There are few greater emotional and financial investments we make in life than choosing a new home. Yet it’s hardly a secret that real estate agents the world over are saddled with a poor public image…though, comfortingly for us, not quite on a par with that of lawyers or used car salespeople! With an almost head-spinning amount and variety of residential properties throughout Chiang Mai, you’d think that finding a condo unit or a house here unaided would be a piece of cake so why bother using a real estate agent at all in your quest to land that perfect pad?
THE NOT-SO-SMALL MATTER OF CONVENIENCE – Home may well be where the heart is but few people relish going through the motions of searching single-handedly for a condo or a house. With so much involved and at stake, it’s little wonder that the vast majority of would-be tenants and buyers quickly succumb to property-hunting fatigue! Real estate agents do all the legwork so you needn’t have your soul destroyed by bouncing repeatedly from one property to the next without success; take valuable time away from work obligations, leisure pursuits or family commitments; feel physically shattered, unsafe or lost from endlessly pounding the pavement (worst in tropical climates and pedestrian-unfriendly destinations like Chiang Mai); or else clock up financial mileage getting about using your own or public transportation. Simply share your specific property requirements, preferences and budget with a real estate agent then put your feet up and await your first viewing invitation at which point you’ll be ferried to and from your chosen residences freely and in air-conditioned bliss.
TAPPING INTO LOCAL INTEL – As folks often discover to their detriment, ignorance is anything but bliss when seeking a suitable property to rent or to buy. With location such a key factor when choosing a property, real estate agents have to be well versed in the demographic, economic, geographic and social characteristics of any given neighbourhood. Without which, newcomers to Chiang Mai as well as seasoned residents risk the inevitable misery that comes with picking what appears to be an idyllic riverside house only to find out later that it suffers flooding during the annual monsoon or that their buy-to-let condo is in fact positioned right next door to a club which bangs out tunes nightly until the wee small hours; or perhaps you’re a family looking to live within the catchment area of a particular international school, or a digital nomad wanting somewhere within easy reach of a co-working space and among like-minded individuals, or a retiree after a suburban retreat, or a medical tourist needing to stay close to a certain hospital. Not to mention that real estate agents typically pre-screen and become intimately acquainted with each of their properties so shielding you from any potentially nasty surprises like the serious termite infestation in the house for which you’ve just signed a long-term lease agreement or the long history of poor management at the building in which you’ve just purchased a condo unit; or maybe you’d prefer a saltwater swimming pool rather than freshwater, or a moo baan [Thai style gated community] with an on-site communal tennis court, or a detached townhouse with a private garage. Whatever your housing needs and wants, real estate agents have at their fingertips a wealth of local knowledge which would ordinarily take days, weeks, months or longer to source yourself.
LEVERAGING LEGAL EXPERTISE – Not surprisingly, most prospective tenants and buyers would willingly admit to having neither the head nor the inclination in learning the lawful ins and outs required to take possession of a condo or house. Qualified real estate agents in Chiang Mai, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury and are duty-bound to be fully conversant and forever compliant with the mind-boggling complexities and nuances of domestic property legislation and bureaucratic red tape. In the absence of a robust and legally-binding lease agreement to safeguard the interests of all parties, tenants may well be left high and dry without a leg to stand on when issued a rental contract that isn’t worth the paper it’s written on; or without an up-to-date itemised inventory and photographic schedule of condition for the property and its contents, vulnerable to bogus claims that one or more items are missing or damaged at the time of check-out and the resultant loss of some or all of their security deposit; or for those planning to purchase directly, having to independently hire –and foot the bill for- a Thai lawyer…and pray that they’re both reputable and affordable!
MAXIMISING ACCESSIBILITY – For foreigners whose mother tongue is not tonal, Thai language is notoriously tricky to grasp; this, coupled with the added complication of trying to navigate a unique religious culture, can present significant challenges to finding a place to buy or to rent in Chiang Mai. Attempting an impromptu walk-in here, it’s not unusual to find front-office personnel nowhere to be seen or, if around, their refusing to entertain anyone but a real estate agent or else wholly indifferent to help let alone give you the full guided tour. When undertaking a speculative enquiry about availability, there’s the distinct possibility you’ll be told “no have”; not because there’s a lack of vacancies necessarily but rather that the member of staff commands only basic English or is fearful of speaking it lest they make a linguistic blunder and thus ‘lose face’. From start to finish, communications with the property owner or their representative are conducted by the real estate agent so having them act on your behalf means your unfamiliarity with either the lingo or Thailand’s societal customs and values will never be a stumbling block to obtaining a property.
BROKERING A FAVOURABLE DEAL – Anyone who’s ever stepped foot in Thailand knows that bargaining is practically a civic duty here! Yet achieving a win-win outcome, for anything from a bunch of bananas to an entire property, is much more an art form than a science. Integral to their line of business, real estate agents are heavyweights of effective negotiation so the otherwise uninitiated profit from their wielding heightened influence in order to secure a mutually acceptable arrangement of price as well as terms and conditions. Real estate agents are also skilled at recognising what constitutes a realistic asking price so, as a foreigner, you won’t unwittingly pay over the odds at the hands of an inexperienced or unscrupulous owner.
REAPING THE REWARDS OF INSIDE INFORMATION – Regardless of how much time, effort, expense and due diligence you devote to tracking down your new digs, deciding to go it alone ensures you’ll only ever see a fraction of what’s actually on offer. Real estate agents have access to information that doesn’t exist in the public domain; so availing of the professionals, you won’t miss out on the latest scoop about newly launched residential projects in addition to current properties which are on special, not advertised elsewhere (like those subject to an exclusive right-to-sell agreement) or, for valid reasons, not openly publicised. Indeed, using a real estate agent is really the only viable option when in the market for a house in Chiang Mai since, unlike condominiums, landed properties to let or for sale are far more widely scattered in distribution and often not discernible as such from the outside.
SUPPORT WHEN IT’S NEEDED MOST – Live in Thailand for any appreciable period and you’re sure to meet someone who’s fallen victim to a dodgy seller, bent buyer, reckless tenant or crooked owner! Instead of having to fend for yourself in resolving a complaint or a dispute over property, real estate agents serve as an impartial buffer between both sides; either mediating informally or arbitrating officially to identify the middle ground and, wherever humanly possible, preventing costly, protracted and stressful litigation.
So, in retrospect, perhaps the real question should be why not use a real estate agent to find property!