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8 Rules That Span the Globe

Some rules for working internationally are common no matter what country your contacts are from. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind in building these business relationships:

1. Decide whom you’ll target. Some sales associates believe they have an edge, such as already-established personal relationships or the ability to speak a language that allows them to market directly to buyers in another country. Others believe the broker-to-broker route is the best way to drum up international business. Evaluate carefully which route is better for you.

2. Draw on others’ experience. Non–U.S. citizens may need advice about such legal issues as the tax and immigration status they will have when buying and living in the United States. To avoid giving advice in areas in which they’re not qualified, many real estate professionals have assembled a team of legal, tax and immigration experts that they suggest foreign buyers contact before finalizing the purchase of property in the United States.

3. Join, join, join. Nearly all the brokers who’ve been successful in international real estate have joined groups designed to facilitate international networking. The best sources are your local Association’s, the Florida Association of Realtors®’ (FAR) and the National Association of Realtors®’ (NAR) international divisions. Many brokers also join FIABCI (Federation Internationale des Administrateurs de Bien Counselis Immobilieres), an international real estate federation based in Paris, and the International Consortium of Real Estate Associations (ICREA), an alliance of national real estate organizations throughout the world. ICREA offers the TRC certification, which allows sales associates to pay and receive transnational referral fees through a formal system. Florida’s real estate license law precludes a sales associate from collecting a referral fee directly from a broker/brokerage other than whom the sales associate is licensed

4. Friendship first, business second. No matter which countries your contacts are from, building friendships is almost always a must before trying to do business internationally. “In the American culture, people get down to business and maybe have a relationship,” says John Pinson, CIPS, CRS, broker at John D. Pinson Inc. in Palm Beach. “In the rest of the world, you develop a relationship and then maybe you do business. You have to be a friend so that others trust you, like you and send you business.”

5. No MLS? Nope! Few countries outside the United States have a database like the MLS, through which brokers agree to share listings and commissions. That leads to two problems. First, most foreign buyers waste their time because they believe they must do as they do in their own country—go company to company to view the listings of each. Second, U.S. sales associates get frustrated because they perceive foreign buyers are more likely to hop from company to company. The easiest way to avoid conflicts is to explain the U.S. system to foreign buyers and why they need to work with only one sales associate here. “You need to educate them on the way we do things in Florida,” says Pinson.

6. Go back to the basics. When you explain the U.S. real estate system to international buyers, don’t be afraid to spell out the obvious, says Andrew Batty, founder and president of The Florida Consultancy and a sales associate with RE/MAX Gulfstream Realty in Sarasota. Though he deals primarily with buyers from the United Kingdom, his advice is helpful for dealing with all non-U.S. buyers. “Don’t assume people know what you’re talking about,” he says, “and don’t be afraid to spell out the obvious. What may be automatic to you may be strange to foreign buyers.”

7. Learn about other cultures. If you meet a prospect from another country or region, research that area early in the relationship. Pinson suggests reading travel books and going to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s online World Factbook,, which tells you things about each country such as its history, economy, religions and languages. He also recommends reviewing each country’s U.S. embassy Web page (type the country name and “U.S. embassy” into your search engine), which provides information on history, customs and even scams common to the country.

8. Avoid political discussions. “That’s a topic you really want to stay away from,” says Toni K. Napolitano, CIPS, CRS, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty Professionals in Fort Lauderdale. What if prospects raise the issue? “You can diffuse that easily,” she says, “if you smile and say, ‘You know, this is a topic I’m really uncomfortable discussing, and I’ve learned over the years that there are certain things best left unsaid.’”