House Hunting in London
In London, I’d trawl through the internet sites looking for houses, filtering down by price, location or amenities and then send an email to an agent who would meet me at the property. The agent would let me look round, sometimes unaccompanied, leaving me to look for any potential pitfalls and offer little to no realistic advice.
New builds are a little better as they often have some prepared brochures listing all the facilities on offer, both in the house and in the surrounding area.
House Hunting in China
In China it’s much easier. We gave our requirements to a chap who picked us up in a Porsche and drove us round the three most likely candidates based on our preferences.
The first complex called Luxehills was a short way out of town and intertwined with a championship 18-hole golf course and a series of lakes. The sales room is in the golf clubhouse, which doubled as a community meeting place. A 6-strong welcoming committee intercepted us at the door. They took our coats, directed us to a sofa and offered a selection of drinks and snacks.
We were then led over to a huge model map of the complex on which we could see not only all the houses, but the shopping area, the school, the entertainment complex and of course the golf facilities. It seemed to be more of a closed-village than a housing area. This turned out to only be Phase One – at 4300 acres the next two phases will make the complex larger than the small British town I grew up near.
Our coats reappeared on cue and we were led outside to a waiting golf cart which took us round the complex to a show home. It seems that the complex is too large to walk around and many areas are unreachable by car so dozens of ten-seater golf carts have been employed to shuttle people about on demand.
People in China are prone to parking their cars in the worst place possible without a thought for the movement of others, so the shuttle idea seems like a system doomed to failure when someone’s shiny 4×4 is blocking the only route across the complex.
The golf cart whirred along briskly in the cold air, so no longer feeling warm and comfortable we arrived at the show home. The houses were in the Spanish/Californian terracotta villa style so popular in China’s modern complexes, which look out of place against the grey sky. Again we were stopped at the door, this time to have cloth overshoes fitted to avoid muddying the pristine and impracticably white doormat.
Houses here come pre-decorated in a style that’s not to my taste at all. Cutting-edge Chinese interior decoration seems suspiciously like ostentatious 80’s British design – all ornate columns and brass work.
Possibly due to the way we’re left to look at houses in the UK, I wandered round analysing how I’d actually live there rather than being wowed by the shiny dark gold fittings. It was a severe case of style over substance, and my observations about the questionable practicality of various features seemed to throw the agent considerably.
Silly things like why there’s an outdoor BBQ area behind the kitchen, but no back door to the building. Another was all the doors on the landing opening in different directions, making it easy to for one of the other doors to jam the walk-in wardrobe closed. It’s 2012 already – nobody should still be trapped in the closet.
After another chilly ride we warmed up with another drink back at the club house. If anything really put me off the complex, it was the other potential buyers there. A mix of CEOs, bankers, technology innovators and newly minted rural industrialists; every one of their appallingly spoilt children treated the waiters like dirt. Not people I want as my neighbours.
The next complex we viewed was a lot more friendly and laid back, but as yet unbuilt. The model showed the position of the houses, and emphasised their views over a large area of barren parkland. The price was reasonable and everything seemed ideal until we asked about the plans for the parkland. The agent fumbled under the table for a large Perspex 28-storey tower block and plonked it in the middle of the park, about 20m from the house we’d decided we like. Ok, Next…
The first complex had wooed us with so many tea and scones we arrived at the last place too late to look round as they closed at 4.30.
Not a successful day of house hunting, but enough to justify another Chengdu hot pot. Perhaps if we spent less time eating we’d have found somewhere by now!