11 September 2018 - One of Hong Kong’s largest property agencies recently stated that out of the 160,000 second-hand property listings online, only about 10,000 are “real” i.e. actually on the market for sale or lease. This PR announcement also declared that they plan to eliminate thousands of fake listings on their website and although it’s unclear what led to this announcement, I applaud the admission of this longstanding problem and commitment to fixing it.
Most people in Hong Kong have experienced the common ‘bait and switch’ practice employed by many property agencies. Alluring but stale property listings are advertised (often at below-market prices) to attract home seekers. When inquiring, clients are told that the unit “just sold” or “just leased” (but the agent has other units to show them). Agencies using this tactic to attract clients are less concerned with damaging their reputation since it’s so prevalent that it’s almost expected by consumers.
However, this is not a universal practice. There are many reputable agencies that care about their brand and spend the time and resources to maintain an accurate website. Unfortunately, these tend to limit the number of listings they display, putting them at a disadvantage compared to agencies with potentially tens of thousands of fake listings.
As a consumer, it’s important to understand this practice. When browsing online, you won’t know if any particular listing is actually on the market until you ask to view that unit. This means that much of the research you do online may prove to be a waste of time and could even sabotage your negotiations by setting unrealistic expectations of what is achievable in the market.
A few tips that will help you save time and avoid undue frustrations include:
1. Use online channels to identify great agents, not great properties. Scouring websites for hours to find the perfect listing, only to find that it “just leased/sold” will likely waste significant time. Instead, inquire about a few potential properties, see how many of them can be actually viewed and if the agent is responsive, a good listener and provides good options.
2. Instead of trying to use online (and potentially false) listings to determine market value, ask your agent for comparables. They can tell you what other units in the building are really on the market and recently completed transactions.
3. If you find a company whose website is accurate, bookmark it. Build a list of go-to sources of information which will save you time later.
4. Ask your friends if they know any great agents. A great agent with a strong database will be an invaluable resource and partner – either as a home seeker or as a landlord. They can send the latest information and options on the market, and do much of the searching for you.
Ultimately, no agency can maintain a perfectly accurate website. The market moves quickly, agencies can’t call every landlord every day (incredibly annoying for the landlord), and landlords can’t be expected to notify every agency once their property has leased/sold. At OKAY.com, accuracy has been a core belief since our inception and listings are removed the minute (literally) we know they’re gone. Despite we can’t guarantee 100% accuracy across our ~4500 listings (though we’re pretty close).
But weeding out habitual false advertisers and instead leveraging a well-informed agent (a few if necessary) will save significant time and frustration in your home search process.
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