Rod Rochowiak, the president of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate Premier in Washington, D.C., didn’t realize that attending a recent Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) event with a Vietnamese colleague would open up a new source of leads for his brokerage.

  • A Washington D.C.-based brokerage, BHGRE Premier, is launching an international division to help attract more buyers and sellers.
  • It is hiring experienced agents from other countries who can can introduce the brokerage to their international community based locally.

  • Their community connections in the U.S. and in their communities in their home countries will open up BHGRE Premier to a broader sphere of influence.

Rod Rochowiak, the president of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate Premier in Washington, D.C., didn’t realize that attending a recent Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) event with a Vietnamese colleague would open up a new source of leads for his brokerage.

But when Rochowiak showed up with Thai Hung Nguyen and team, and when he saw the relationships the Vietnamese agents had with their local Vietnamese and extended Asian community, he was very impressed. Nguyen, Jessie Do and Natalie Phan were clearly immersed in their home’s culture.

From left to right - Natalie Phan, Thai Hung Nguyen and Jessie Do.

From left to right: Natalie Phan, Thai Hung Nguyen and Jessie Do.

“They introduced me to their sphere of influence, who were very warm and welcoming,” said Rochowiak. “It was so interesting, such a strong community, from the way they work with each other, share and support each other. My agents, for instance, use their own Vietnamese sign vendor.”

This got him thinking: What would happen if he had other international teams drawing on their own local spheres of influence in a similar way? Could this network be a good generator of leads for his multicultural market?

This week, after his brokerage was named the diversity winner at the annual Better Homes & Gardens Annual Awards, the Premier president announced that he is launching an international division, recruiting overseas-born agents who have solid community links both in their home country and in the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia markets.

An international division of agents from all around the world

“I want to take advantage of our marketplace and do something that no other real estate brokerage is doing. I want to have an international division, to get one or two agents from every country in the world,” said Rochowiak.

“I believe if we have an international division, it will open us up to more clientele,” he added.

Rochowiak, who spent some time at college in Spain and has a German mother and Polish father, is hoping that the expansion will bring a good supply of new leads.

Rod Rochowiak, Premier Pres.

Rod Rochowiak, Premier Pres.

“You could not be more American than Better Homes & Gardens. How strange — in a good way — for a BHG company to have an international division like this,” he said.

If any BHG branches wanted to iterate on his plan, he would be happy to extend it across the platform, he said. “But it would only work in a major urban area,” he added.

Within BHG, Rochowiak said: “There are only two truly urban brokerages — San Francisco and us. ”

BHGRE Premier — with 32 agents, an office in D.C. and a new one opening in Falls Church, Virginia, at the end of the summer — caters to an extensive international community of buyers and sellers who have come to the area following big employers (such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) as well as numerous embassies who have a large presence in the seat of government.

Rochowiak has been surprised by the amount of business he has had from just one embassy in D.C., who might be buying four or five single-family homes for staff in one fell swoop, or likewise selling a cluster of homes.

He is hoping his new international agents will bring more embassies to the business.

A major recruitment drive of overseas talent from local brokerages

The Premier president, whose previous career was in recruitment for international corporates, including Ernst & Young, is planning on finding his team of international agents from the 550-plus real estate brokerages in the greater D.C. area.

“You can find agents from almost every one of these countries from these brokerages,” he said.

He said he would start with nationalities who are well represented in the D.C. marketplace, focusing on agents from the Middle East and South America.

“Because it’s a big effort, it’s going to take a period of time — it could well take five years,” he said.

Ideally, these agents will have been born in their countries of origin, but what it comes down to is “how active are they in their own culture and how well they know their own culture,” said Rochowiak.

Rochowiak said he would look at agents who were born in the U.S., but only if they had excellent networks in their family’s home country and locally.

The company president said he has an agent from Venezuela who is a U.S. citizen.

“He is the perfect model — he knows his culture,” he said. And the agent is connected with his local Venezuelan community.

“One of the prerequisites is they will have to be belong to one of the local associations for their particular country,” he added.

This will help with lead generation, he said.

For example, agents from Mexico, where they were born and raised, would have to have links with their local Latino association as well as the Latino chamber of commerce, he said.

“That’s the kind of community outreach we want to do.  That community outreach we know will lead to sales, too.”

How will his existing team feel about the new international contingent?

“We want to make them all feel a part of it, to feel a part of the entire team,” he said.

Email Gill South

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