Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bizarre Business Practices

My friend's lease is coming up and is looking to find another place to live.

While my agent Holly who helped me find my place three months ago wasn't quite on the ball, after several misses, she did eventually find me something I was very happy with. I passed on her number to my friend and we met her yesterday.

Holly arrived late at our meeting place and seemed more pre-occupied with her phone than trying to get to know her client and what he wanted. She didn't even seem to remember me and ask how I was settling into my apartment...

We ended up seeing nothing because although she had made appointments for him to see apartments, none of them met his requirements.

After a firm chat with her about what he wanted, she later understood and said she'd look again.

However, in the afternoon Holly called him, saying she needed to urgently get back to her hometown... to arrange something for her wedding...

As far as excuses go, that has to be the weirdest one I've heard.

Undaunted, my friend called up another agent called Tom that his buddy had recommended; mind you his friend probably leased an apartment with a much higher rent and thus had good service.

Tom sounded like he was knowledgeable on the phone about what my friend wanted and off the top of his head listed three apartments, but not quite what my friend wanted.

Nevertheless, they set up to meet to see two places this morning and I went along.

When we arrived at the meeting place, a young woman on a scooter approached us to say Tom wasn't available and that she didn't have the keys, but someone else who did would be coming soon. It was pretty unprofessional of Tom not to even text or call my friend to say he couldn't come but that another person would take us there.

It was a full 15 minutes when this other person arrived, another agent, who was on a bike. The two offered us to ride their bike/scooter side saddle but we refused and walked some distance (again not what my friend wanted).

We ended up looking at an old Chinese building with no elevator, and the tenant had barely gotten his shirt on when we arrived.

The place? It looked like a hovel with two sets of bunk beds with no mattresses, a few chairs, pathetic kitchen and toilet, and strangely an ornate chandelier in a tired-looking room.

These agents work on commission, usually from landlords who are anxious to rent out their apartments.

What I can't understand is why these agents waste our time and theirs, showing us pathetic looking places that aren't even near where we want hoping this will wear us down and make us increase the rent expectations before showing us something better.

Why not stop and listen carefully to what your client wants and then try to match it as close as possible? That is probably the fastest way to make a buck.

As far as I can tell, there is no centralized database for rentals in Beijing; it seems to depend on which agents know which landlords, and also a dose of good luck in terms of which apartments just happen to be released around the time you're looking.

These agents could potentially provide a much better service if they tried, (and thus leading to more word-of-mouth recommendations), but they either don't care or just prefer to have bigger fish to fry.

Is everything such short-term thinking here? I think I've just answered my own question.

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