Are Property Agencies Finally Shaping Up?

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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. They also announced plans to eliminate thousands of fake listings on their website and though it's unclear what prompted this move, I applaud the admission of this longstanding problem.

Most people in Hong Kong have experienced the ‘bait and switch' practice employed by many property agencies. Alluring properties are advertised (often at below-market prices) to attract home seekers. Upon enquiry, clients are told that the unit has just been sold or leased—but the agent can show them others. Agencies using this tactic are less concerned with damaging their reputation since it's so prevalent consumers almost expect it.

However, this is not universal practice. There are many reputable agencies that care about their brand and spend time and resources maintaining an accurate website. Unfortunately these tend to limit the displayed number of listings, 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; you won't know if a listing is actually on the market until you ask to view it. This means that much of the research you do online may prove to be a waste of time or could even sabotage your negotiations by setting unrealistic expectations of the market. Here are a few tips to avoid undue frustrations:

Use online channels to identify great agents, not great properties. Scouring websites for hours to find the perfect listing, only to find that it has ‘just been leased/sold' will waste significant time. Instead, enquire after a few properties, see how many can actually be viewed and if the agent is responsive, a good listener and provides good options.

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 recent completed transactions.

If you find a reliable website, bookmark it. Build a list of go-to sources of information to save time in the future.

Ask your friends if they know any great agents. A great agent with a strong database is an invaluable resource and partner to both home seekers and landlords. They can send you the latest information and options in the market and do the majority of the searching for you.

Ultimately, no agency can maintain a perfectly accurate website. The market moves quickly, agencies can't call each landlord every day and landlords can't be expected to notify every agency once their property has been taken. At OKAY.COM, accuracy has always been a core belief and listings are removed the minute we know they're gone. But even we can't guarantee 100% accuracy. Weeding out habitual false advertisers and instead leveraging well-informed agents will save significant time and frustration in your home searching process.

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