Tips for finding a good real estate agent in Shanghai, China

Going through a real estate agent or agency is not the only way for expats to find a rental property in Shanghai, but the most common one. Sure, the renting process is not as complicated as buying or selling – but expats coming to Shanghai are possibly confronted with a whole new and different (business) culture, a language they don’t yet speak, and a property market they very likely only know about that “this is the year the bubble will burst.” Therefore, having a real estate agent on your side who you can trust to know the market and play fair with you, is very important. We hope these pointers will help you to find the right real estate in agent in Shanghai:

Ask lots of questions and do not fall for sky-scraping promises

Some expats make the mistake to pick the agent with the lowest price tags on their listings, believing that other agents charge a so-called “foreigner tax” and try to exploit unfamiliarity with the local property market. Laws against false advertisement exist, but are difficult for authorities to enforce, especially when it comes to advertisements for the English speaking population of China. Instead of shopping around by looking for the cheapest price, you should be looking for an agent you can work with, and who will protect your interest. You can ask about their professional background, how long they have worked in the industry, and what they like most about being a real estate agent. Inquire about recent price developments, which area they mostly work in, or maybe features of a property that has sparked your interest. After giving feedback, good agents will ask questions back, in order to help you analyze your personal situation and find the right direction for your home search.

Ask for references

When an agent or agency has caught your attention through interesting property listings or a good service package, don’t stop there. Ask if they are able to provide reviews, or even contact to a former client who can give you an idea of what it’s like to work with them. From experience we would say no available references are not necessarily a red flag, as the agency might not have a process to get consent from former clients to share those. However, you can try to find whether there are reviews published online that give some insight.

Play the field – and pick your MVP

Our agent partners probably will not like seeing this here, but the best way to find a good agent is to talk to more than one. The reason why agents won’t like this: Some of their customers have overdone this, keeping five or even more agents busy at once. You don’t have to rush your decision – take your time. After making your choice for an agent, we strongly recommend to work with only that one agent. You probably won’t find your dream home more quickly by asking multiple agents to search listings for you, as all real estate agents have access to the same information through diverse multiple listing services or cooperation with other agencies. If you work with more than one real estate agent, chances are none of them will put forth much effort because you may rent through another agent. They will work harder for you when they know they will eventually get paid for their efforts. Consulting around without an honest intent to work with an agent will result in mediocre results.

Search for an agency to take you all the way

As you face several challenges at once when relocating to Shanghai, a full-service agency can be a great choice as it helps to simplify the entire process: House hunting, negotiating, contract preparation, move-in inspection & protocol, household registration, setting up internet & utility payments, neighborhood orientation – the list is long. Further, the agency that an agent is working for can be a very good indicator of the quality of said agent. High-performing, experienced agents logically want to work for companies that give them exposure to high budget customers.
Of course, it is not always that simple. As commission payments are split between agent and agency, individuals with a high standing in the real estate community and many successful transactions in the past may choose to work independently in Shanghai – operating under the roof of a licensed agency or brokerage is not a legal requirement in China.

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