It’s been under six months since Lake Oswego, Oregon-based agent Josephine Tang broke into real estate, but she’s already making a name for herself at Cascade Sotheby’s International Realty (Cascade SIR). As the very first recruit on Cascade SIR’s Asia desk — a unit of indie brokers fluent in the foreign languages, logistics and customs essential for transacting with international homebuyers — the Malaysia-born rookie agent has grown a rich network of Asian internationals who, with her help, are planting real estate roots in her state.
Cascade SIR chief operations officer, Michael Kosmin, whose prior work was in Asian real estate development, is heading the Cascade SIR Asia desk and is supporting Tang by introducing his many Asian contacts to the Portland market as investors and buyers seek opportunities outside the ever popular Bay Area.
In addition to the resources provided by SIR, and the connections shared by Kosmin, Tang is using her own passion for helping Asian clients to bring her professional vision to life. In less than half a year, she’s been able to grow a thriving business, and with every new buyer she takes on, she gains a better understanding of her clientele.
How overseas buyers search for property, ‘test’ homes and communicate
Tang has learned — and is still learning — the many ways her overseas buyers search for properties. While SIR has a partnership with Juwai.com, a Chinese real estate search engine for buyers of overseas property that attracts two million visitors a month, many clients opt for U.S.-based online real estate databases.
“I asked an older gentleman in his ’60s how he searched for properties when he was in China,” Tang told Inman. “He said he opens up his computer and does a search on Zillow.”
In addition to their own search efforts, Tang’s Chinese buyers are kept apprised of eligible Portland area listings via popular Chinese app WeChat, which Tang uses to send property information to her clients.
SIR has a global media partnership with the app, and Tang, along with a group of like-minded agents she met at the SIR global networking event last September, created a Group Chat on the app through which agents from all over the world can exchange information.
Through the group, Tang — who speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, Malay, Bahasa Indonesian, basic Japanese, French and English — has gotten to know other Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking SIR agents in the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong, China and Australasia.
In addition to its networking perks, WeChat makes it easier to for Tang to communicate with overseas clients, many of whom buy “test” properties first, with the intention of acquiring more real estate as they familiarize themselves with the area.
The former marketing executive is currently helping a number of Asian-born clients buy in the city of Beaverton and the community of Bethany, both just west of downtown Portland — where Intel and Nike are based, and where many internationals relocate for work.
She’s also been working with husband and wife Chinese clients who decided to relocate to the area at the advice of their son, who attended college in California.
“Their son knows Portland is gaining momentum, and with its [proximity to] Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, it is well positioned and still affordable,” said the Cascade SIR agent. The couple is set to purchase a $600,000 home in January.
Delivering quality service through education
In general, “Asia is a more collective society, [while the] U.S. is more individualistic,” said Tang, who is married to an American real estate developer.
As a result, Tang’s Asian buyers tend to look for single-family homes with room for extended family to stay, she said. And while overseas clients come with set goals for homeownership and a clear picture of the lifestyle they want from their home purchase, there is much yet for them to learn about the actual transaction in many cases.
“Working with international buyers is a bit like working with first-home buyers,” said Tang, whose experience has also shown her that educating international buyers is just as important as educating first-time buyers — possibly more so because of the language barrier.
She is careful to explain every bit of industry jargon; what it means to be in escrow; the inspection and appraisal process; what a freehold title is; the different types of ownership; and the fact that an offer typically includes 11 pages of documents, among other things.
One message she finds particularly important to communicate clearly is the fact that certain negotiating techniques work better than others in the U.S.
During this time of low inventory and high demand, when people are paying an average of $7,000 above listing price — even up to $62,000 above asking in some markets — smart negotiating might be the only thing standing between your clients and their dream home.
“I explain that they want to make an offer that they think will be accepted. If they ‘lowball,’ the seller will think that they are not really interested,” Tang said.