The old Peking of grey stone walls and narrow alleyways
bears little resemblance to the 21st century metropolis that is Beijing.
The city walls were dismantled in the 1960s and three decades later,
the hutongs and neighborhood courtyards of the city center are rapidly
disappearing before the onslaught of Beijing’s real estate boom. The
oft-sighted character 'Chai' ("demolish") painted on the walls of many
remaining traditional courtyard homes signifies the imminent destruction
of yet another relic.
The predominant feature of new Beijing’s cityscape is the construction
crane. Foreigners arriving in the city for the first time may not realize
that this growth is a recent phenomenon. A major policy change in 1992
provided overseas investors with preferential incentives to invest in
what soon became the world’s most expensive rental market. Foreign residents
and companies were previously restricted to an extremely limited number
of hotels and office complexes, but by late 1994 a surge of new buildings
began flooding the market.
Today, supply clearly exceeds demand. Beijing now ranks third globally
(behind Shanghai and Beirut) in the vacancy rate for commercial space.
Prices, which peaked in mid-1996, have fallen by 50 percent across the
board. While the rate of decline slowed by late 1998, a further drop
appears inevitable for 1999. Nonetheless, the capital still offers the
most stable real estate market in China. Restrictions on the availability
of permits for new projects, as well as the high costs involved in relocating
land-right holders, upgrading infrastructure, and importing construction
equipment and materials continue to exert upward market pressure.
Upmarket villas (detached, single family homes) and apartments still
command outrageous prices but there is more choice now than there has
ever been. If your company is willing to pay upwards of US$10,000 per
month in rent, then you have plenty of options. On the other end of
the scale, more and more local apartments are available to foreigners
as government controls become increasingly lax. Whether your priority
is finding a friendly neighborhood where your children will have fresh
air and green space in which to play or one that jumps with late-night
jazz joints, Beijing can accommodate you. As in any major city, both
the residential and commercial markets span the spectrum of quality,
price and location.
Villas offer a popular choice for expatriate families with children,
pets, cars, and dreams of recreating in China the life they had back
home. Most of these developments are situated in Chaoyang District or
along the roads northeast of town, past the airport. While the commute
to work may be longer, villa life generally offers cleaner air, landscaped
communal gardens, and community playgrounds and clubhouses.
Villas are available for rent or purchase. Depending
on size, location, reputation and facilities, rents range from US$1,500
to US$12,000 per month. Purchase prices run anywhere from US$250,000
to the millions. Painted cement walls, hardwood or marble floors, and
tiled kitchens and bathrooms are standard. Materials tend to be either
imported or products of joint ventures. Facilities may include swimming
pools, tennis courts, fitness centers, supermarkets, restaurants, daycare
facilities and the ubiquitous karaoke. Shuttle bus service to and from
town and international schools is standard.
Lijing Huayuan Bieshu
Legend started it all. When the first batch of homes sold for upwards
of US$600,000 in the early 1990s, scores of other developers rushed
the gates of the capital’s permit purveyors. Today, a mature community
exists there with a range of detached and semi-detached homes, apartments,
facilities, and a stable occupancy rate. Located adjacent to the airport,
monthly rental prices range from US$6,000 to $6,500.
Beijing Xiangjiang Huayuan Bieshu
Riviera is a large, very upscale community located just off the Airport
Expressway on Jingshun Road. The massive clubhouse was completed in
1998 and a Montessori School will be added this year. A Spanish exterior
motif runs throughout the complex, which includes gardens, a lake and
apartments. Villa rentals begin at US$6,000.
One of the more established villa communities in the capital, River
Garden is located about 10 minutes past Beijing Riviera on Jingshun
Road. It offers a residents’ association, a fully functional community
center, and plenty of kids playing in the neighborhood. The California-style
homes feature high ceilings and run from US $3,500 to US$11,000.
