I・ve lived all over Taipei since I first arrived here in the late 80・s. At first I was staying with friends, but eventually I had to strike out and find my own place. Here are some useful tips about apartment-hunting I・ve gleaned over the years:

 

1. The Best Time to Look

Try to look for a place in the most unpleasant weather possible, on a rainy day if possible. There are many practical reasons for this, including checking to see if there・s any leakage, but mainly these are the times when you・ll tend to be home and not out and about. On a fine, sunny day, you・re most likely going to be outside enjoying it. But when the weather・s bad, you・re going to want to stay in. Be sure you know what the place you・re looking at is like in such weather, as that is probably when you・ll be spending most of your time there.

 

2. Never Trust Your First Impression

Every place is tinted by the freshness of your first encounter with it. It・s always new and interesting, and you・re not in the proper frame of mind to appreciate what it・s really like to live there day after day. Even if you think you・ve found The Perfect Place, make sure you go back at some other time, without the realtor if possible, to re-assess things. Most likely you・ll find that it・s not quite how you remembered it, even if you took digital pictures during your first visit (a wise thing to do in any case). You・ll see things you didn・t notice the first time, especially if you were being steered through by a realtor, and you might discover things the realtor didn・t want you to see. If when you go back and make a proper inspection, it still seems wonderful, then you can put more trust in your evaluation.

 

3. Testy, Testy

Test the lights, electrical outlets, and especially the water pressure. Don・t accept realtor・s explanations that :the pump is turned off; or the like. Many apartments on upper floors of buildings have weak water pressure, as the piping from the tanks on the roof utilize gravity to create water pressure. While this works fine for the first couple of floors, it doesn・t work so well on upper floors. Check for uneven walls and ceilings and floors (does it feel like you're unbalanced walking around inside?) water damage, crumbling walls and moldy ceilings, hastily applied paint touch-ups, too many roach traps, and general mustiness. All in all, imagine how you would feel coming home to this place after a hard day.

 

4. Early-morning Noise

If you・re near a park or a school, it・s a good idea to visit the place early in the morning or in the evening. It may be that the older residents of the neighborhood like to congregate outside your window at 6 in the morning and dance or exercise to music played over a megaphone. If this is likely to bother you, you・re better off knowing about it before you sign a contract. Construction is a given in any place, however. Chances are that if someone's not ripping out their floors with a jackhammer in your building, they soon will be. Taiwanese people are raised with noise, and often it just doesn't register with them. I've had real estate agents shouting above a din of traffic noise leaking into the apartment we were looking at, saying "Don't you love the quiet?" If school happens to be out while you're looking, take note of any schools nearby and whether they have, say, a large marching band that practices every morning at 7am. Don't think that, if the school is some kind of technical or economics institute, the students will be busy studying all the time. The fact is that they will spend most of their time singing and/or chanting, playing loud instruments, and listening to endless announcements made over powerful loudspeakers. A general rule is that if the landlord is in a rush to sign a lease, there's a 99% chance that something's wrong in the immediate vicinity that will become apparent in a short amount of time.

 

5. There・s Always Something Better

Sooner or later, more likely sooner in your house search, you will find a place that is nice, almost perfect, except for a few problems you think you might be able to live with. The landlord or realtor will claim that someone else is ready to move in, and will want a commitment from you on that day. Don・t believe them. Most likely it・s a ploy to get you to sign before you have second thoughts, while you・re still in the :oh, this is interesting; glow of the first inspection. Even if it・s not a ploy, rest assured that there is a place out there that meets all of your needs; all you need to do is have patience and the determination to wait until you find exactly what you want before you sign over your hard-earned money. Of course, you also need to remember that there is no such thing as an absolutely perfect place. And you can be reasonably sure that, sooner or later, you'll run into someone who got an even better deal than you did and is renting the Presidential Palace for NT$300 a month.

 

6. Know What You Want

Taipei is a dense city with a different atmosphere and feeling on every block. If you narrow your search down to a certain kind of apartment in a certain kind of environment, your search will be much easier. Keep in mind your sensitivities to noise, air quality, etc. If it bothers you even a little during your short first visit to the apartment, it will most likely bother you a lot when you・re living there. Don't let the novel idea of living in an "interesting" place trick you into renting a place you'll hate.

 

7. Don・t Use a Real Estate Agent

Most realtors in Taipei are out to get you into the most expensive place possible. If you give them a strict upper limit of, say, NT$10,000, they・ll find places that are NT$13,000-NT$15,000 and try to get you to pay that by hinting that the difference isn・t all that much. Remember, if you use an agent you・ll end up paying half a month・s rent to them for their :services;. The best way to look for a place is to find the area you want to live in and simply walk around in it looking for rental ads, which are posted on bulletin boards and sometimes in the windows or on the balconies of the apartments themselves.

