You’ve probably read a fair few articles about miscellaneous scams, but what about the less talked housing scams? For British expat Jay Gill, getting scammed by a real estate agent led him to found his own real estate and relocations business StayInShanghai. “We decided enough was enough, something had to be finally done about the housing rental market. It’s like a wild west situation out there,” he tells Shanghaiist. Here he puts together a few of the more common scams from his experience in the business and offers a few tips on how to best avoid being a victim.
The classic switcheroo
Golden rule: If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. This classic trick attracts you with some ludicrous online advertising about a dream apartment for a fraction of the price. Ever fancied a newly renovated, swanky 2 bed flat in the heart of the French Concession? Just 6000 RMB per month! Predictably and excitedly, you immediately contact the agent to request a viewing… from there it all goes downhill. You’ll maybe see the proposed apartment (if you are lucky enough) – usually at a different location followed by a series of apartments that don’t match your requirements/budget specified.
PRO-TIP: Walk away as soon as you suspect anything fishy. Just like the modern relationship why would you stick with an agent if they can’t be honest from the start?
Let’s kick things up a notch here. Generally most people would enquire with multiple companies / agents to get a ‘feel’ of the market. It’s entirely normal to see different options and compare. But did you know if you contact some agencies they feel entitled to own your housing rights? That’s right! Some may pull out a contract during viewing in which the small print states (either in Chinese or English) that you can’t view the same property with another agent or that you can ONLY use your now ‘trusty’ realtor as the single source of properties. Astonishing.
PRO-TIP: Despite the pressure you may receive, never sign a non-housing contract or any paperwork during viewings. It’s as simple as that.
404 Apartment Not Found
Advance bookings are now more popular than ever. But watch out! Just like a dead link on an internet article or an expired housing listing, it turns out that real bricks and mortar tend not to exist in China…or at the very least, not your apartment. Imagine spending weeks finalising the small details on the perfect flat then ‘securing’ it via a handsome deposit. Moving day approaches, you’re helplessly tugging your luggage to the address given expecting a warm welcome but soon reality kicks in…where is the agent? Why has he/she blocked me on WeChat? Even worse, where is my apartment?
PRO-TIP: In the event that advance bookings are necessary use verified realtors or relocation service providers with legitimate business credentials. Other steps include: requesting a video call, checking the Landlord’s ID, property ownership certificate and if possible ask a friend to go and see the apartment on your behalf.
Deposit… what deposit?
Probably the most commonly heard trick is the landlord trying to squeeze a few extra RMB out of your pocket; easiest way is by simply keeping the deposit. Hairline crack on the wall? Dandruff on the floor? Dishes not washed?! Expect the landlord to highlight these minor blemishes and transform it into a full blown excuse as to why they are entitled to the entirety of your deposit. Be prepared to hear the excuses when moving out.
PRO-TIP: When signing the contract, it should clearly state (in Chinese & English) that normal wear and tear is expected and the landlord must give back the deposit. Additional steps such as taking pictures/video of the apartment (before check-in/timestamped) and marking down any obvious blemishes on the contract also recommended.
So, we can speak from personal experience on this one. The petty scam that finally drove us to enter the housing market after years of personal mishaps. Walking back to our apartment one evening, our door locks were mysteriously changed. What happened? It turns out that we were swindled into handing over our initial deposit and rent to the reliable looking ‘freelancer agent’, who didn’t forward over payment to the landlord! Arguments ensued, it was a 3-way standoff between landlord, agent and ourselves. Police didn’t seem to care about domestic disputes, the landlord rightfully wanted his money and the agent gambled ours away. To top it all off the agent also wanted his commission payment from us. It was a catch-22 situation. Despite our protests of innocence we were eventually evicted.
PRO-TIP: Often in other countries, deposit payments are made to the agency and then forwarded onto the landlord. In China, it’s usually different (depending on the property). A general rule of thumb would be to always forward deposit and rent to the person who has signed the contract, otherwise again stick to verified companies and avoid freelancer agents.
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