Why I’ve started using real estate agents in Cambodia

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote a post called ‘Why you shouldn’t look for an apartment in Cambodia before you arrive.’ In it, I explained why it’s best to wait until you’re in-country to begin your house hunt, but I also gave a good deal of space to disparaging the Cambodia real estate industry.

the interior of a Phnom Penh apartment

Looking for an apartment in Cambodia? The times they are a-changing.

It’s true that not too long ago using a real estate agent or letting agent in Cambodia was probably the worst way to look for an apartment. But just like everything else in Cambodia, this is quickly changing, and for my most recent house search, I used a real estate agent.

What’s changed? The market, for one. The expat demographic in Cambodia is changing, and changing quickly. More and more young professionals are moving to the country, and they don’t want to live in an apartment with squat toilets and moldy rattan furniture. An increasingly large pool of landlords are catering to this new market.

In my post last year I complained about how only the savvy landlords knew to list properties online. That’s still true, but there seems to be a new wave of young, wealthy landlords–many of whom have lived abroad–who have a better grasp of what is required to make an apartment in Cambodia worth $1,000. As such, the prices listed are finally starting to make sense. A year or two ago a property listed online would have been the same as one that wasn’t, just twice as expensive.

I spent some time looking at apartments in Phnom Penh recently and while the ones I saw through a new agency, all of your burning real estate questions here) were definitely not the low end of the market, the apartments were outfitted to a higher standard than anything I’d see on my own before (and I’ve been house-hunting in Cambodia many, many times). And perhaps most surprisingly, the prices were commensurate with the quality of the property.

If you’re looking for a Cambodian-style apartment in Phnom Penh (meaning: fluorescent lighting, tiled walls, no counters in the kitchen) and are looking to spend less than $250ish a month, you may still be better off walking around and looking for ‘for rent’ signs in the area you have your eye on, enlisting the help of a tuk tuk driver, or trying to find something through word of mouth.

But if you’re looking for something a little nicer, using a good agent can save you headaches. That doesn’t mean that all agents in Phnom Penh have magically become honest or that all of the prices you see are going to be reasonable and fair, but the odds of finding a mid-range or high-end home through an agent is higher than the chances you’ll find one on your own.

In Siem Reap, even the least expensive apartments and houses seem to be found most easily through an agent, although a large number of the agents in town are, to put it kindly, a waste of time. After trying several others, we ended up finding a place with Rich Cam Globe Realtor and were very happy with their services.

So how do you know if you can trust your agent? A good way to start is by telling them your specifications. If you say you want to spend a certain amount or live in a certain location and they only show you things that are outside your budget or in a completely different neighborhood, that’s a bad sign. A good agent will care about what you are looking for and will help you try and find just that, or explain why what you want might not be feasible. Either way, they should be able to have a conversation with you about it. For our most recent house-hunt, we went with several agents to many properties, and it became clear very quickly which agents were actually listening to what we wanted.

And if all else fails, feel free to email me some photos or property listings–I’d be happy to give you my opinion!

23 Responses to Why I’ve started using real estate agents in Cambodia

    Nick says:

    Very interesting read…. as an expat still working but would like a petmanent base, im torn between the Thai and phnom penh.
    I have many friends in Bangkok that only rent,and because as they say, its cheap and they can move on when they want.
    Both thai and PP are progressively getting more expensive, but as one of your forum stated, everywhere else is too. Thats progress!!!
    As a smoker, i will probably opt for the happy pizza option :)) and gladly pay extra for the life in the city.
    One option not mentioned, for aging guys such as myself, with a little less than 7kgs of worldly goods, is doing monthly / long term deals with hotels in both countries….

    Johan says:

    Having had long experience here as both a tenant and a landlord, I can tell you the industry is a real cowboy world. It is cut-throat, most agents are always looking to steal deals from each other, and do, and there is some very unscrupulous business going on. Some agencies rip off new comers who don’t know better, especially in sales, their salespeople often don’t share in these “spoils” so the sales people cut deals with buyers to rip off their employers, when busted or when they grow tired of the game, they go off and start their own companies. If you knew how many real estate agencies right now in Phnom Penh are owned by former Rooftop salespeople it would make your head spin.

