Why do expats want to live in colonial properties?


The colonial properties are unique. No two colonial properties are the same. When walking into a well renovated colonial property you cannot help but be impressed with the use of space, high ceilings, wood floors and in general the history that surrounds you.

Why do expats want to live in colonial properties

This is particularly the case when you know the provenance of the property. Also, because there are so few of them there is definitely a feeling of exclusivity in living in a wonderfully restored colonial home.

Colonial properties also have the advantage of far more usable space compared to new builds in Shanghai.

Typically new builds in Shanghai have only around 75% usable space. Therefore if you rent a 100sqm property it will actually only be 75sqms. This is because they count parts of public areas into the sqm listed in the deed (elevators, lobbies and entrance areas). Whereas with colonial properties if it says 100sqm on the deed you pretty much get 100sqms that you can use.

Another appeal is the old real estate truth of location, location, location.

All colonial properties are in downtown Shanghai. Therefore, if you do want to live downtown, the thought of living in a colonial home is often at the top of your list.

− The former French Concession:

Most people think of the former French Concession, in particular around Wukang Road and Hunan Road, when thinking of old style living. However, the area in which colonial properties are found is actually bigger than many people think. The former French Concession stretches right from Huashan Road in the West to the Huangpu River in the East (excluding the old Chinese city which is divided by the Renmin Road). In real estate terms you can think of Xizang Road as the East cut off point.

− The former British Concession:

Also, the former British Concession is often forgotten. The former British Concession covers a large portion of what is now Jingan district and some of Huangpu district. It officially started on Kaixuan Rd and continued to Suzhou Creek. Throughout this area there are many wonderful colonial homes including the famous Embankment building near the Bund.

− The original American Concession:

Finally, there are a few in the original American Concession (which merged with the British Concession to make the American/Anglo Concession) in what is now Hongkou district.

Living with its advantage and disadvantages.

Regarding location, not only can you live downtown, but you almost always get a ‘real’ China experience when living in a lane or a colonial apartment building. In Shanghai many renovated colonial gems are in lanes where the rest of the properties are still inhabited by local Shanghainese and these properties are still to be renovated. You may have 3-5 families still living in one lanehouse next to you. Therefore, you have your haven, but when you step outside you know you’re living in China.

In the past 10 years the quality of the renovation in colonial properties has skyrocketed.

There will often be your neighbour’s washing hanging outside your window, a mass of stray cats in thelane and lots of old ladies sitting out by the entrance of the lane who always know everyone’s business - but that is part of the charm. Nowadays it is not unusual for colonial properties to have more perks that new builds; floorheating, built-in radiators, double-glazed windows, water filter systems, mosquito nets and central air-con. This, with the good layouts, location and history make them so enticing for a certain type of expatriate.

Quiet lanes can actually have a lot going on at times when you would expect everyone to be asleep.

Again, location is often one of the plus points. However, it is also important to realize that being downtown can be noisy. The older generation get up early and use the communal areas of the lane (which could be right outside your house) to meet and catch up on gossip.

Also, you don’t know who your neighbors are and they could start to renovate at any time.

This is also possible in a new build, but in our experience the renovation of a colonial property takes longer, causes more dust (they often chose to knocked down everything and start from a shell) and no one polices the working hours. Even in new builds policing working hours is tough, but you have more chance of winning that in a lane.

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