The key to working with international clients is understanding the cultures of their home countries. Getting it right pleases your clients and can open a floodgate of referrals.

In the future, even more clients looking for homes will come from China. They’ll come from Southeast Asia. And South America. And Europe. And countless other far-flung corners of the globe, thanks the globalization of residential real estate — a trend that isn’t slowing down.

And the key to working with those clients is understanding the cultures of their home countries, according to Joe Lurie, author of the cross cultural guidebook Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures and emeritus executive director of the University of California Berkeley International House.

Credit: Kyle Espeleta

“You want to make the sale, learn about them,” Lurie told attendees of Inman’s Luxury Connect event at the Beverly Hills Wilshire Hotel.

Lurie repeatedly advised agents to take a pragmatic approach. Globalization, he said, is only increasing and will likely lead to foreign-born clients making up a growing segment of U.S. agents’ business.

Research from the National Association of Realtors bears out Lurie’s claim that globalization is playing a major role in agents’ business. According to NAR, foreign buyers purchased 266,800 residential properties between April 2017–March 2018. The majority of those buyers came from China, Canada, the UK, India and Mexico.

NAR also found that 23 percent of Realtors that it surveyed had interacted with foreign buyers, and a third said that they had seen an increase in international transactions over the past year. The transactions also weren’t limited to sales, with 11 percent saying they helped international clients lease a property.

Though the circumstances of each deal will be different, Lurie said in many cases potential clients with international backgrounds will not have had time to fully acclimate to the “nuances of communication” in the U.S. before buying a home, and agents and brokers need to be aware of that.

“We see things according to what we’re used to seeing,” Lurie said.

Agents should ask clients what’s new to them in the U.S. to built better relationships and understand where there may be gaps in their knowledge, he added.

Lurie also said that some of the most fundamental aspects of conducting real estate deals can be alienating to clients depending on their background. In some cultures, for example, bargaining is frowned upon. In others, it’s a given, and agents need to know that.

Interpersonal behaviors such as smiling, shaking hands, touching while conversing and speaking loudly or softly also vary from culture to culture.

Lurie recommended agents research these differences, as well as how the design of certain properties may go over with foreign-born clients.

“Colors have different meanings in different countries,” he said. “Numbers are important.”

Lurie pointed out that Malaysian buyers may be put off by the color green, which many in their home country associate with sickness.

Chinese buyers, on the other hand, may place significance on the color red, as well as on concepts such as feng shui.

Getting these cultural nuances right, he added, means not just pleasing one client but also potentially opening a floodgate of referrals.

“If you wait and build some trust and do some hospitality with potential clients, and you finally sell,” he said, “the chances are you will have gained 10 to 20 more Chinese clients.”

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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