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How to Work in the International Arena/Users/adamp/Desktop/APR08/Optimized/RealAd

Follow this broker-associate’s advice and reap the rewards of this growing segment of the Florida real estate market.

International buyers flock to Florida in search of real estate to add to their portfolios. While here, many of them run into stumbling blocks. Obstacles like language barriers, cultural issues or financing challenges can all be overcome with the help of an experienced professional who knows the ropes of international real estate.

I’ve been working in the international arena since 1998—the year that I picked up on an influx of international buyers in South Florida. Having lived in a number of other countries and being fluent in English, French, Spanish and Greek gave me an immediate edge when doing business with these buyers, many of whom are looking for a trusted advisor who not only knows the ins and outs of the real estate transaction but also can speak their language.

Since getting my Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation in 2003, I’ve worked with customers from France, Belgium, the Netherlands and various other countries. Here are four key strategies that every real estate professional should use when working with these customers:

1. Learn the Culture
Having some type of international background is ideal, but even real estate professionals who don’t travel can learn the ropes of specific cultures by reading country-specific publications, researching on the Internet and interacting with the potential customer groups.
 
Pay particular attention to cultural differences such as whether or not people from a certain country talk openly about income with one another. Get to know the proper way to address people. Whereas a Latin American customer might like to be called by his first name, a French customer will be more comfortable with “Mr. Gautier.” In France, people are accustomed to the more formal “Monsieur” or “Madame.”

For a concise lesson on how to do business with international buyers, get your hands on the book “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands” by Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conaway, and George A. Borden, which walks readers through the fine points of doing business with different cultures. Another good book is Michael Lee’s “Opening Doors: Selling to Multicultural Real Estate Customers.”
 
2. Get Credentialed
I am a member of the International Real Estate Federation (FIABCI) and, as mentioned previously, am also a CIPS. Both associations have helped me hone my strategies for working with international customers while at the same time providing a source of referrals and networking. You can learn about FIABCI at www.fiabci-usa.com and about the CIPS designation through the National Association of Realtors® Web site, www.realtors.org.

Only about 2,500 real estate professionals hold the CIPS designation, which focuses on key topics like globalization and international business. Through FIABCI, I can advertise listings in 65 different countries, including those in Europe.
Primarily using e-mail, I network with other FIABCI members who connect me with prospective buyers from around the world. This is an extremely cost effective way for a real estate professional in the States to be able to find qualified customers for their properties, particularly in light of the high housing inventory levels and competition for domestic buyers.
 
3. Get out into the Community
Few would argue the value of travel for the international real estate professional, who—by virtue of his or her niche—is expected to have hands-on knowledge of customers’ cultural preferences, buying habits, and likes and dislikes. One way to gain this experience without spending thousands of dollars on airline tickets and hotel rooms is to join groups that either directly involve—or are of interest to—your targeted international customer.

In South Florida, for example, there is an association called Francophile, where people from France and other countries meet every other Tuesday for an evening of fun, dance and fine food. I’ve been to these events, and have met people who attend because they love the French culture. Area churches and gathering places often hold events for individuals of specific nationalities, so ask around, look on the Internet and check your local paper for good places to immerse yourself in the target culture. 

When you’re at these events or meetings, be sure to bring an open mind and a thirst for knowledge. The last thing you want to do is hold yourself out as someone special who deserves attention. Instead, get to know the people, be willing to listen to stories and ask follow-up questions. Only then can you truly gain the insights you need to stand out in the international real estate arena.

4. Work the Referral Network
There’s nothing like a satisfied international customer for generating referrals for your real estate business. When you sell a Haitian customer her first home, for example, there’s a good chance that she’ll spread the good word in her community and that it will result in referrals to other customers from that country. And once people get to know your specialty areas and your ability to speak their language and help walk them through the real estate maze, the referral sources will continue to grow.

Don’t get me wrong—getting international business isn’t easy. I run into real estate professionals attempting to do business in this sector who get hung up on language barriers and other issues. By following the advice in this article, reading the right books and joining the appropriate organizations, you’ll gain an edge on these sales associates and be able to either augment your existing real estate income or immerse yourself completely in this growing part of the Florida real estate market.

Born and raised in Toulouse, France, Yvette Gaussen is a broker-associate with Real Estate of Florida (www.treasurecoastbestrealestate.com) in Jensen Beach. Gaussen began working with international customers in 1998 and is a licensed mortgage broker, a member of FIABCI and a certified CIPS, ePRO and TRC (Transnational Realtor).