Outsourcing Housing Services

Most companies need housing services for their expatriate staff, and many need these services on a regular basis. Are you considering outsourcing housing services to a sole agent? Many do. Yet, strangely, this facet of Human Resources is often handled in a haphazard way.

Start out by looking beyond the glossy brochures and charts. Get back to basics and focus on priorities: settled transferees, cost control and integrated outsourced services.

Many agencies market their services as being cost free. Don’t be fooled. A bad choice is always costly. Here’s a brief guide on what to check when assessing a real estate agent to handle your corporate housing needs.

You’d take a closer look before outsourcing the manufacture of a component, right? Well, do the same when assessing a real estate agent who’ll be housing your colleagues. How? The same buzzwords apply, product, price, communication, integration and efficiency. Here are four things you should look at.

It’s not only about the property; it’s about people too. The real estate agent will be helping your transferees with their first steps in Beijing. A transferee bailing out after a month is a traumatic experience for them and an expensive time waster for you.

Take the time to meet the agents who will actually be caring for your transferees. Ensure that they are qualified and, most importantly, bi-lingual. Sipping latte with the agent at Starbucks may make your transferee feel at ease, but if the agent can’t read and write both English and Chinese, you’re getting a raw deal. The ability to communicate with your transferee, negotiate at ease with Chinese landlords and review Chinese and English documents are all essential prerequisites.

Can it tell you what you need to know?
How does it manage and report vital data to your organisation. HR needs to know how your latest transferee’s home search is progressing, while Finance wants prompt and accurate cost reports. The agent is the custodian of your lease portfolio, as such, it should be able to provide accurate and timely information.

And how does the agency see it? The big picture, that is. Does the agency have the ability to advise on housing packages and policies? Your corporation’s housing policy may need to be tweaked to meet local conditions. Can it tailor a shared savings plan or provide market updates?

Fact. The agency with direct contacts to landlords is able to negotiate favourable rents and more solid terms.
If an agency is consistently finding landlords through third parties, you’re probably paying a 10% to 15% premium for their ignorance.

How can you tell? Audit the contents of their property database, not just the interface. How large is their inventory? Is it accurate and well managed? If it isn’t, your agent is probably using a third party to source properties, and you’re paying for the pleasure of it.

Your real estate agent should be your partner in keeping your transferees happy, give you value for money, and work in sync with your organization. You’d be amazed at how many agencies are entrusted on the basis of a slick power point presentation. Take the effort to look beyond the veneer, and you’ll reap the benefits.

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