“Tact is one of the most important qualities to be a house-broker,” says K. Samuel, who has been in the trade for the past five years. “Just yesterday, I had to tactfully excuse myself from both the owner and a client. The owner wanted the house to be viewed at a good time; the client came 20 minutes late, saying he was stuck in traffic. And I was stuck between them, when the owner wouldn’t let the prospective tenant in to see the house! Sometimes, clients stomp off saying they don’t want such a house!” smiles the 34-year-old.
Married to a schoolteacher, with twin daughters, Samuel (whose clients call him Shyam) happened into this business by chance. “I had completed a course in interior designing. While doing a Rs. 2 lakhs project, I saw a client give a man Rs.50,000 as commission. I asked him why he paid him so much money, and he said he had found him a tenant! After weeks of hard work, I only earned Rs.10,000! So I switched to brokering five years ago.”
But there’s huge competition in this business, says Samuel. Just around R.A. Puram (where he lives) and Mandaveli, there are nearly 200 brokers, out of which 50 are women. “The territory is split between us; some handle sale, some only rentals (few do both); and in the rental space, it’s according to rates.” Samuel deals with both rentals and sale, and handles apartments/ houses that fetch a rent of over Rs. 25,000 per month. In 2012, rents shot up, he says, and adds that rents of Rs. 2 or Rs. 3 lakhs are not uncommon now. Laughing at my “per month?,” he nods. In the suburbs, it’s still harder to find a good tenant, says Samuel. “On the OMR, there are many vacant apartments. One client bought two posh flats but he’s managed to rent out only one after a year. The other is still locked up, and the owner continues to pay Rs. 5000 p/m maintenance.” But in the heart of the city, it takes less than two weeks, on an average, to find a new tenant/ buyer. Owners typically prefer salaried employees, families, and vegetarians; for higher rent apartments, they’d like foreigners, explains Samuel. And the challenge is trying to find out about vacant apartments and get good tenants, to build the business. While Samuel prefers to use the Internet or contact the owners directly, he sometimes gets tip-offs from other brokers.
Recently, he had let out an apartment and received a commission of Rs.25,000. When he offered to split it with the broker who told him about the vacant apartment, he was told there were actually three other people – an ironwallah, a watchman and a housemaid, who had all passed on information. The money had to be split five-ways!
The business is all about give and take, Samuel says. “Recently, I showed a house to a lady; but her husband had seen and fixed the same house through another broker. I just left it, what to do? Sometimes, people ask questions like “Is there proof for showing me the house?” What do they expect us to do? Take a photo when they see it?” he laughs.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Chennai what it is)