Fact #1: There are many posts online advertising seemingly perfect (well-furnished, well-priced, well-located) apartments in Shanghai. Those posts are often bait to get people to contact a particular agent. Do not expect said furnishings, prices, or locations to reflect reality.
Fact #2: Unless you're working with an agent who specializes in settling expats, be prepared to converse in Mandarin.
Fact #3: Real estate agents in Shanghai are extremely localized. I figured we could talk to one agency about apartments across Shanghai. Not so much.
A friend drove us to different areas of the city, where we'd scan the streets for a real estate agent's sign. The rule was simple: no agents = no apartments for rent. Agents = apartment(s) available. Each agent would tell us about the three apartments in their little area before sending us on to the next neighborhood.
Fact #4: As a landlord, muttering "You won't be back. You can't afford this place" to prospective renters is not a good sales tactic. Even if your three bedroom apartment with nice hardwood floors and fantastic views is in our price range (it was), we won't come back.
Fact #5: Kitchens in China often don't have ovens. I'm still pondering this development. The apartments also typically don't have dryers.
In the end, we found a home for the next year. It is located close to B.'s work and near a metro stop, close to the Western conveniences of the French concession but not in an area dominated by Westerners. It has two bedrooms (visitors welcome!) and is across from a park. Last time we meandered through the park, we saw basketball (I think that's the real reason B. liked the apartment so much), water calligraphy, chinese chess, tai chi, and badminton.
Signing our lease was an exercise in cultural differences. The lease for our apartment in England was nearly as long as my dissertation. In China, it's two pages -- which includes the text in both Chinese and English. A few signatures, a handshake, a pile of cash. That was it.
Stay tuned for photos once we've moved in in January.