Friday, June 26, 2009

Decisions, decisions

I have spent every spare minute of the last week searching for somewhere new to live. I covet a siheyuan - one of Beijing's traditional courtyard houses.

And I have found one that is absolutely gorgeous.... perfect.... too-good-to-be-true. It's HUGE (something like 120 square metres of courtyard and 130 or 140 square metres of living space), it's in a central location (only 5 or 10 minutes' walk from the Bell Tower), and it's available for a knockdown price (it's been vacant for over 2 months already, and the landlord is panicking a bit).

Well, it's not quite perfect. It's unfurnished. It's really a bit too big for me. And it is still too darned expensive for me.

But it is the kind of place I've always dreamed of. And what price can you put on dreams? Maybe I should just take a crazy gamble, risk all of my savings on the chance of a year of fantasy living?

The options I've been looking at are:

1) Cast financial prudence to the winds and rent the entire courtyard on my own.

2) Find a friend to share it with me.

3) Let my agent find a stranger to share it with me.

4) Find a friend - or a friend of a friend - with a small business who'd use part of it as their office (a more attractive possibility, as I'd be splitting the rent without the hassle of actually "living with" someone).

5) Fit part of it out as an upscale guestroom, and advertise the chance of a few days' "courtyard living" over the Internet (I should think there ought to be plenty of people out there who'd be willing to pay maybe a couple of hundred bucks a night for something like that; and if I could promote it effectively, I wouldn't need to book out very many nights each month to make a substantial dent in the rent; I might even be able to start showing a profit..... although concealing all of this from the landlord might be a problem!).

6) Divide the space with a wall, to create two separate - but still easily linkable via a connecting gate - units; the larger of these, including a good two thirds of the courtyard space, would then be (just about) affordable for me.
[This would, I think, be the perfect solution for me; and it should be attractive for the landlord too, giving him more flexibility as to how he rents the property. Indeed, it was he who originally suggested it. Though it would be a pity to diminish the impression of spaciousness you get on first entering, I think it's a sensible and necessary step: the bedroom and shower/toilet/utility room just inside the entrance have no connection with the rest of the space, and it's difficult to imagine how a single tenant - even a family - would effectively make use of them.... other than as an office or studio, or granny flat or nanny's quarters. Separating these two buildings off, but leaving them linkable to the main space, would make the property much more desirable and easy to let. Unfortunately, the Chinese in general, and Beijing landlords in particular, seem to have little sense of commercial logic. I suspect that this landlord is offering to build a partition wall merely as an inducement to me to agree to move in. He does not see it as a way to improve the value of the property, but merely as a bothersome imposition necessary to indulge the foreigner's whims. I'd feel very nervous about signing a lease on the basis that the property was going to be divided, and then coming back after a 6-week summer holiday to discover that it hadn't been (or that it had been botched; that the wall had been built in the wrong place, to an inadequate height, or so shoddily that it completely compromised the character of the place). Cruel Fate, why do you mock me?]

I'm keeping everything crossed for Option No. 6, but I don't have any great confidence.

My other fallback options (not as many, or as attractive as I'd like) are:

7) The first siheyuan apartment I looked at, beautiful and only a couple of minutes from Qianhai lake - but a bit pokey, and overpriced for what it is. (For the last two years it was rented by a German engineer from Siemens who didn't have to quibble about the rent. The avaricious - and unrealistic - landlord thinks he should still be able to get the same rent from me, despite the fact that property values across most of Beijing dipped by 25%-30% at the end of last year!)

8) A small house near my current neighbourhood. Not a siheyuan, but it does have a pleasant little backyard. I'm rather taken with this, but again the landlord's rent expectations are a little inflated, and I envisage some protracted haggling.

Or..... :

9) I could defer a decision, and commit myself to further frantic house-hunting when I come back in August. (I figure my landlord will let me roll over my present lease on a month-by-month basis for a little while, or let me sign up for one further quarter at my present - relatively inexpensive! - rent. If he doesn't, I'm going to be in a tight spot - returning to Beijing with less than a fortnight to find somewhere to live!! That is the kind of stress I could do without.)

Or.... :

10) I could just stay on where I am for another year.
[Oh god, I really do not want to do this - the 'Inertia Option'. But at present, it is looking worryingly likely. I just haven't had enough free time to seek out an alternative.]

It could be an eventful weekend. Indeed, my next post might be from the coronary unit.


stuart said...

"Well, it's not quite perfect. It's unfurnished. It's really a bit too big for me. And it is still too darned expensive for me."

I know from your most recent post that it's sweltering right now, but consider heating this place in the middle of a biting Beijing winter.

Froog said...

I'm much better with heat than with cold, thanks, Stuart. And it does have the new electric storage heaters installed - it might be a tad expensive, but I expect it to be pretty comfortable unless there's a really big freeze.

I'm quite used to padding around indoors in shorts and a t-shirt even in quite cool temperatures. If it gets really cold, I just put on a sweater or a tracksuit, and I'm fine.

The heating issue is the least of my worries.

Erico47 said...

You might want to operate a Co-Working facilities for locals / expats, as I was considering back then in 2007. There should be good market for these facilities in cities like Beijing now. There are some relevant details / references on my blog (though not specifically referring to Beijing):

Unfortunately, I can't take a look at the property now.

Anonymous said...

How many hours a day are you actually in your living space? And how many of those hours are you awake?

Add all the electricity, water, heating, maintenance etc to the rent.
Now devide the total until you get the amount you will be paying for each day, devide that by the number of waking hours of each day. Now you have the amount you will be paying for each waking hour in that house. Is it worth it??

You might just think it is cheaper to stay in a hotel. Or you might think, well thats what I spend on Beer every day, so I'll give up beer and stay home every night.
Your liver will be thanking you then, for getting the expensive house.


Froog said...

Well, I work from home a lot. And I do have periods of staying in quite a bit, for a change of pace, a bit of mental and physical recovery. And having some private, personal space is very comforting - even if I don't use it all that much.

I figure I could probably save 1,000 or 2,000 a month on "going out", if I got myself a nice siheyuan, or anywhere with just a little bit of open-air space, where I could enjoy evenings in - and entertaining friends at home - rather more often.

In fact, if I'd got my 'dream courtyard', it would quickly have been transformed into the neighbourhood shebeen, with all my disreputable drinking buddies hanging out there most every weekend. Ah, dreams, dreams....

Anonymous said...

Now, I had this idea, but didn't think it was legal to have a "pub" in your home in China. But have you thought of actually making a mini brit-pub in the corner of your living area? And charge people a donation just for the upkeep.

Do I remember correctly that you had a dream of owning your own pub?? Well what are you waiting for? It doesn't even have to be a brit-pub, make it an international one, that way decorating it will be easier and cheaper.

I think you should get the place. You sound like you are in love with the place. Live for today, life is too short. But please ask your guests to smoke outside, as it is very unhealthy and cruel to those who don't smoke.