NEW ORLEANS — Tapping into the growing demand for U.S. property by international buyers from Latin America, Asia and other regions means respecting your clients’ customs and culture.
Done right, one deal can lead to a steady stream of referrals and a new source of business for brokers and agents, said members of a panel, “Develop Your Share of the Growing Hispanic Market” at the National Association of Realtors Convention in New Orleans.
In 1990, after being in real estate for more than 20 years, Colorado broker-developer Howard Leino said he “backed into international real estate without realizing it.”
A man from a wealthy family from Mexico City that built chassis for Formula 1 racecars dropped into his office, looking for a home for his son.
“I sold his son a home, and then his brother came up to Denver and bought a second home,” Leino said. “I treated them with profound respect, gave them every courtesy… and they never forgot my kindness.”
As a result of those two deals, the Greenwood Village, Colo-based broker said, he ended up doing business with doctors from India, international bankers from London, and chemists and engineers from Germany.
“The referrals just go on and on, and I’ll tell you why they go on and on: You’ve got to be courteous to the people, you have to respect people,” Leino said.
Leino has been invited to clients’ homes for dinner, attended their children’s’ college graduation ceremonies, and even a wedding.
“One doctor from Bombay called me up one day after I sold him a $500,000 home, and said he was (soon to go through with an) arranged marriage,” Leino said. After accepting the doctor’s invitation to attend his wedding in Texas, Leino said he referred three more doctors from India to him as clients.
After the Canadian hockey team won the gold medal at 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, the team’s goalie coach called him up, saying he’d gotten his name at a cocktail party. Leino said it “drove him nuts for 30 days” wondering who’d referred the coach to him.
“For those of you who may be sitting in this room thinking well international real estate isn’t for me, I’ve got news for you – it’s in your backyard,” Leino said.
Don’t be frightened away from international real estate if, like Leino, you don’t speak Spanish or any language other than English, he said.
“I can’t speak a word of Spanish,” he said. “Every person I’ve served speaks better English than I do.”
But do build your awareness of emerging markets, Leino said. If your area has an arm of government or business association that specializes in international trade, join it.
When Leino joined the World Trade Center Denver, there were many commercial real estate brokers, but few who dealt in residential properties. He got lots of leads. Leino also contacted banks and law firms that did international business, taking employees out to lunch to drum up leads.
“Use phone books, the chamber of commerce, sister cities,” Leino said. “Check with your state’s international business development office. Every state in the United States has one – they are typically attached to the governor’s office.”
Familiarize yourself with cultural and religious customs that can influence business transactions, Leino said. In some cultures, it’s considered an affront to address the woman first, rather than the man. But not all couples adhere strictly to cultural mores.
“I found a little secret. When I was showing homes to married couples, I found that whoever got in the front seat of the car with me is generally the person who made the decision in the family,” Leino said. “So I always tried to sell the house to the person in the front seat. Generally the person in the back seat is