NEW YORK — Every culture has its own way of communicating and using technology. What’s the best way to get a Kuwaiti to check out a U.S. real estate listing? Is Facebook a good way to find Chinese buyers?
Working with international buyers requires some education, both for real estate agents and the buyers themselves, according to panelists at Real Estate Connect New York City today.
They offered a wealth of tips to land — and keep — global clients:
1. Understand where your area’s global buyers are coming from, said Stephanie Pfeffer, executive vice president of Luxury Portfolio International. In order to figure that out, LPI provides its agents with traffic reports showing the areas and languages in which their listings are viewed, she said.
2. Every country has its own real estate process — learn what it is for the country you’re targeting. "If you’re working with British (buyers), you need to understand how the British real estate process works," said Ines Hegedus-Garcia, a Realtor at Miami Beach, Fla.-based Majestic Properties. If an agent can explain the differences and similarities to his or her buyers, they’ll know what to expect, she said.
3. Understand how your website is optimized in other countries, Pfeffer said — type in the URL with the proper domain extension, such as ".ca," and take a look.
4. Find out how your target global buyers use technology, Pfeffer said. While iPads are popular in the U.S., Android tablets may be more popular elsewhere, and therefore need to be appropropriately optimized, she said.
5. In that same vein, U.S. agents should understand that they may be much more advanced technologically compared to their global buyers, said John Howell, editorial director for OPP Media, a business-to-business publication for overseas real estate professionals in 19 different countries.
For example, many people, including overseas agents, have never heard of or used a transaction management system. "You’ve got to keep it simple. If you’re going to try to introduce systems you’re going to have to start from a very low baseline" and build up from there, Howell said.
6. Charlie Young, president and CEO of ERA Franchise Systems, had a few quick tips for finding global prospects: Make sure you can be found on Google. Get on an airplane and meet people at conferences. Market listings and communities through video on YouTube. Don’t overlook Skype or text as ways to communicate. And use Facebook. "You start one at a time, friend a person, create a dialogue, develop a relationship with that person. Then connect with somebody else and develop a relationship with that person," Young said.
7. Make sure your tools work globally, and make sure you try to use the tools that you’re already using today, said Eleonore Rojas, principal product manager at Realtor.com operator Move Inc. She’s the driving force behind Realtor.com International, the company’s global site.
"If your listings are in a multiple listing service, (they) are already on Realtor.com International and translated into 11 languages for you," she said.
Many agents are using Facebook to make contacts already and should continue to do so, according to Rojas. In Brazil, for instance, "one would think that you should start using (popular social network) Orkut, but when you look at the Facebook numbers, Brazil is No.2 in Facebook users — three times more than Orkut," she said.
In Russia, users of the VK social network exceed the number of Facebook users, but Rojas recommended agents try that network only if they are completely fluent in Russian. Sticking with Facebook saves agents time, and "if you stay within your cultural sphere, you’re probably not going to commit any social blunders," she said.
8. On the other hand, know your audience. Facebook, Google and YouTube have limited market share in China, partially due to government censorship, Howell said. The Chinese have their own search engine (Baidu) and their own popular social network (Sina Weibo). Agents looking to cater to Chinese buyers need to have a Chinese website, Howell said.
While some say it is not necessary to speak a global buyer’s language, Howell disagreed. "I speak Spanish and French. I would not want to conduct a transaction in Spanish or French without having someone there to guide me in my own language. Language is very important," he said.
9. Have partners in the global markets you’re targeting, Pfeffer said. For instance, agents targeting Chinese buyers might want to consider listing with Juwai.com, a Chinese-language site not based in China where buyers can look for U.S. properties.
There are also several international associations that can help agents get referrals from their international counterparts: the International Real Estate Federation (FIABCI), the International Consortium of Real Estate Associations (ICREA), and the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), to name a few.
10. Don’t just focus on high-end buyers. "There’s far more people buying $250,000 properties than million-dollar ones," Howell said.
11. Don’t be offended by the universal buying sign: when buyers step away and have an active conversation without you. "Some American agents consider that rude — that’s a buying sign, ladies and gentlemen," said Bernice Ross, Inman News columnist and CEO of RealEstateCoachRadio.com.
12. Be aware of financing issues. International buyers are often required by banks to make 30-40 percent down payments, Ross said. Also, they may need $100,000 on deposit in the bank and a year’s worth of maintenance and other expenses set aside.
"Have global buyers speak to a tax attorney who specializes in dealing with people from offshore," she said. "We can’t give tax advice. You need someone who knows what they’re doing." In California, for instance, if the buyers don’t take title in the right way — through an LLC, for example — they can have up to 46 percent of their income taxed, Ross said. She recommended a foreign buyer’s guide at ManhattanMiami.com.
Tina Mak, a broker at Coldwell Banker Westburn Realty and the president of AREAA Vancouver, recommended agents direct buyers to an accountant. In Canada, for instance, principal residences are not taxed at the same rate as revenue-generating properties, and an accountant would be best able to inform buyers about those tax implications, she said.
13. Consider a prelisting inspection. When Mak works with Chinese buyers, they will often ask for significant discounts, particularly after an inspection. Mak recommended ordering a prelisting inspection complete with quotes from contractors to head off these kinds of last-minute negotiations.
14. Set your sights on the underserved. Buyers from rich Persian Gulf countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait want to invest in a stable market like the U.S., said Jochem Geheniau, director and board member of the Holland Gulf Chamber of Commerce. "They come here to study, they come here for holidays, but it’s very hard for them to close a deal here," he said.
More than half of Kuwaitis over 40 have a Facebook account, and Facebook ads are a great way to target the Kuwaiti market, he added. Old-fashioned phone calls are also a preferred method of communication in the Gulf, he said. "Email is nice, but they don’t consider it a connection," he added.
On the other hand, in the Chinese market, it’s important to know whether it’s parents or their children an agent is working with, Mak said.
"If parents are the ones with the money, their English is not very good, so don’t expect them to go online," she said. And if they have money, they will likely have their assistant researching for them, she added. "The best way to reach out to them is text messages," she said.
15. Keep it simple. Buyers from the Gulf are smart and want to know the nitty-gritty about legalities, but agents should make the transaction as smooth and as easy as possible for them, Geheniau said. "The standards are higher," he said. But if an agent gives them superior service, "they’re going to be very loyal and come back," he added.
By contrast, in the Chinese market, very rich buyers are unlikely to refer their friends because they’ll be afraid the agent will disclose their affairs, Mak said. But more middle-class Chinese buyers are a source for referrals, she said.