Sure, it's cheap, but do you think you'd really be comfortable in a place like this?

 

8. Know the Laws and Customs

Realtors who demand over half a month・s rent, and landlords who want more than two month・s rent as deposit are trying to milk you. If you are told anything that seems unreasonable, ask around to see if it・s actually true. Many landlords think foreigners don・t know anything about Taiwan and will try to take advantage of you. If you speak Chinese, the more a realtor tries to speak English with you in spite of your Chinese ability, the more you should suspect that they're trying to peg you as an ignorant foreigner.

 

9. Check Out the Neighbors

No, not with a telescope...take a walk around the neighborhood at different times. Make sure you are comfortable with the area, and that it・s someplace you don・t mind living. Also, make sure that the neighbors don・t have a problem with you. If it・s mostly retirees, and you like all-night raves in your living room, you might want to reconsider your choice. Also, remember to check for schools nearby. You might like the sound of laughing children, but would you like it every day from 7am to 9pm? And are there night school classes? If you don't know, find out.

 

10. Rooftops

Many foreigners enjoy the rooftop lifestyle in Taipei, as you tend to have more space and fewer neighbors. Taiwanese people tend to not like rooftop apartments, and rent them for cheaper than other places. When you・re checking out a rooftop, keep in mind that tin roofs have been known to fly away in typhoons, and turn into ovens in the summer heat. Also, rooftop additions are not generally part of the rest of the building・s superstructure. This means that rooftop apartments may react differently in earthquakes, falling down when the rest of the building simply sways around. Also, all of the water pumps for a building are usually located on the roof, so make sure the constant clicking and buzzing noises don・t bother you too much.

 

11. The Foureignth Floor

Traditionally speaking, fourth-floor apartments rent cheaper than other floors. The first apartment blocks in Taipei were four stories high, and being on the top floor meant that, while you did have access and use of the roof, you also had more stairs to climb. The number 4 is also unlucky in Chinese, so Taiwanese people avoid it. The result is that many foreigners end up taking advantage of cheaper fourth-floor places.

 

12. Learn the Lingo

:Zu; is to rent or for rent. :Tao-fang;M is a studio apartment, which means just a room and a bathroom. :Du-tao; WM or :du-li-tao-fang; WミM is a studio that is independent, with its own exit, and not just a room in a dormitory with its own bathroom. :Ya-fang;峡 is a dormitory-like arrangement, with little rooms along a hallway, all sharing the same bathroom and shower. :Gong-yu; そJ is an apartment. :Ya-jin; 礫 is deposit, and :ding-jin; w is a holding fee, which shouldn・t be more than NT$1,000. :Fang-dong; 乖F is landlord and :er-fang-dong; G乖F is someone who is both renting the place from the owner and renting it out to someone else. :Shui-dian; q is utilities, literally water and electricity.

 

13. Bargaining

It・s always worth a try. Many landlords are more concerned with renting to a stable, reliable tenant than wrenching every last penny from their pockets, and if they like you they may be willing to lower the rent a considerable amount. In my opinion, these landlords are better to deal with than the kind that don・t care who rents their places and simply want to make as much money as possible. If the price is just a little too high for you, and the landlord・s not willing to budge at all, see tip #5 above.

 

14. The MRT

Taipei is a pretty big place, but the arrival of the MRT several years back made it much smaller. Being near a station is incredibly useful, but remember that it・s not much use if you get off work after midnight, when the last trains have gone. It might be a good idea to have a look at plans for future MRT lines, not as places to look for an apartment, but as areas to avoid, since you probably won・t like living next to a construction site for the next five years while they build the line. In the city, some of the nicest neighborhoods I know can be found near the Ta-An and Technology Building Stations on the Mucha line (aka the Brown Line), as well as south of the Zhongxiao-Xinsheng Station on the Nangang or Blue Line and near Kuting Station on the Xindian/Danshui or Green Line. If you・re going to be taking the MRT anyway, you might want to consider living further out of the city, in seemingly faraway places with fresher air, like Xindian, Mucha, Beitou and even Danshui. Rents are cheaper, and the MRT can get you into and back out of town in only half an hour or so. That said, there are considerably more foreigners living north of the city than south of it, and consequently rents stay high as you travel north but drop sooner when you travel south, east, or, heaven forbid, west to Taipei County.

 

15. Sunlight

If you・re a morning person, you will appreciate, along with most Taiwanese people, sunlight streaming in your east-facing windows. Taiwanese people don・t like western-facing windows that pick up the afternoon sun, and :xi-sai; apartments, which means apartments with windows facing west, are generally less popular. If, like me, you enjoy sleeping after 6 a.m., but like a nice rosy sunset view, you can use this to your advantage by actually looking for such a place, but remember to complain about it to the landlord; they might be willing to lower the price for this perceived :fault;.

