I recently read on a property forum of an eager expat struggling to secure a property sourcer in the UK. His problem wasn't that he couldn't find any, but that he couldn't decide which ones to trust of the hundreds that were offering their services in his Facebook groups after being spooked by some of the horror stories on that forum.
This raises an interesting question: beyond word of mouth referrals, how do we trust someone thousands of miles away, whom we may never have met, with thousands of pounds of our hard earned cash?
It's no wonder that many expats resort to doing business with what some call the 'shiny suit brigade'. In pre-pandemic days, these characters would fly business class to the Far East, hire a conference room in a Tsim Sha Tsui hotel, buy everyone a drink and sell them an overpriced off-plan two bed flat in Greenwich.
Such a confusing conundrum reminds me of my low budget travelling days. I would get off a bus at a bus station just far enough outside a city to require a tuk tuk or a taxi and be swarmed by scores of drivers all promising to offer me a 'special price' to take me to a guesthouse that always seemed to have the word Paradise in its name.
Which driver to trust? How to choose? What to do? Trust your gut is often proffered as the preferred practice in such situations. But when thousands or hundreds of thousands of pounds are at stake when buying property, can we really afford to rely on instinct at times like this?
The answer may perhaps be found in one of the most interesting books I have ever read: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, in which author Malcolm Gladwell provides examples of 'thin-slicing', whereby experts in their given fields are able to make surprisingly accurate judgements in seemingly spontaneous circumstances, but which actually draw on years of experience.
Gladwell comes to the conclusion that the key is to know when to trust your gut and when to undertake more rigorous research.
And so at exotic bus stations, my solution has always been to refuse all offers, find a place for a nice cup of tea (or something stronger), check the going rate with a local in the cafe, and return to the melee once all the fuss has died down. Armed with my newly acquired knowledge of a fair rate gleaned from my trip to the cafe (rigorous research!), I would then choose a driver I liked the look of (trusting my gut!) and tell them my price.
And so it is with property. In my own Expat Property Story, I have found that it is better to gather knowledge and approach property partners who have left a good impression on me through podcast interviews (trusting my gut!), followed by extensive due diligence (rigorous research!) than to put my eggs in the basket of travelling sales people.
After all, why should I pay for someone's business class seat through their overpriced property deals?