Sunday, April 20, 2008

International Living: 19/04/08: Never Trust Your Overseas Real Estate "Friend"

Never Trust Your Overseas Real Estate “Friend”

International Living Postcards--Saturday Edition

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dear International Living Reader,


Buying and even shopping for real estate in another country takes nerve. The rules of engagement are completely different than back home. To be successful, you’ve got to arm yourself well in advance with an understanding of how this game is played.

The first thing to know is that the real estate agent is not your friend.

worked with real estate agents in dozens of countries. They are all friendly guys, and most are good company. I even keep in regular contact with some and value that relationship. But none of those things change the fundamental truth about real estate agents in developing, unregulated markets: They’re wolves.

Stepping into a real estate agent’s office in these countries, you’re stepping into the wolf’s den. Believe me when I tell you that, when it comes to business (that is, the purchase of real estate), the agent you’re working with is not working for you. Buyer’s agents don’t exist outside North America. In many of the markets I recommend, real estate agents aren’t regulated or even licensed. The guy showing you around could have been a travel agent in Iowa three months ago.

Furthermore, not only are these guys not working for you…but they’re not working for the seller either. They are working for themselves, and their goal is to extract as much commission out of you as they can. Understand that going into the conversation, and you stand a much better chance of coming out of it uncheated.

Here are some other tips to help your search go smoothly:

Don’t reveal your budget: Until you have a good idea of current market pricing and of differing values neighborhood to neighborhood, don’t quote a dollar amount when the agent asks about your budget. Tell him as specifically as possible what you are looking for--if you’re in the market for a house or an apartment, indicate the number of bedrooms, the total size you want in square meters, the amount of land, and any special features that are important to you, for example maid’s quarters--but be vague regarding how much you want to spend.

The minute you quote a budget, the agent works from that number to figure his potential commission. If he decides there’s not enough in it for him, you’ll get even less service than you might enjoy otherwise.

Quote a bigger budget, and you risk the guy selling you something for that amount of money…even if he’s got something just as nice (or even nicer) on his books for less.

Keep to your original specs: Stick with your parameters and don’t be confused or distracted by agents showing you houses that don’t seem to fit the specs you quoted at all.

When we were shopping for a home in Ireland years ago, we told the agent we wanted a large older house with at least five bedrooms on some land. They took us to see one 10- to 15-year-old, 1,800-square-foot house after another.

I still don’t know how you fit five bedrooms into 1,800 square feet. I didn’t go inside any of these houses to find out. I simply reminded the agents, again and again, that we weren’t interested in a small, recently built house on a little plot of land.

It wasn’t that they didn’t understand. It was that they didn’t have anything that fit our specs on their books…but they had these houses…so why not show the silly American buyers? Maybe they won’t notice the difference...

In most markets around the world, agents don’t work with each other. They don’t share listings, and they don’t have access to other agents’ listings. They only have what’s on their that is what they are going to try to sell you. Talk about trying to put a square peg into a round hole. They’ll try to chip away at the edges to make a fit, because, remember, all they care about is making the sale. Buyer satisfaction doesn’t figure into the equation.

Lief Simon
For International Living

P.S. I’ll share more tips for navigating the wild and unregulated property markets at International Living’s Ultimate Event in Cancun, Mexico, May 28 – 31. I’ll also be happy to answer any real estate-related questions you may have.


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