving hutongs (traditional alleyway neighborhoods). These can be very pricey since good ones are rare and hard to come by.
Some expats, especially those here for educational purposes, choose to live in more modest, but perfectly acceptable, accommodations around town and in the city’s west side, or university area. Many young professionals and well-heeled students rent in these mid and upper-tier apartments. These apartment buildings are older and likely do not have Western conveniences like ovens installed in the apartments, or a serviced front desk in the lobby of the buildings, or any English speaking management. These options can be mixed in with luxury apartment complexes in neighborhoods so that if you like a neighborhood, but don’t like the prices of rentals in the luxury buildings, there are often mid and upper tier options you can explore. Even more local housing (and much older buildings) can be found throughout the city. These buildings may come with fewer floors (and no elevators), no 24-hour elevator service, plain concrete hallways, no lobby, questionable plumbing, etc. This most local of options will really take getting used to and will require a flexible family, preferably with Chinese language skills, to take on!
Prices can range drastically depending on the area and the type of housing you choose. A luxury one-bedroom in the city’s east side is priced about the same as a more standard, local three or even four-bedroom apartment in the city’s less cosmopolitan west side. Rental prices in top-notch luxury buildings in the city center will rival those of New York City. Prices have gone down somewhat since 2008, but keep in mind that Beijing is a big metropolis and the nation’s capital, so prices will always be higher here than in most other Chinese cities. Beijing is still a hot real estate market coming off the heels of the 2008 Olympics so rental, as well as purchase, prices can be jarring to those who come from home countries where real estate is relatively cheap or have taken a nosedive.