Located next to River Garden on the Wenyu River, Capital Paradise has
a wide selection of detached homes and townhouses, as well as several
free-standing apartment buildings and a newly completed clubhouse. Capital
Paradise came on the market about a year after River Garden and is only
now beginning to fill up. Prices start at US$3,500.
Arguably the best built of the villa projects in Beijing (and backed
by the only two-year warranty), Eurovillage is a German joint-venture
located two minutes past River Garden on Jingshun Road. This is a smaller
community, with 50 European-style homes in the first phase. Completion
of the clubhouse facility is set for late spring, 1999. Rentals go for
between US$5,500 and US$8,000.
Located 30 minutes from the Airport Expressway, Dragon Villas offers
hundreds of homes from several construction phases, in addition to an
extensive recreation center. The quality of the homes is quite good,
but people choose Dragon because of the quality of life. With two golf
courses within walking distance and miles of surrounding farmland, the
air is cleaner and the living is easy - as long as you don’t forget
something back in town. Prices range from US$4,000 to US$10,000.
Country Golf Club
Beijing Gao’erfuqiu Julebu
If golf is your passion, this is your place. Residents here don’t need
to walk to the golf course, they live on it. This is a smaller community,
with only 55 villas. An indoor pool/health center was completed last
year adjacent to the course clubhouse. Fishing, horseback riding and
other recreational activities are available in the immediate vicinity.
Rentals start at US$3,000 per month.
This development is located next to the golf course, with 93 European-style
villas and a large clubhouse. Facilities include reception rooms, conference
rooms, a function hall and a VIP lounge. Bowling, billiards, swimming,
tennis, weightlifting and, of course, karaoke are among the recreational
options. Prices range from US$2,500 to US$4,500.
East Lake Villas
East Lake is the only villa community located in the heart of the Embassy
District. A joint-venture with Swedish EAC, East Lake is a multi-use
development, offering villas, apartments and office space. Facilities
include a traditional Chinese pond and the East Lake Club (pool, gym,
racket courts, etc.), as well as a supermarket, bank, post office and
primary school. This is a well-established community with an experienced
management team. Rental prices at East Lake begin at US$10,000.
Jialin Huayuan Bieshu
Located near the Lido, Greenland is mainly a villa development, but
also has two upscale apartment buildings. Clubhouse facilities include
gym, squash and tennis courts, billiards, a children’s playground, outdoor
swimming pool and two restaurants. Villas range from US$4,500 to US$11,000
Jingrun Huayuan Bieshu
King’s Garden is still being developed as a large, top grade villa community
located between Lido and Lufthansa Center. Lake views are available
within a stone’s throw of the third Embassy District. Prices begin at
The market for foreign-style apartments has transformed dramatically
since a building spree began in the early 1990s. The surge in supply
brought increased competition, resulting in significant value-added
improvements. Quality in Beijing is defined not only by design, construction
and furnishings, but also by the competence of the property management
company. Restaurants, exercise facilities and shopping centers have
become standard fixtures at most foreign complexes. Grinding competition
has precipitated an overall 50 percent drop in average prices since
the mid-1996 high water mark. Today, radical differences exist between
what once were comparable projects. Occupancy rates are the clearest
measure of success.
Three basic options stand out in the apartment hunt. Most residential
buildings marketed to the expatriate community in Beijing are loosely
referred to as "serviced apartments" because the management company
cleans the hallways and collects trash. A second group is distinguished
by the additional provision of linen, kitchenware and daily housekeeping
services. These "hotel-style" serviced apartments have now become so
numerous as to warrant separate mention. A third and increasingly popular
option is found in the local Chinese market.
Hotel-Style Serviced Apartments
The original hotel-style serviced apartments in Beijing stem from the
early days when foreigners were restricted to a few fancy hotels to
which ordinary Chinese people were denied entry. Presently, two types
of fully serviced apartments exist: those integrated with hotels and
those built as wholly independent developments. The former group is
more expensive, but usually offers a fuller range of amenities. Both
types are occupied largely by busy professional expatriates on assignment
in the capital for a limited duration. Residents tend to be single,
and are therefore willing to trade size for more convenience in keeping
with their busy lifestyle. Keep in mind that, like a hotel (but unlike
a standard expatriate apartment) prices of these units generally include
management fees and utilities.
