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Beware of Lease Portal Sites

Beware of Lease Portal Sites

Tricks in Real Estate advertising

I am sure most of you are familiar with SUUMO and LIFULL Homes. If you are looking for an apartment to rent in Japan, you may have come across either one of these two real estate portal sites. If you are not familiar, these websites or portal sites advertise “vacant” or soon to be “vacant” listings to the consumers. These sites can be accessed by the public, and listings are advertised by real estate agencies. There are a number of other portal sites with listings available to the public.

This post will get into the “tricks” and “cheats” as you can say real estate agencies tend to use to attract clients. Attracting clients is the most important factor to any business. For this case, real estate agencies use tricks which will lead to the contract and commission.

Click-bait then Switch

Click-bait and switch is the tactic used to bait potential clients into clicking the “contact” (お問合せ)button which is easily accessible on any real estate portal site.

This tactic is commonly seen in the following three ways:

1. The property does not exist at all, and was created by the agency.
2. The property has already been leased but is still advertised.
3. The property exists, but was never made available for rent.

You might be wondering why companies use the click-bait then switch tactic. Attracting customers is extremely important to any business. By using this tactic, the goal is to receive inquiries about said property, and then have he or she come to the agency. After the customer comes to the agency, the agent or realtor will explain the property they inquired was already leased out, or there are some faults to the property. After the explanation is through, the agent or realtor will recommend other properties which are quite similar to the initial inquired property. Therefore the “Click-bait then Switch.”

Of course not all agencies will use this tactic to attract potential clients. Some agencies advertise over 100 properties at a time. Some agencies tend to forget updating their listings. These “portal sites” are not in real time, so there might be a time lapse between the actual listing managed by the property manager and the agency.

Misleading Advertisements

Within the “Click-bait then Switch” tactic, there are a ton of cases of misleading advertisements from real estate agencies. The main antagonist of this scheme is listing rent cheaper than market value. Almost everyone wants to live in an area which is either close to work/school, in the heart of the city, close to public transportation, newer construction, and last but not least RENT IS CHEAP!

Cheaper than Market Value

The listed rent is much lower than the market value for rent. For example, the listed property is of newer construction, in the CBD or main area of the city. The listed rent on the portal site is half as much as the other units in the building. In this instance, there might be a good reason why the property is listed at an abnormally low rent. The past tenant might have passed away in the unit, the owner is in a hurry to lease the property, etc.
9 times out of 10, there is nothing wrong with the unit, but the listing agency wants an inquiry. My advice would be to ask the listing agent or realtor why the said property is much lower than comparable units.
Over the phone, the realtor or agent will explain to the customer why the rent is lower than market value. The goal for that agent or realtor is to have the customer come to the agency. Once the customer comes to the agency, the agent or realtor will give the same explanation that he or she gave over the phone or a different explanation. Once that is done, then he or she will recommend a different unit (Click-bait and Switch).

I tend to get these inquiries from my clients or friends frequently. They will look on the internet and pick-up a few properties they seem to like. Then they will ask me what I think of said properties.

What I do in these instances

1. First, I check which portal site the property is listed and the listing agency.
2. Next, I will check if the specific property is advertised on the real estate database. This database can only be accessed by registered real estate agencies.
3. If the specific property is not listed on the database, I then will research the rent for other units in said building and surrounding areas.
4. Lastly, let my client or friend know what I think.

I don’t come out and say this listing does not exist since I am not 100% sure. There are times where real estate agencies don’t allow other real estate agencies to contract out their properties. Also, as I mentioned above, there actually might be a reason why the rent is much lower than the market value. If they really want to live in that specific unit, I advice they contact the listing agency. I do mention that 9 times out of 10 they will recommend a different property.

How Can you Avoid Falling for These Advertising Tricks?

Research the market value for rent in the area you would like to live.
This can be done by using the portal sites as a tool to have an idea of rent in your desired area. Area also plays a role in rent but there are other factors such as size of the unit and the age of the building.
Do your best to avoid untrustworthy real estate agencies. I understand it is tough to tell if the individual or agency is untrustworthy over the internet. If you do happen to go to the agency and you get a bad feeling, you can definitely just walk away. Of course they will try to persuade you to stay, but they can’t hold you captive.
If you know of someone in the real estate business, ask for their advice.

The major portal sites I mentioned above “Suumo” or “Lifull Homes” evaluate themselves the properties that are listed on their sites. They usually do a good job of managing the type of properties that are listed on their websites. BUT they are not real estate companies, they do not know if said property was already tenanted, or the reason to why the rent is much lower than market value. They do what they can to provide a trustworthy service to their consumers. There are times where they can’t check every property thoroughly.

My last piece of advice:

Again I can’t be 100% sure, but from my experience I am confident enough to say, if a property looks too good to be true then it probably is.

Journal entry by Mike Bennett from RE/MAX APEX

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