Beijing, China

In the Fast Lane

Iyna Bort Caruso

Beijing, China, is an ancient city modernizing at breakneck speeds.

The capital is the heart of the nation’s culture and politics, busy and buzzing with transplants from other cities, other countries and other continents.

Beijing is divided into six urban districts, eight suburban districts and two rural counties. Its traffic congestion and gridlock are infamous though an extensive public transportation network of subways, buses and trolleys offers relief. Life here is cosmopolitan and engaging with more than 100 public gardens and an even greater number of museums. It’s easy to live well in Beijing, although Western-style goods and services come at a price.

The architecture of Imperial China is juxtaposed with a tremendous amount of new building construction, some the visions of international designers. The residential real estate market has seen huge price hikes, especially in the new home market. In the denser areas of the city, apartments dominate. A traditional style of courtyard housing is known as Siheyuan. Originally built for nobility, they were carved up into multi-family dwellings during the Communist Revolution. Many have been demolished to make way for high rise developments, but some have been renovated and are attracting those seeking a historical Chinese experience.

Chaoyang is the diplomatic district, an area popular with professionals in the expat community. Fashionable apartments feature European-style amenities. The area bustles with parks, nightlife, familiar brand-name shopping and international schools.

Family-friendly free-standing villas are more common in the outer districts. Shunyi near the Beijing Capital International Airport, for example, is a quiet suburban atmosphere with its share of international schools, restaurants and shopping malls. Some complexes have on-site English speaking management staffs and amenities such as fitness centers, pools and security one would expect to find in communities in Europe and North America.

Rules governing Beijing real estate purchases vary by city jurisdiction but many restrictions on foreign purchases have been lifted. Technically, the government owns the land and grants residential leases of up to 70 years.