Apartment Hunt: Setting Priorities

Tian and I have done a lot of talking about our apartment preferences.  Doing so has helped her focus her search efforts.  The biggest questions for us have been…

  1. What neighborhood?
  2. How many bedrooms?
  3. What price range?

To answer the “what neighborhood” question, Tian first had to help me get acquainted with the geography of Beijing. I was sort of familiar with the general layout of the city from my trips there in 2005 and 2008. But I have never been to this corner of the city and also don’t really understand how the map scales will translate to life.

To communicate about location, we needed a map. We first tried looking at the same map on the same website, but we had a hard time with that because I don’t read Chinese (yet). She kept trying to tell me to “find this symbol near that symbol.” Because the type was so small, and because the details of the characters were hard to discern to my untrained eye, we were getting frustrated.

This is the map Tian and I used at the start of our conversation.  It was hard for me to find the characters she wanted me to find.  See what I mean?

This is the map Tian and I used at the start of our conversation. It was hard for me to find the characters she wanted me to find. See what I mean?

That’s when I remembered a tool we used for the Breakthrough Anywhere laptop program last year called Dim Dim. Basically it’s a free online program that you can use to share computer screens between users. Using Dim Dim, I was able to look at Tian’s screen as she pointed with her curser to different parts of the map. This helped our conversation move along a lot more quickly and productively.

The good news is that once we actually got down to it, it was easy to focus in on a couple of neighborhoods. The reason is that Tian and I are working only five blocks from each other. In Beijing, a city that can take two hours to cross by subway, it is not uncommon for one person in a couple to travel over an hour to work. That can lead to intense discussions about where to live. Fortunately, that part was easier for us!

When we first started talking about apartment size, Tian and I had slight differences of opinion. She preferred getting a one-bedroom because it would allow us to be more picky with location and also keep the rent down. I preferred a two-bedroom because it would allow us to accommodate guests more easily and just provide us with more living space. Also, the idea of doing a week of quarantine in a one-bedroom also didn’t sit well with me. 

As of now, we’re leaning toward a two-bedroom apartment if we can find one for the right price.

At first, Tian and I disagreed on acceptable price ranges for our apartment. As we talked, we realized that we were approaching the question from different perspectives and experiences.

Tian was much more conservative in her acceptable price range. Her view of the Beijing rental prices was impacted by 1) her experiences renting in Wuhan, where housing prices are much lower than in Beijing, and 2) the fact that she was fortunate enough not to pay for housing in the United States due to the generosity of some great friends. Immediately, everything was expensive and she wanted to sacrifice space and location to keep the price low.

I, on the other hand, was much more liberal in my acceptable price range. My view of the Beijing market was impacted by 1) the fact that I own a home in the US and make a monthly mortgage payment that equals about 30% of my US income; and 2) the fact that I viewed the price in yuan relative to the price in dollars. Immediately, everything looked cheaper than the US, and I wanted to get a nice place from which to experience regular life in China for the first time.

We have not resolved this question entirely yet (because the search hasn’t really started). But identifying the underlying issues and our different perspectives has been a big step toward making a joint decision we both can be happy with.

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