Real estate offices shut down amid stagnant market

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Despites efforts to improve service and slash fees, real estate firms all over Hanoi are laying of sales staff. Some have even been forced to close their doors, due to a lack of buyers.

At an empty real estate exchange on Dinh Cong Street, a saleswoman named Hanh sits playing computer games.

Business is very slow, she says.

In the last three months, her boss cut the sales staff from seven to two.

"We have offered free intermediary fees to homebuyers, to no avail," Hanh said. "We haven't had any customers in the past month. Most people come here just to check prices. I may seek another job. It will be hard for the center to remain in business, if the situation continues."

Nguyen Van Hieu, the owner of a real estate exchange office on Truong Dinh Street, shut down his offices some weeks ago due to a lack of customers.

"We've only had two customers since early this year," he said. "We haven't even made enough to cover electricity and telecommunication fees."

Like Hieu, the owners of many real estate exchange centers cannot maintain their business under the current circumstances. Offices all along Le Van Luong, Khuat Duy Tien and Nguyen Phong Sac have closed.

A short section of Khuat Duy Tien Street, which once housed nearly a dozen real estate sales offices, now only has three.

Nguyen Dinh Trung said he's narrowed his office on Minh Khai Street and now rents out the other half of his property.

"Cost reduction is the only thing that can keep us in business now," he said.

These days, his office focuses on mediating leases.

"It brings much smaller profits. But, businesses right now are lucky if they're not seeing any losses, let alone profits," he said.

The local property market has come to a standstill due to the credit crunch, according to some experts.

Many potential buyers have been unable to access housing loans after the government ordered lenders to cut credit to the non-production sector. Meanwhile, developers have halted new development projects due to credit difficulties and been unable to find buyers for their existing housing stock.

The State Bank of Vietnam is trying to keep this year's credit growth below 20 percent in an attempt to control inflation. 

In the meantime, commercial banks have been ordered to cut back on lending to the non-production sector, which includes the stock and real estate markets. The aim is to limit credit in this sector to 16 percent by the end of the year.

To attract buyers, many developers are now offering a variety of buyer incentives.

Viet Hung Urban Investment and Development JSC offered a 12 percent discount to customers who registered to buy apartments in late April. Since then, they've continued to offer a 10-percent discount to those who've registered to buy starting on May 20.

Meanwhile, Song Da Thang Long SJC, the developer of the Usilk City project, offered between 18-35 square meters of the project's trading center to the first 200 registered buyers who agreed to pay all at once.

Pham Sy Liem, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Construction Association, said property investment is very lucrative, so investors have continued to profit, despite the significant discounts.

But there is a good sign for the market, he said, noting that customers who once had to pay backdoor fees to buy an apartment are now seeing discounts.

Former Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Dang Hung Vo said the property market may continue to face capital shortages in the future.

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