The monthly prices quoted below are based on 100
Located just east of the Second Ring Road and a five minute walk from
Jianguomenwai Avenue, "Yatai" is a long-established property with a
convenience store, business center, gym, and several local and foreign
restaurants nearby. US$4,000.
Gateway is primarily a commercial building located across the street
from Asia Pacific. The top three floors contain well-designed, serviced
apartments managed by Singapore-based Regency. A Chili’s franchise restaurant
and a new bar and restaurant are on the lower floors. US$4,000.
The first hotel/serviced apartment complex in Beijing, from the days
when foreigners basically were required to live here. Still a first-rate
location with newly remodeled rooms, three restaurants, a swimming pool,
business center - and opera performances in the lobby on weekends. US$4,500.
One of the more established multi-use developments in town, the Landmark
boasts two commercial towers, a hotel, a shopping mall and the Beijing
Hard Rock Cafe. US$4,500.
Jing Guang Zhongxin
The tallest building - and highest high-rise apartments - in Beijing.
Jingguang is also home to a hotel and commercial space. Facilities include
an indoor pool, gym, children’s play area, business center, self-service
laundry and several restaurants. US$3,200.
Hong Kong-Macao Center
Gang Ao Zhongxin
Located on one of the main East Second Ring Road bridges, the Swissotel
offers one of Beijing’s finest health clubs to tenants, as well as a
prominent hotel and commercial space. US$4,500.
Located near the Swissotel, just off the Second Ring Road, Asia Hotel
has a business center, a health and beauty salon and a night club. US$3,000.
Chengshi Bin Guan
City Hotel has an excellent location across from Worker’s Stadium and
within a few minute’s walk of Sanlitun with its abundance of shops,
bars and restaurants with foreign customers. US$3,900.
New World Center
Xin Shijie Zhongxin
This is a majestic looking multi-purpose facility with serviced apartments,
offices, and a shopping center situated near the Second Ring Road at
Chongwenmen. There is an indoor swimming pool, sauna, beauty salon,
gym and simulated golf. US$1,800 and up.
This is the only hotel-style serviced apartment located on the west
side of the city. Situated on top of the Huawei Shopping Center at Xidan,
the facility is complete with the standard amenities. US$4,200.
Heng Chuan Gongyu
Located near the International Exhibition Center and the Carrefour grocery
and department store, Heng Chuan is relatively new, with an outdoor
swimming pool, tennis, children’s playground, and a budding reputation
for excellent service. US$3,500.
Standard International Apartments
This refers to international standard apartments that do not include
hotel-style service in the rental fee. Much like apartment shopping
in the West, choosing a space to call home in Beijing will depend largely
on proximity to work, schools, shopping and fun - in whatever order
you prefer. For this reason - as well as market competition - significant
price-tiering has occurred over the past few years. Hardest hit by deflation
have been the middle and lower-priced apartments, or those buildings
that, due to poor location, design flaws, inadequate facilities or incompetent
service, couldn’t compete. The upper market also finally experienced
a price drop in late 1998. Prospective tenants should be sure to ask
about hidden costs because almost everything is negotiable these days.
The below apartments are arranged according to price:
US$3500 and Up
Located directly on Jianguomenwai and within walking distance of several
of the city’s main commercial centers, Regent is one of the premier
properties in Beijing. Free use of standard clubhouse facilities is
normally included with rental.
East Gate Apartments
East Gate is an impressive newcomer, centrally located just behind Poly
Plaza on the East Second Ring Road. A wide variety of Western-standard
residential units are available, as well as an abundance of entertainment
and cultural attractions within a dynamic, mixed-use complex.