 

16. Balconies

While it・s true that the weather in Taipei isn・t hospitable for much of the year, it・s nice to be able to be able to go outside without leaving your apartment. This is one of the draws of rooftop apartments, but if you live in a normal apartment, you・ll probably want a balcony, especially if you need to dry your clothes and don・t have a dryer. Most Taiwanese balconies are designed with only clothes-drying in mind, as they are much too narrow for any other use, but occasionally you・ll see real balconies, surrounded by railing instead of concrete blocks. Most people here close such balconies in and/or use them for storage, though. Good views are not on the top of many people・s lists here, traditionally speaking, but things are slowly changing as western sensibilities make at least superficial inroads here.

17. A Nice Quiet Alley

While it may seem exciting to have an apartment that looks out onto the teeming traffic of Zhongxiao East Road in downtown, you・ll probably get tired to the constant traffic noise as well as the pervasive dust from being next to the road. Ironically these places tend to be more expensive due to their being possibly used for commercial purposes, and your neighbors will probably be taking advantage of that fact as well, necessitating your having to put up with "customers" coming at all hours. You'll most likely end up feeling that you never 'go home' and live in a large shopping mall 24-hours a day. Believe me, it・s a much better idea to get a place on a quiet alley or lane. The residential feel alone is worth it.

A nice, quiet, shaded alley....mmmm.

18. Parking

You probably don・t need or want a car if you live in downtown Taipei, but if you have a motorcycle, it・s best to make sure that there・s a place for it as well as you in your new place. A nice nook in the underground parking garage would be nice, but those are often reserved for cars. Many buildings offer the shelter of the first-floor overhang, but these are being cleared out as more and more buildings are built without them, and the ones that still do have them tend to reserve these spaces for pedestrians. City Hall has announced that the little parking bays on the side of the road will most likely start charging for parking soon, so it would be wise to make sure there・s a space for your scooter somewhere nearby. There・s not much point in having a scooter if you have to walk halfway across town just to get to it.

 

19. Elevators

Stairs aren・t too big a problem if there・s not too many of them. Some people rationalize walking up and down six flights of stairs with claims of exercise, but what about bringing home tons of groceries, moving furniture, or just being tired? Are you the kind of person who often forgets things and has to go back to the apartment a couple of times to retrieve them? Then you might reconsider either living below the third floor or renting in a building that is equipped with an elevator. There will always be stairs there for exercise if you so choose. Consider having to take the stairs several times a day before committing.

 

20. Gas and Electricity

Most older apartments use gas canisters to heat water and for the stove. The gas companies send guys on motorcycles piled high with these canisters to replace them every so often. Some apartments have gas lines built in, and many newer places rely on electricity, which is considered quite a bit safer, though most Taiwanese swear that there・s no way electricity can heat water or cook food properly. If you choose a gas-powered kitchen/bathroom, you・ll have to remember to open and shut the gas canisters, and you should make sure the water heater and stove are in proper working order. Don・t take the landlord・s or agent・s word for it. That said, using gas cannisters seems to provide quicker cooking and water heating.

 

21. Gender, Chinese-ness, etc.

The gals would seem to have a vast advantage when looking for accommodations in Taiwan. A good half of the advertisements are for dormitories, apartments and even single-person rooms where the landlord will only take in female tenants. This has to do with the Taiwanese belief that all women, especially young unmarried women, are easily dominated angels who whisper and wear white clothes, while men are all simply Betelnut-spitting emissaries of Lucifer himself. On the other hand, I've heard of several cases of females being raped when they went alone to see a new place, so you might want to bring a friend, not only for protection, but for a valuable second opinion in addition to your own. As for renting to foreigners, some landlords won't do it, and others rent only to foreigners, based on their preferences. I've confused several potential landlords who weren't expecting a foreigner when I showed up after speaking with them on the phone, and then I confused them even more by showing them my ROC ID card. Basically, if the landlord gives you a hard time about this or anything else, consider it a sign of Things to Come and avoid renting from them, since they'll likely give you a hard time about other things as well. Which brings us to...

 

22. You and Your Landlord

This may seem obvious, but make sure you like and get along with your landlord or landlady, because they can make your life hell if they want to. Older couples and veterans tend to make good landlords, but I・ve found single women over 40 to be rather vicious and even heartless landlords for some reason. It・s better to live apart from your landlord, as often it seems that familiarity breeds contempt, and I prefer to maintain a bit of distance from my landlord, even if I like him or her. Too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The same could be said of room-mates. Pick them carefully.

 

Remember that there will always be a lot of good places out there. You just need to find them. Good luck.

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