Foreign companies (wholly foreign owned enterprises) in China are limited to the real estate activities they can engage in, many are operating as housing consultancy companies which means they can legally provide a consultancy service and help you find a apartment to rent in Shanghai. However for property sales they are not licensed to facilitate property sales and would need to seek the support of a licensed Chinese company whom will be able to do the legal work for a property purchase or sale.
There is then the Chinese licensed and unlicensed realtors in Shanghai, the unlicensed who possibly dont have a office, perhaps work from their own apartment or even a coffee shop will rent a license from another agency for around 600 RMB /month.
It’s not easy to pass the qualifying exam to become a licensed agent in Shanghai, applicants who want to take the examination first need to meet education and work experience requirements. For example, applicants who have an undergraduate degree need only four years of experience in the industry. Those with less education need eight years of experience. Masters degree holders only need two years of experience working at an agency.
The requirements limit people who can become either a real estate agent or work in an agency, Just because they dress up in a nice suit doesn’t mean they are a professional realtor.
Signing a contract for apartment without a licensed agent, could put you in a bad legal position, especially if there is ever a dispute.