Shanghai is China’s international finance city and attracts hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of expats. There are a wide variety of housing types available, from small apartments to fully-furnished villas with cooking and cleaning services.
There are four main types of housing: apartments, serviced apartments, villas (or houses), and old-style houses. The monthly rents for these can range from 6,000 RMB to more than 100,000 RMB. The majority of Shanghai’s expat community lives in apartments or villas. Expats tend to cluster in a few locations in the Hongqiao, Gubei, Jing’an, Luwan, and Jinqiao areas of the city.
Apartments are the most prevalent type of housing preferred by expats, due to their lower prices, as well as greater variety and availability when compared to houses. Virtually all of the apartments built in the last 15 years will be located in high-rise buildings, often with 30 floors or more. This Guide has many more details in the section on “Renting” on decorated versus undecorated apartments, and how to choose the apartment correct for you.
The Shanghai authorities are determined to meet the demand for housing and you will not drive more than a couple of yards along any Shanghai street without seeing a high-rise either under construction or newly completed. Usually these apartments come fully furnished, but it is up to you to:
- Confirm this before entering into a lease agreement, and
- Select the furnishings that you want to keep once you move in and those that you would like to have removed or replaced by the landlord.
The Shanghainese definition of new and old buildings is slightly different to what it is the West and other parts of the world. You are unlikely to come across an apartment that was not either built or renovated within the last decade so many apartment buildings are relatively new, even if the locals do not call them that. Keep in mind that construction materials in China are generally of a poorer quality than in Western countries, so apartments degrade faster.
Villas can either be individual, stand-alone houses or semi-detached, and usually include a private garden area. Villas are suitable for large families and those who have pets. Virtually all have big gardens and parks, and all services, such as gardening and housekeeping are inclusive. Most provide sports facilities, clubhouse and shuttle buses to major expat shopping areas and international schools. In this city of 30 million, real estate is very expensive. Therefore, villas are mainly the semi-detached variety. Invariably they are located within gated communities that house a mix of foreign and local residents. Most have big garden compounds, communal sports, dining and entertainment facilities and other auxiliary services like housekeeping, gardening, babysitting, and tight security.
The luxury and convenience of villas do not come cheaply, however, and expats are sometimes required to pay the rent in US currency rather than Chinese RMB. The villas come fully furnished, but you can make changes to the furnishings to match them to your tastes. In Shanghai, the majority of villa developments are in Hongqiao, Gubei or Pudong.
Serviced apartments provide fully furnished homes with housekeeping services, laundry, swimming pool and gym. Those that are part of a larger hotel complex also offer hotel services to tenants. Shanghai has a full range from which to choose. Prices will range from about 12,000 RMB per month to over 100,000 per month. Rents for serviced apartments are on an upward trend due to strong demand, limited new supply, improved facilities and services as well as much-improved infrastructure.
Luxury/serviced apartment projects tend to be located in central areas. Most provide a range of services, from full furnishings to hotel-style housekeeping and maids. Some serviced apartments are available for short-term leases, which appeal to people working in the city for short periods, but who are tired of living in hotels, and from people who do not want to have to worry about housework.
Some of the advantages of living in a serviced apartment are: central location, full facilities, English-speaking staff, laundry and housekeeping services, business facilities, fully furnished, and generally cheaper than long-term hotel accommodation. Disadvantages include a detachment from authentic Shanghai and a lack of personalization of the living quarters to your exact taste.
Old Style Houses
Old style houses were built between the 1920s and 1940s and are situated in Shanghai’s former French Concession. These types of houses are often detached with a private garden space available and many have been renovated. The old style houses represent Shanghai’s quaint, old-school charm, which is in danger of being lost to the sleek soullessness of urban development. In English, these houses can be called “old houses”, “colonial houses”, “lane houses” or even “historic houses”. But the locals know them simply as Lao Yang Fang (老洋房), which literally translates to “old style houses”. However, these older houses do not usually provide services and facilities, and the tenant may be required to spend more time and effort to care for the homes by themselves.
Often tucked away on secluded lanes, this type of housing is ideal for the expat who desires a high degree of immersion in the Chinese culture. Since old-style houses are “old”, they might not have all of the modern conveniences that a new home would have. On the other hand, these old style houses represent that very rare thing in Shanghai: a detached property with its own private garden. If their owners take good care of them, they can have beautifully polished hard-wood floors, working fireplaces and pipes and, sometimes, furnishings from the early 20th century. The French Concession has a high density of this type of housing in one-, two- and three-bedroom layouts. With the right property, landlord and location, an old style house can be the perfect retreat from the bright lights and fast pace of Shanghai life.
The selling prices for these older houses are very high — US$1-2 million or more. That’s the primary reason why most expats choose to rent. The price for renting an old villa in the area will cost you from 14,000 RMB to over 100,000 RMB per month, depending on the area, furnishings, and services included.
Prices of the Different Housing Types
Typical prices (in RMB) for these different types of housing are shown in the table below. The prices for the serviced apartments are shown in detail in the “Temporary Housing” section of this Guide.
|Type||Size (sq m)||Rooms||Ordinary||Good||Excellent|
|Old Apartment||100-300||1-4||6,000-25,000||25,000-40,000||40,000 up|
|Old House||220-400||3-5||25,000-40,000||40,000-55,000||55,000 up|