Art Hongly, a 32-year-old professional “home finder,” grins for the camera while showing a client a property in Phnom Penh, March 25. Art is not the highest earning real estate agent in town, nor the best known, but he has nonetheless developed a loyal following of expats in the capital with his boundless enthusiasm and sincere desire to help.
The Australian businessman appeared confused. “I’m sorry, who is this?” he asked the voice on the end of his phone.
“I’m Art, I find people homes,” came the cheerful reply.
Finding the perfect apartment in Phnom Penh can become something of a minefield. With real estate agents on every other corner, each pushing their clients’ properties, how do you know who to trust?
“I am a home finder, not a real estate agent,” says Art Hongly, a 32-year-old Cambodian entrepreneur who has found a niche market helping new arrivals and long-term expatriates locate their dream property amidst Phnom Penh’s booming rental market. “I know how to help people.”
Art, a Kompong Cham native, moved to Phnom Penh in 1997 to pursue further education. Financial hardships forced the young student to consider ways of earning some cash on the side to fund his studies.
He began researching property in Phnom Penh – finding out what was available and how much it cost. Gradually, he built up a network of property owners, landlords and tenants. Slowly, by word of mouth, news of his successful brokering work spread.
“He tries so hard to find you exactly what you want,” said one former client. “I recommend him to friends as he knows what foreigners want from a rental property and he helps you to find it.”
Ten years on, Art is a successful “mini broker,” he says with a smile. Although he has no company or office – just him, his mobile phone, and his network of clients – business is booming.
“My work is very simple,” he told the Post. “Clients hear about me by word of mouth. I never advertise. I don’t compete with the big real estate companies.”
But what he does do, is “try to help everyone who needs a home,” he says. “I am now experienced in this line of work and I know how to help people.”
The Australian businessman, who was using Art to try and identify a suitable property for a new business venture in Phnom Penh, was impressed by Art’s diligence.
“He calls me,” says the businessman. “He is so enthusiastic and very helpful, he is a real find.”
Art can help find a property and will help with negotiations between homeowners and tenants. He does not charge his clients for showing them properties – his money comes from the commissions paid by grateful homeowners when he has managed to let their property.
“I call it the ‘clean heart service,’” he says. “I am traditional Khmer, I have no real ambitions in the real estate industry. I try to do a good deed in order to make the people close to me happy.”
Art’s helpful hands have not stretched beyond just finding people homes; he is trying to help make Phnom Penh as easy to live in for foreigners as possible. Art will arrange anything to help your house feel like home – from reliable domestic help to internet services.
His clients, who primarily hail from Europe, North America and Australia, have grown in number dramatically in recent years and include embassy staff and NGO employees.
“Cambodia is changing very fast now, some foreigners visit the country and then decide to live here – being a home finder is an interesting job for me,” Art says. “When people begin a new life in another country and it starts by being peacefully settled into a new home that they are confident will not cause problems for them, they are happy.”
Despite the real estate sector booming, Art says his business has not suffered from extra competition.
“I do what I can do and I do not pressure myself over work,” he says. “The most important thing is that my clients trust me.”
The average deal takes a week or two to negotiate and he negotiates about ten deals a month.
“I am not focused only on money, my daily work is not a real business at the moment,” he says. “I just want to help with brokering deals and build up confidence in my services before I set up a company.”
Art can be found on the web at http://artthehomefinder.wordpress.com