Monday, January 5, 2009

Moving to Thailand? Here's Where Your Home Search Starts

Relocating to Bangkok, and about to begin your home search? The process can be a fun and exciting one if you first understand how the property rentals market works and what to consider when appointing your real estate agent. Let's start with the positive, that is - Bangkok is a renter's market. How so?

1) The agency commission is paid by the landlord. Aren't we off to a good start already?

2)There are plenty of real estate agencies to pick from and majority of these can be found on the internet.

3) Since the Landlords pay the commission, you pay absolutely nothing to the real estate agency assisting you, and there are no obligations whatsoever!

4) As an expat, you pay the same rental rates as a Thai national. In fact, majority of landlords prefer an expat tenant and go the extra mile (sometimes) to get you to sign on the dotted line.

Now that you know all that, here's what you wouldn't normally know unless you are an agent here in Bangkok!

In Thailand, anyone can be an agent! There isn't an association, with any authority at least, that overlooks the activities of agents in Thailand. Walk into a bar and tell someone, anyone that you are looking for an apartment, and chances are there'll be a "freelance agent" somewhere in the midst to help you out. I think that is fine as long as you are not asked to pay anything since landlords pay the commission here. However, you may be subjected to inferior choices since these are not professional who have established relations with apartment buildings and home owners. That said, I do occasionally hear of some lucky fellow who found a great deal through a friend's friend who happened to be a "part time agent." You'll realize in time that anything is possible in Thailand!

Here's how I see it. A real estate agent's job is pretty much like a match maker's. He/She needs to match you to the "right" property, and preferably within 8 selected options. Seeing too many properties can actually overwhelm and confuse you. 6 - 8 well selected choices seen within a day or two, is much more gratifying than spending days stuck in the infamous Bangkok jams trying to hit the 25th property-viewed mark. Fact is, people don't usually have an array of favorites to choose from (since not all the best ones will be available at one time) and I don't think there is a "perfect" apartment or house when it comes to renting. You'd be lucky to have 2 top choices to choose from, but most of us usually settle for the place that feels most like home in a foreign country.

The other thing you should know before you line up a dozen agents for your showing is that all agencies have access to the same apartment buildings. Condo and house listings may vary from agency to agency but landlords often contact more than one agency to promote their property so nothing is exclusive to an agency here. Or should I say, rarely. Just surf around and you'll find similar properties listed on multiple agency websites. Thus, arrange your viewing with one agency at a time. That way, if you feel that your appointed agent does not understand your needs, switch agency but tell them what you have already seen with your previous agent. It is only fair that only one agent represents you for each property. Bangkok is a small town, and many agencies practice co-broking to provide as many choices for their clients as possible, so your name will get around, especially if you've been agency shopping.

Another thing I've encountered is that some companies have what they call a "preferred agent" which they strongly encourage their expatriate executives to use. More often than not, these are agencies with relations in the HR department who may understand what HR wants but not necessarily what you want! What you and I call "Western standard" can be a totally different concept to some of them, so be sure to explain your requirements and needs to your appointed agent as thoroughly as possible to avoid wasting your time. You have the right to choose whichever agency that best understands your needs. You'll find that the agents not appointed by your company often have a better variety of properties to show you than the "preferred" agent simply because they try a lot harder. They work very hard to make sure you choose them over your company's preferred agent!

There are many real estate agencies that are run by foreigners catering to foreigners, whom most expats prefer to go to. It makes ALL the difference when your agent has a very good idea of your taste and preferences; and know exactly what you mean when you say "bright and spacious" versus an agent who just does not get it no matter how much time you spend explaining. Remember that you do have to bridge cultural gaps here which means different standards and expectations!"

All apartments and agencies have pretty standard contracts. Should you decide on an apartment, they will provide their own contract, whilst the agency will prepare the contract for private owners i.e. condos and houses. Multinational companies usually require a diplomatic clause, and if your company is paying your deposit, then they would also require an additional clause that states that this deposit will be returned to the company at the end of the lease term. All of which may be added to the lease, and it's your agent that needs to sort this out between your company and the apartment/landlord. Be discerning of "advise" that pushes you towards using a particular agent because they supposedly comply with company policies. It's just a matter of working out the contract details since there is usually some slight changes/additions, like those mentioned above. Any experienced agent will be able to do that.

Thailand is a great place to live and Bangkok, in particular has many superb housing choices for expats that are reasonably priced compared to neighboring countries i.e. Singapore and Hong Kong. Appoint an agent who makes an effort to understand your needs and house hunting becomes a lot more enjoyable! Feel free to drop me an email should you have queries.

By Maddy Barber

Maddy Barber

Maddy Barber runs Bangkok Home Finder - A real estate agency specialising in Bangkok home rentals. If you are relocating to Bangkok, be sure to visit the Bangkok Finder blog for invaluable information and tips on living and working in Thailand.

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