China World Apartments
When the China World Trade Center was built in the late 1980s it created
the central business district of Beijing. Two blocks of 30-storey apartments,
and no more waiting list.
Kerry is Beijing’s newest premier address, located directly behind China
World. Though traffic on Guanghua Road may become a nightmare, Kerry
Centre has it all.
Tel: 6437-6688, ext 1258
The Lido used to pass for Beijing’s airport hotel and because it was
so far out of town, they had to create things to do, hence the plethora
of restaurants, conference rooms and facilities. The city has since
expanded embracing the Lido and making it convenient for commuting.
Located at the entrance to the Beijing Railway Station on Jianguomennei,
Henderson is a multi-use complex with several new commercial centers,
hotels, and shopping centers nearby.
With views of both Chaoyang Park and the Chaoyang golf course, Parkview
was aptly named. Located just minutes from both China World and the
Airport Expressway, with full clubhouse facilities.
A new development situated just north of Parkview, across from Chaoyang
Park. Nicely done, pricey and significantly less than full.
Located just across the river from Lufthansa Center, the triple tower
complex is best known for its outstanding clubhouse which has the largest
swimming pool in town.
Views of Ritan Park. The apartments are average (sunny on the upper
floors), but you just might be able to walk to work.
Located just north of Diyang, Fairview currently offers two towers of
three-bedroom units in varying sizes. Good quality and tight security.
International Friendship Garden
Guoji Youyi Huayuan
A large, residential development situated near the Sanyuan (airport)
flyover with wood floors, balcony windows and a well-equipped clubhouse.
Tel: 6594-5566 ext. 7297
Located behind the Sheraton Great Wall Hotel, Boning has twin towers
and the expatriate basics.
Longbao is near Boning, but offers a few more amenities, such as an
outdoor pool, air ticket office, garden and fancy lobby.
US$1500 and Less
A lower priced alternative to Lakeside, Greenlake set the pace during
the price wars of 1997 and 1998. Nice central garden and all the trimmings.
Songyu is a glorified local building with expatriate status. Managed
by the Jianguo Hotel, it is about 10 minutes south of China World on
the East Third Ring Road.
Jindu is another local building with an expatriate orientation. It is
located in the Fangzhuang residential zone on the South Second Ring
Road, just above Arcadia Bar.
Longtan is located just behind the Tiantan tennis center on the south
side of Beijing. It has all the basics, at just-above-local prices.
Local Chinese Apartments
Though the rules are still a bit vague, leasing a local Chinese apartment
is an increasingly popular option for foreign residents in Beijing on
a limited budget. To give yourself the best chance of making it "legal,"
check to be sure your landlord actually owns the unit (a good practice
anywhere) and try to register with the police. As a fallback, determine
if, and for how long, other foreigners have been living in the building.
The authorities are much less concerned about where foreigners are living
than in the past, although this year’s pre-June jitters have already
led to a few foreigners being kicked out of popular areas like Maizidian.
Many agents carry listings for both local and foreign apartments. Currently,
the difference is that agents for foreign dwellings get paid by the
owner, while those for local apartments charge the tenant. Fees run
as high as one month’s rent. What you get depends largely on what you’re
willing to pay - though you can be certain you’ll get worse value than
would a Chinese person renting the same property. Not only is it simply
understood that foreigners are rich, the landlord may need some extra
money to ensure that neighbors, bored grandmothers and local police
are happy with the tenants. When looking at an apartment don’t hesitate
to ask every question that comes to mind. Test all the taps, toilets,
doors and windows. Write an agreement detailing price, duration of stay
and responsibility for repairs. Many landlords expect payment of three
to six months rent up front, plus a deposit, but this is becoming more
open to negotiation as more areas open up to foreigners.
