15 Jan 2018

Analyzing rental listings - finding a cheap Shanghai apartment

For the past several months I’ve been scraping listings data from SmartShanghai. Since the rental market for foreigners is large and robust enough to perform simple data analysis, I might be able to provide some tips for finding cheap apartments in Shanghai.

SmartShanghai’s listing service is the most widely used online apartment hunting service for foreigners new to Shanghai.

How to get the best deal on your apartment rental in Shanghai

1. Move to less obvious, but still central neighborhoods.

On a map, you can cover the most expensive swathe of Shanghai if you draw a diagonal line from the Bund to Xujiahui. Anywhere near West Nanjing Road, Xintiandi, IAPM (South Shaanxi Metro Station) or Yongkang street appears to be the most expensive.

Bokeh Plot

Once you start moving north or west of Jing’an Temple, prices for rentals start to drop dramatically. Rental prices near Changping Road, Jiangsu Road, and even West Yuyuan Rd are 20-30% cheaper than apartments in central Jing’An and French Concession. Median price for a 2 Bedroom near Jiangsu Road Metro Station is 10,350 RMB, compared to the 14500 RMB median price near Jing An Temple, just 1 metro stop away.

Other areas I find interesting or what I call border districts. They are on the border of western-friendly central Shanghai and the border of the concrete high-rise sprawl of the surrounding areas. These border districts include Changping Road, Jiangning Road to the north, and Jiashan Road and Dupuqiao to the south. These districts are interesting because just by crossing one street you see drastically different prices.

2. Understand what drives prices up.

If I made ranking of what factors determine apartment prices it would be:

  1. Square meterage
  2. Amenities, furnishings and “niceness” of the apartment
  3. Location
  4. Other factors…

Square meterage is number 1 by far. Square meterage is very strongly correlated with the price of the apartment. You could build a fairly accurate model that predicts apartments prices just by using the size of the apartments alone. Number of bedrooms does not provide any further influence on price than square meterage does so we can ignore it. Same goes for number of bathrooms.

This is helpful, because now we can calculate for each listing it’s monthly rental price per square meter and compare different districts using their apartments price per square meter. Apartments with a high price per square meter for an area are either very nice and well furnished or they are overpriced. This also helps us better compare districts (see below).

For Changshu Road, one of Shanghai’s the most expensive areas in the middle of the French Concession, on average the price per square meter is 165 RMB. Meaning a 60 sqm apartment in Changshu Rd will cost you 9900 RMB per month.

My gif

If you are paying 12,000 RMB a month for 60 sqm, you are paying 200 RMB per square meter. Either you have a very well-furnished apartment with nice amenities or the apartment is in a historic building or you are overpaying. In the Changshu Road area, 200 RMB per square meter is in the top 15% of price per square meter apartments.

Because quality of furnishings, style and amenities are hard to quantify from listings data, only you can justify wether a high price per meter or a low price per meter suits the apartment you are looking at.

For example, my apartment near Jing’an temple was 4500 RMB a month for a 40sqm 1 bedroom. This comes down to 112.5 RMB per month per square meter, significantly cheaper than the average 150 RMB per month per square meter apartment in the same area. Part of the reason we were paying so little is because 1) the landlord was just managing property for overseas family and didn’t care about money and 2) the kitchen is separated from the main room by a flight of stairs.

3. Use a calculator to determine standard rental rate for that area

Here’s the breakdown of average price per square meter by area.

Bokeh Plot