If you’ve ever been to Beijing, you’ve probably heard about the hutongs here. The hutongs (胡同) are a collection of little winding alleys and streets formed around courtyards, and they’re a special part of the history and culture in Beijing. It’s a very traditional kind of Beijing neighborhood where lots of local Beijingren live.
The term hutong actually comes from a Mongolian word meaning “water-well” and was adopted by the Chinese people to describe these new living areas. There are hutong neighborhoods all over Beijing – some of the most well-known hutongs are near Lama Temple, Nanluoguxiang, Dongjiaomin, and Guozijian.
Hutongs are now in high-demand to live in, for both foreigners and Chinese people alike. While not always the most modern or spacious, they are quite charming and a special way to live a more traditional kind of Chinese life. In the past, many hutongs didn’t have their own bathrooms inside and people would have to go outside to the shared community bathroom. Many hutongs are now being renovated to have more modern electronics and plumbing so you don’t have to do that anymore.
The idea of living in a hutong was really exciting to me. I love the traditional Beijing atmosphere, and enjoy being a part of a Chinese neighborhood and not just another skyrise in a big city. That’s the fun part of Beijing after all – you can have all the elements of Chinese traditions as well as the big city life mixed together.
After moving to Beijing I found a place to rent short-term to give myself time to settle in and then decide what area I wanted to live long-term. Since I had done apartment hunting in China last year in Guangzhou, I had a better idea about what to expect and how the apartment hunting process works in China.
So I started looking for my own little hutong to live in, and here’s how the search went.
Find an Area/Neighborhood/Metro Line You Like
Beijing is huge with many districts to choose from! Where you should rent all depends on where you want to live, how long you want your commute to work to be, how much you want to pay per month, etc. The closer you are to the second ring and center of Beijing, the more expensive rent is.
I work in the inner Chaoyang area and wanted a good balance between my commute, the price, and what was around me, so I spent some time reading about different areas and exploring parts of Beijing. I looked around Dongzhimen/Beixinqiao/Lama Temple area.
Contact an Agent/Join a Wechat Rental Group
Since most rental websites and other information will be in Chinese, finding an agent is one of the best ways to look for an apartment. I found a few agents by looking at apartment listings on The Beijinger, and was also recommended many agents by coworkers and friends in Beijing. If you work for a school or company, they might also offer assistance or take care of the process for you.
The agents will ask you what your requirements are:
- Roommate/No roommate
- Number of Bedrooms
You can also join a Wechat group. Beijing has lots of groups with postings from people looking to rent/renting out their apartment.
The agents will send you photos of the apartments they have available. This is convenient because you can see lots of options without wasting time on places you know you wouldn’t like.
After talking with several different agents and considering photos, you’ll make arrangements to meet the agent and they’ll drive you around on their motorbike to show you several apartments.
They’ll usually show you more than you planned on looking at, and also show you apartments above the price range you told them you wanted.
A Typical Hutong Layout
It’s popular for hutongs to be “duplex” or loft style, with a small bedroom area located upstairs and the kitchen and living room downstairs. Some will even have a roof terrace, which is pretty cool. There are also some studio style apartments and even some large, two- or three- bedroom hutong apartments.
The price for a hutong apartment depends on the location and how big the apartment is. Most will be somewhere from 4000 RMB – 8000 RMB, going up even higher if you want a nicer place with more space.
I have 15 agents on Wechat – no joke! Several of them work for the same agencies, but I wanted to look around as much as I could.
Two agents I went with one day were a hoot. Jason, a very outgoing guy, was super excited to talk with me and we found we have a mutual love for Zhangjie. He wanted to make a video of us singing together while we were looking at apartments.
Even after we finished looking for apartments he would message me all the time, sometimes about other apartments available, but also videos of him singing and performing juggling tricks with bottles.
He would also send me messages like this.
Not your usual kind of agent…. Hahaha.
Negotiate the Price and Sign a Contract
Once you’ve found an apartment you like, then you can negotiate the price. The agents will tell you a starting monthly price, but sometimes they can drop the price a bit or talk with the landlord for a discount. If you can move in quickly, they might offer you a better deal – I wanted to move in ASAP and my landlord took 200RMB off the monthly price.
After you’ve agreed to a price, you’ll make an arrangement with the landlord/agent to sign the contract and pay the agency and deposit fees. You’ll also usually pay for the first month’s rent. After the contract is signed, you’ll have to visit the police station to register your new address.
Tips for Finding an Apartment:
- Apartments in Beijing go fast. You might look at a place one day and want time to think about it, but the next day it will be taken by someone else. Agents and landlords move very quickly with the process – the sooner you can move in somewhere, the better it is.
- Have lots of cash upfront – at the least, you’re most likely going to need the amount for 3 month’s rent to pay the agency fee, first month rent, and deposit to the landlord. Some landlords will also want you to pay two or three month’s rent at a time, so make sure you consider that and arrange the best way for you to pay.
I found an apartment in the Lama Temple area and love it – it’s small but cute, and hidden behind a little alley. I’ll definitely share more in the future about living in a hutong in Beijing – for now I’m just glad the apartment hunting is over!
Have you ever looked for an apartment in China or lived in a Hutong? What was your experience like?