April, 17 2012 16:44:51

Real estate agents drive xe om to survive


by Trung Hieu

Since March last year, Viet Nam's real estate market has been in crisis. Many real estate agencies and companies have closed, leaving many of those involved in the industry without jobs.

Working as a real estate agent used to command a high salary in Viet Nam, and the job was relatively stress free.

After each successful sale, agents received a commission that depended on the value of the deal.

Because of a State decision last year to tighten credit in the real estate sector, many developers have been left without the capital to complete their projects, leaving investors high and dry. They are unwilling to sell their stakes at a loss on their initial investments, while potential buyers for both high end and budget properties do not wish to pay over the odds for incomplete homes.

This stalemate has frozen the real estate market, and left agents twiddling their thumbs.

Nguyen Van Binh and his family in Ha Noi are now struggling to make ends meet because their main income came from Binh's job as a real estate agent.

Binh used to earn from VND40-60 million (US$1,900-2,900) per month to support his family of five, which allowed his wife to stay at home and work as a housewife.

"I earned a lot during the heyday when the real estate market peaked, and used to close a lot of deals," says Binh regretfully, adding that sometimes a single deal could earn him up to VND10 million ($480).

After a year of trying to make a living for the stagnated real estate market, the family savings are all gone, and day to day life is becoming harder and harder.

"I am very worried. My family relies on my income, but that has all dried up and we are struggling to get by," he says.

Binh says he has applied for numerous jobs since the start of the year, but with no luck. His wife has started to sell bread on the streets of Cau Giay District to earn some precious extra income.

Their family's daily expenses such as groceries, tuition fees and medicine for his mother, all came from his income. During the good times, Binh had no trouble coping with these bills, but now they struggle to get through each day, and pray the crisis passes quickly.

"If I cannot find a new job, my family may die of hunger," Binh says sadly.

Unlike freelancer Binh, Nguyen Van Kien was an employee of a real estate agency on Do Quang Street, but nowadays, he has nothing to do and just stays at home with his wife.

Kien had five years experience in the job, and he was good at it, earning up to VND20-25 million ($952-1,190) a month, but today there is no work for real estate agents and no deals to be done. Kien's wife is sad because he can no longer provide for the family, and has been forced to ‘sponge' off her for the past last six months, and a black cloud is overshadowing the once happy family.

"I used to be the breadwinner, but now I have to rely on my wife. I feel so ashamed!" says Kien.

These days, the busy real estate hub that was Cau Giay District has gone quiet, and along the streets of Le Van Luong, Trung Hoa and Highway 32, estate agencies are shut. Eighty per cent of businesses have closed their doors already, and the remainder have one foot in the grave.

Many agents have turned to other jobs like xe om (motorbike taxi driver), selling tea on the street, and washing motorbikes to maintain a living. Some have even opened small groceries.

I was surprised when I met Tuan, a xe om driver on Nguyen Chi Thanh Street. He was a veteran real estate agent with more than 10 years experience.

Tuan was a successful agent and set up his own company with some friends, but all that has now gone.

Tuan says he has been a xe om driver for several months now. "In the past I earned up to a hundred million dong a month, but now I earn about VND100,000 each day," he says with a bitter smile.

Most of those involved in the sector are stuck in a rut, waiting for the market to pick up again.

Although the Ministry of Construction has said the market will improve towards the end of the year, many believe that they are playing with fire.

The Government and banks have already issued some policies to kick-start the market, and I believe the market recovery is only a matter of time.

Talking about his future, Binh says: "The only thing we can do now is just wait." — VNS

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