Once you move in, change the lock. Despite all assurances to the contrary,
your landlord retained a set of keys. Don’t be unfriendly though: as
an emissary from a morally deficient land, you will best diffuse your
neighbor’s natural curiosity by showing a human touch. Cluck over infants,
patronize the local convenience store, hold doors - even if it’s not
a local habit - keep the late-night raves to a minimum, and smile a
lot. Discretion is still best when mingling with Chinese members of
the opposite sex. Non-conformity is met with a high degree of scrutiny,
and your behavior is monitored under a high-powered microscope. Keep
in mind that, as a guest, you are expected to adopt the habits and customs
of your host. If you happen to look Chinese of course, you may escape
all of this scrutiny entirely.
Traditional Courtyard Homes
The courtyard house (siheyuan) is a rapidly disappearing symbol of old
Beijing. Opportunities to find one for sale or rent are rare, but before
you wax nostalgic, remember the drawbacks. With the city planner’s demolition
ball swinging toward Beijing’s hutongs, only officially protected courtyard
neighborhoods are safe as a long-term option. Amenities such as 24-hour
hot water and basics like indoor plumbing may be unavailable. Finally,
the costs can be extremely high. Recent purchases have run in excess
of US$1 million and rentals often exceed US$5,000 monthly. Deals may
still be found, and as with everything else in China, the best method
Commercial Real Estate
The rental market for international quality office space in Beijing
is continuing to soften. It’s a buyer’s market and landlords are aggressively
seeking tenants. Incentives, such as longer rent-free periods and large
fitting-out subsidies, are commonplace. This year marks the opening
of several major new projects, like the Kerry Center and Onward Science,
near China World, and Pacific Century Place in Sanlitun. With supply
still on the increase, the Asian economic crisis still lingering, and
an increasing number of companies opting for Shanghai, local Chinese
companies will have to take up most of the slack if vacancy rates are
to drop during the next few years.
While the pace of decline in Beijing office rents slowed toward the
end of 1998, the market still had a 20 percent price drop for grade
ÔA’ commercial space. Monthly rents now range from US$10 to US$40 per
square meter. Even the Teflon buildings, like China World and Jingguang,
got stuck in the quagmire of falling rents and vacancies.
A new landmark for the capital, Kerry Centre is equipped with state-of-the-art
communications technology for the high tech set, and is centrally located
behind China World.
China World Trade Center
Ever since its completion, China World has been the most prestigious
business address in Beijing. A twin commercial tower and an upscale
shopping mall are under construction.
Another major office complex squeezed onto Guanghua Road, Hanwei was
one of the first grade 'A’ buildings to slash and burn prices. Several
major multinationals grabbed long-term deals in the process and the
towers filled up.
Guanghua Changan Dasha
One of the new commercial centers on the prestigious Jianguomennei section
of Changan Boulevard, Bright Changan claims 100% occupancy for both
towers, though one can still find a vacant unit through a private owner.
Located next to Henderson Center, also at Jiannei, COFCO is as full
as Bright Changan, but has the added attraction of a major shopping
mall, complete with a Park Ôn Shop and a new Starbucks.
Full Link Plaza
Despite its location next to the Foreign Ministry, it feels just like
Hong Kong inside Full Link, with a multi-level shopping mall and glass
and steel commercial tower.
The centerpiece of the Jiannei business district, Henderson has two
office towers, a residence building, a major shopping center, and the
Universal Studios video wall.
Jingguang is the tallest building in Beijing. The offices are located
between the 25th and 37th floors, with a five star hotel below and serviced
Pacific Century Place
A brand new, multi-use complex located next to Zhaolong Hotel in the
heart of Sanlitun, Pacific Century is another top grade project just
beginning the fight for tenants.
One of the earlier commercial centers in town, Lufthansa is attached
to the Kempinski Hotel and the Yansha Friendship Shopping Center.
Located on the Sanyuan flyover, Silver Tower offers one commodity -
Thanks to Pan Asia, China Solutions, and FPDSavills for contributing
to this article.