For those of you, who have not yet had the pleasure of indulging in any one of the books of the Babylon series, I can highly recommend itif you’re looking for some light and entertaining reading. These books give an insight to various industries and work places by utilizing fictionalized characters and real life stories and incidents, based on the author’s own experience or anonymous insider information.
Whereas the Babylon tales are all amusing, my very own compilation of tales with housing agents here in Beijing has left me frustrated, fuming and raging on a DEFCON 1 Level. I had previously decided to let shit go and never think about our bad experiences again and was successfully mastering the Art of Forgeting until today.
Here my very own Agent Babylon…
Prior to our Look & See, a 5-day house hunting trip before moving to Beijing (read up about it here), we had filled out a form listing all our housing requirements: a three bedroom, non-serviced and unfurnished apartment with parking and a gym included and within budget of our housing allowance. What we could not fathom was why we were being forced to look at yet another two bedroom apartment, some of which were in a serviced compound and did not include a parking lot. Fail. On Day 3 out of 5 and after viewing one dump after another, we then stood in a beautiful flat (love at first sight!) only to find out it was 10.000 RMB / 1400€ over budget. Epic Fail. Needless to say that Stephan then “unleashed the fury” and had a good talk with our agent, as we were getting panicky with only two days left to look for a home and based on what we had seen so far we were not confident in finding anything appropriate. We were dropped at the hotel on that day with the promise that the agent would contact the landlord of our dream apartment and try to negotiate. Until then, back to viewing more crappy apartments….
On our last morning we were greeted with great news – the landlord of “Dream Apartment” agreed to negotiations and we could go back for a second look as well as to compile a list of renovation works! 45 minutes into our walk-through of the place, I noticed the agent had stopped taking notes and was now staring off into space. When asked what the reason for this absent behaviour was, she broke down and confessed that in fact the landlord had not agreed to anything. The reason for her pretending he had was because she “did not want to break our hearts”. Wow, I knew this agent was dense, but it seems even an amoeba was smarter, seeing she would have had to tell us sooner or later. As you might already know, the end of the story was us packing our container, flying to Beijing, spending the first weeks in a serviced apartment and then starting the entire process of apartment hunting once again. And yes, believe it or not, we were once again dragged to places that did not meet above mentioned criteria at all.
We were given a new relocation agent by the company and I was ready to forget the previous saga. We eventually found our current place and included all repair works into the lease and I thought the four weeks until move-in date would be a breeze. Two days prior to moving we went for a third and final check on renovation works. My spirit was crushed when I stood in an apartment and realized that I was the stupid and naive person Because I had believed our agent when he ensured us that everything would be in great condition. This time it was me who lost it when our agent told us that half of the renovation works “could not be done”. I guess that was one more person who “did not want to break our hearts” or whatever. But, after threatening to break the contract if things were not renovated and having an armada of busy bees spend the next two days fixing things up, we were ready to move in.
As you can see, also this agent had become a “good friend” of mine. He was then promoted to “best friend” when he lost a couple of paper receipts he was “safe-keeping” for us and which he wanted to hand in to our landlord so we could get a refund. Apparently his son had gotten rid of the receipts and we were now unable to claim the reimbursement. Four months later and after kicking up a fuss and threatening to change agency, we were finally reimbursed. And for those of you wondering: no, I would have never invested time and energy over 50€, but in this case we were talking about 1000€ and hence I was not going to give up without a fight. I just feel incredibly sorry for the kid, seeing his own father was throwing him in front of the bus in order to hide his own sloppy work ethics, because how on earth would the son even have access to work documents?!
Having changed agent (explanation as to why we have so many agents: you are assigned a relocation agent throughout the time here and the agent is your “babysitter” in whatever matter from banking to power failure etc.), I honestly believed things were on the mend. Silly me! The final straw was served to me this afternoon.
When a few weeks back the agent came over on another matter, it seems pictures of our apartment were taken and are being sent to potential new tenants without our consent. Stephan found out about this by coincidence when Colleague A asked him this afternoon as to why we were moving. It seems Colleague B, currently in Germany, was sent an exposé of our apartment. Seeing he has not been to Beijing yet, he asked Colleague A for his opinion in terms of location and showed him the pictures. Colleague A, having been to our apartment, recognized it straightaway, thought this weird and alerted Stephan. Yes, we are planning to move into someplace bigger, but only from February 2017 onwards and only if we find something suitable. Until then, I would very much like to know I have a roof over my head, thank you.
This is in fact the second time we found out that our agent might be trying to rent our apartment to someone with a higher housing allowance in order to get one big fat commission from the new deal and at the same time getting a second big fat commission since they would then have to find us a new place. Of course I called the agent out on this, especially after we had spoken about it the first time. And although the agent ensured us that they will not market our apartment anymore, I still picture myself walking around Beijing on a dark winter night, leaning heavily on Stephan’s arm and a little newborn sleeping in a manger…..