    I am buying and selling homes, and am renting out a number of flats, and I have never heard if Elevated Realty before. Just had to google them now.

    James says:

    Vincent — Do you have more info on the properties you were talking about near Wat Bo Road? They sound great and are right in my price range. email me @ jamesbennett419@gmail.com if you can help further. Thanks!

    David says:

    Interesting article, you have a solid history of canning agents here in Cambodia and now you recommend a new entrant to the market who just happens to become a sponsor/advertiser of your site. Sweet stuff

      Lina says:

      I used an agent to find my house (mentioned in this article) before I had any real estate advertisers, so my change of opinion was unrelated. Frankly, it always bothered me that I didn’t have an agency that I could recommend to new expats because a good, reliable agency would be so helpful in Phnom Penh. Unfortunately, most of the agency properties I saw in Phnom Penh were grossly overpriced without any extra amenities to justify the higher prices. That’s why I was delighted when Elevated Realty entered the market.

        Gazzer says:

        What drugs are you taking of course Cambodia is cheaper than Thailand. The £ is now worth about 50 baht approx. try renting apartment in Bangkok for the same price as phomn pehn. Wake up and smell the coffee.

    Why any person over 50 would want to live (retire) in Cambodia compared to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, Thailand is beyond me!
    Just go to the Numbeo website and you’ll see that prices in Cambodia are up 50-60% on Chiang Mai.
    I live in CM, but even the local expats here are under the impression that Cambodia is cheaper. Old data!
    I hear much written about the ‘lovely people’ i am not disputing that, but as an expat away from the tourist traps, most Thai folks are pretty cool too! Their manners are impeccable, and I think people who think every Thai is a con-artist in waiting, should just go home!
    I used to subscribe to International Living magazine, and frankly, saying their outlook on alternative domiciles to the Western Rat Race is ‘rose colored’ is being kind. The price data on almost every location they feature is ancient, to say the least. The only possible things going for Cambodia that i can find are relatively unspioled and cheap seaside towns, and freely available drugs with minimal risk of dire consequences, both of which will soon change. I am sure Cambodia is a better alternative than Thailand for younger expats now, after the visa crackdowns, and in some cases, but cheap it aint! (By Thai standards).

      Vincent says:

      These are great conversations and all are based on personal experiences, which is a good thing. I am retired and lived and taught in BKK for 2 years and then moved to Siem Reap. I’ve been here almost 3 years now and would never go back to Thailand other than a visit 3 or 4 times a year. If I had a change of heart, CM would be the place to go as I have visited there many times. Chiang Rai, never made it.
      Percentages are funny as you can make them sound as you wish. I prefer hard dollars. My costs have been stable here for the past 3 years with little to no increase. The actual, most recent % of inflation numbers are TH about 3% Cambodia 5% and Vietnam 10%. Again all depends on your point of referenece.
      Travel and Leisure Mag. also publishes some “old” news but best they have for the print media.
      As far as Cambodia goes, Phnom Penh would be the most expensive and has issues with drugs and crime.
      Siem Reap is rather more relaxed. Rural areas are still cheap if you want to go that route. Yes Siem Reap is a tourist trap but living here is no problem and rather enjoyable. Good luck!

      Lina says:

      International Living is aimed at people who want to dream about expatriating, but won’t actually do it, in my opinion. I just spent a week in Thailand and was so relieved to come back to Cambodia, I guess it’s just a personal preference. :)

        Eternal Expat says:

        I spent a few years working at International Living. I can tell you guys that we were under strict instructions not to include any negative information on the locations we covered. The more appealing we could make these places seem, the more likely it was that our readers would think seriously about relocating. And then they buy more magazines, reports and go to more IL events. It was the same with pricing – use the absolute lowest figures we could possibly justify.

        To be honest, it was pretty outrageous. We were trying to convince retirees, some in ill health who had probably never left their home state, that the answer to their problems was to relocate to Colombia, Turkey or Cambodia. Turning peoples’ lives upside down for a couple of bucks.

