If you’ve just arrived in Taiwan, or you’re breaking out on your own, searching for a Taipei apartment can seem like mission impossible. It may not just be a barrier in language and culture, but a huge gap in expectations that gets you extremely frustrated. But all is not lost!
With its maze of streets, lanes and alleys to navigate, and most places feeling like the “downtown inner city” if not an industrial zone, Taipei can be a hard place to find somewhere that matches your notion of a decent place to live.
The last few years, however, has seen a huge speculative boom in the property market, with the result being an extensive upgrade of the housing stock in Taipei (and in so-called New Taipei City too).
For most people, this provides a better choice of newer, though often smaller, apartments, plus a range of good-sized, though often older, apartments to choose from.
As a word of advice, you should get yourself familiar with a few key Chinese terms before you start looking. Remember that almost nobody in Taipei lives in what most westerners might consider a house. So when thinking house, think apartment living.
- GongYu (公寓) is an apartment with at least 1 separate bedroom. Apartments come in all sizes, but generally they will include a separate bathroom, perhaps combined kitchen and living room, and a space for washing clothes (either in a room or on a balcony).
- TaoFang (套房) is a studio-like apartment with its own separate bathroom, possibly no place for a washing machine, but usually enough space for a refrigerator, microwave and other basics.
- DuLi TaoFang (獨立套房) or “independent studio” is a taofang with a separate external exit. As this implies, some taofangs can be little more than a main bedroom in a bigger apartment with its own bathroom attached.
- YaFang (雅芳) is a dormitory-like room, most likely with a common kitchen, bathroom and laundry shared by other renters.
- DingLou JiaGai (頂樓加蓋) is a roof top add-on that has been built on the top of an apartment building.
- Ping (坪) is a unit of measurement equal to 2 tatami mats, roughly the size of a double bed. All property in Taiwan is quoted in pings.
Note: the ping value of an apartment may include a public space component or the size of a parking space for a scooter or car. New buildings can include up to 30% public space (ie the building foyer or gardens) in their ping calculations, so clarify this issue with the landlord. Find out what you are getting inside the walls of the space you are planning to rent.
- FangJian (房間) is room. KeTing (客廳) is living room. WeiYu (衛浴) is a XiShouJian (洗手間) or bathroom. Thus 2房1聽1衛 is a 2-bedroom apartment with a living room and a single bathroom.
- FangZu (房祖) is the noun rent. Zu (祖) is the verb rent.
- YaJin (押金) is a deposit. You will often pay 2 month’s deposit + 1 month’s rent just to get started. But it depends on the landlord.
Looking for an apartment contains a lot of issues to deal with, even before you sign a lease and move in. Location (relative to transport) and environmental issues (like noise and ventilation) will be major concerns when choosing a place. Check out Finding a Place to Rent in Taipei: Issues to Consider for tips that will help you avoid some common pitfalls.
Remember that unless you have money to spend to hire a local broker or agent (and even then, don’t expect much), finding that perfect pad quickly is going to be a challenge. Be prepared to look at and politely decline all manner of apartment styles.
In the end, the place you find may not be ideal, and it will very likely be a compromise on a number of your key criteria, but it will give you an excellent reference point for finding something more to your liking.
This thinking might also factor into how you negotiate your lease: for 6 or 12 months.
Learn From Other Foreigners
Everyone who comes and lives in Taipei has a rental story to tell. Whether it is about that awesome roof top with its private garden and view of the airport, or the landlady from hell who overcharged for unused water and gas, or the noisy neighbors who you could see at night in the building 2 meters opposite; Taipei renters have seen it all and can offer hundreds of stories to learn from.
With that in mind, check out the Facebook group called Rental Apartments in Taiwan which includes rental ads and renter comments. There you’ll find heaps of people who want to share their experiences and help others. If that fails, head down to your local Chinese language center, foreign-occupied pub or English school and ask for advice.
Ask Friends, and Friends of Friends
Find out as much as you can from the people you already know, especially locals that have rented recently. They may have heard about someone who is about to leave town or know a friend of a friend who knows something about someplace, somewhere.
Alternatively, share-letting with a friend, colleague, or fellow student can be a less painful entry to the rental market in Taipei.
Even if it is just for a few weeks or a couple of months, it will give you a sense of what is available for the price you can afford.
Better yet, renting in this way gives you hands-on experience about the location you have chosen.
Check Online for Ads in English (and Chinese)
The Taiwan Rental group (mentioned above) on Facebook and sites like TeaLit have ads and information about renting in Taiwan. Alternatively, an organization like Berlin Realty provides search services better suited to ex-pats on company budgets.
There are also a number of Chinese sites you can browse for apartment sizes and prices. Sites like Tsuei Ma Ma (legal rights and obligations) or 519.com (rental listings) will give you a good sense of the market.
Walk the Streets for Rental Ads
Local real estate agents have their lists of available properties, but expect to pay a premium due to the agency’s fees, which will be half a month’s rent. They also have an agenda to get better commissions from more expensive premises. But don’t worry, you can still find a lot of ads yourself. All it requires is a bit of footwork and a keen eye.
So where to start? By now you are looking for the all important Chinese character 祖 (to rent).
Many landlords prefer to advertise their properties locally, thus avoiding extra costs by placing ads with third parties. It doesn’t mean the properties are necessarily bad. Spurious as it sounds, it is a way to keep the property rented to people already in the neighborhood. People they think they know.
Start by deciding where you want to live, and just walk the streets. Check nearby community parks for a noticeboard, and pay attention to things stuck to nearby light poles and street signs. You may find a red or yellow piece of paper with 祖 at the top and phone numbers you can tear off and ring. Or check the windows of apartments for a cardboard sign (again with the character 祖 or 出租) stuck on the front with a phone number to call.
More Tips for Renting in Taipei
Finding a Place to Rent in Taipei: Issues to Consider
If you have other suggestions about renting in Taipei, or any stories to share, please post a comment below.