The allure of a lane house for expats


Moving to any new city is a very exciting experience – and of course a little nerve racking at the same time. China is definitely no exception to this. China’s rapid economic development combined with its’ long and complicated history makes moving here a real adventure.

For new arrivals thinking about China conjures up many different images. For Beijing it is the Great Wall and Tianamen Square. For Xi’an it is the Terracotta Warriors and for Chengdu it is Pandas.

The allure of a lane house for expats

There are many westerners who have a fascination with Shanghai as the ‘Paris of the Orient’.

Shanghai is most often associated with its infamous period of the ‘roaring twenties and thirties’. There is of course a lot more to the city than its colonial past, although the Bund, black-tie parties, and the old saying of ‘getting shanghai’ed’ is what quickly comes to mind when people think of this city.

Shanghai is globally an uncontested giant for colonial art deco properties.

When you arrive in downtown Shanghai you are immediately immersed in a mixture of old and new. During the 1990s the Shanghai government tore down many colonial properties fortunately they quickly switched to a policy of preservation. There are now 12 official areas in downtown Shanghai which have been preserved and thus technically cannot be destroyed.

There is approximately 20% of ‘old Shanghai’ left.

Starting from when Shanghai won the bid to host the World Expo in 2010 the local government began a wonderful restoration project of many of the colonial buildings in the former French and British concessions making downtown Shanghai a true architectural pleasure. However, the numbers are still limited to a few thousand which make them a hot commodity, particularly when you compare them to the plethora of new builds that are on the market; in the Lujiazui compound Yanlord Riverside there are 2000 apartments alone.

Every year more individual properties are restored and come on to the expatriate rental market.

With its unique history and quiet, tree-lined streets it is not surprising that many people moving to Shanghai instantly fall in love with the idea of living in a colonial property in the Former French Concession. Before even getting to the city many of our assignees have decided they want to ‘experience the real Shanghai’ by living in a lane house, having local neighbours and in some ways experiencing Shanghai in its’ former glory.

How you live not where you live as to what you get out of the city.

It is important to point out that living in a colonial property is unfortunately not always what people expect and it is important to fully understand the good and the not so good before deciding to live in one of the city’s colonial gems. Also, I believe many people get confused with the different options, quality levels and locations of colonial properties. Many also believe they won’t experience the ‘real China’ if they live in a compound, which is incorrect.

Living in the colonial districts of Shanghai is without a doubt a fantastic experience.

But you need to realize that this is really not for everyone and that it does bring along its own set of challenges. We often advise newcomers to perhaps spend a year in a new apartment or villa complex before moving into a colonial property. Moving to China brings along enough challenges and you can live in the real China even if you do live in a new build or in a compound. Exploring the city and being proactive in your community is what living in Shanghai is all about.

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