        In other words, don’t trust those guys.

    les 64 says:

    Yes it hard to find an honest one but that it is the same at home too.
    Agents here need some sort of regulating authority, at the moment its a wild west mentality. Education about the proffession and what good service means would be welcome.
    Overall Cambodia is better with them for marketing but all be aware you can get great purchase the traditional way without them and save yourself a lot of money. Deal with a local Khmer will price the property based on the community, deal with an agent then your price will be the “berang price”.

    newbesttop10 says:

    We should use agent but it is not easy to find the honest one. After read your article it make me have one idea is to be real estate agent for foreigners who visit Cambodia.

    I think that people going to Cambodia now adays are ruining the country to be honest. Last time I went was 7 years ago and you could get a nice hotel for $15.00 and a plane to Bangkok was $25.00 each way. It looks like all the attention and people willing toi pay the price has driven the pricxes through the roof. I was hoping to retire there and teach to support myself but now it seems the hipsters have driven it out of my budget.

      Vincent says:

      Well Matthew, not sure what your “nest egg” is nor your homeland but Cambodia is still very affordable. Yes prices have risen but the Country came out of double dip devestation bewtween the Vietnam era and the subsequent Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap would be the most expensive by Cambodian standards. But SR alone gets almost 3 million tourists a year, so the market caters to them from the backpacker hostels to the 5 star hotels. The actual ticket from REP to BKK can be had for $40 or less. It is the fuel surcharges, airport taxes, airline service charges etc. that double that. Not any different in your homeland I am sure. You can still get a decent guest house/hotel, off season, for $25-40 or less and have rice and BBQ pork off a street vendor for $1.
      Are you still paying and earning the same as you did 7 years ago? My guess is no. Things do change and some progress is good so don’t write off Cambodia so quickly. If you need or want to work after retirement, teaching jobs here are poorly paid. You might want to consider Chiang Mai which is affordable and teachers make 4 times or more the salary.
      Best of success.

        Gordon says:

        I lived in Chiang Mai and taught English there for 2 yrs. I now am about an hour’s drive north of the city. While I know that yes, teaching salaries are pretty good on CM it is also true that competition for the good jobs is intense. Same with BKK, Phuket and other popular expat locations. If you are willing to forgo the city life and live out in rural areas you can pick and choose jobs and start out at 20,000 to 25,000 baht per month which in the rural areas will have you living comfortably. The cost of living is WAY lower where I am now compared to what I was paying in CM.

          vincent says:

          100% correct. The more “rural” you are willing to go the better you can live on little money.
          I will say, I am not an experienced teacher nor consider myself that bright but in BKK (2 years ago) I turned down jobs because I was too busy. I had a full time (20 hours actual teaching) job at a Federal High School at Wat Hua Lamphong and did private toutorial for a company in the evenings/weeekends and getting about 40K BHT a month. That combined with my own money let me live like a king. I eventually left the Federal job and increased the tutorial job and made about the same money with 1/2 the hours. All is luck sometimes.
          With the right credentials and personality you can do very well in the big cities too. I even lacked the credentials. Now in Siem Reap and enjoying things.

      Lina says:

      While it may be easy to blame hipsters for rising prices, I think it’s worth remembering that Cambodians want development, too. They want running water and electricity and smart phones and fancy motos. Prices on everything have gone up (not just apartments), wages have gone up and the country is very quickly developing. It’s not like it was seven years ago. Wanting a least developed country never to change so that it stays cheap for expats doesn’t give a lot of thought to the locals. If you want to live in the provinces, you can still get an apartment for $70 a month, though!

        vincent says:

        I’m not even sure what a “hipster” is? Ha ha Is that an Aussie or British term? I guess it is a backpacker? OR People who need to “follow the crowd” anyway best guesses.

    Vincent says:

    If it’s of any assistance. There are 4 new western style apartments coming on the market very soon on Wat Bo Road (Street).SR. Quality furnishings for about $275 a month plus electric and water. Cable,WiFi,trash included. I am not the owner so final prices would be up to the 2 parties. How’s that for “word of mouth”.
    There is always the possibility they are pre-rented. All 1 bedroom.

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