Your Local College Is a Portal to Foreign Buyers

July 2, 2019

If you have an interest in working with international clients, you don’t have to go overseas to find them. One of the best places to meet foreign prospects may be your local university.

College orientations and community events sponsored by higher education institutions provide ample opportunities to connect with foreign students who may be looking for long-term housing, real estate professionals told attendees at last week’s Midwest Real Estate Data conference in Chicago. MRED is one of the country’s largest multiple listing services.

“Universities are very open to people from the business world networking with students because, in today’s student loan debt economy, universities are expected to connect their students to jobs,” said Maurice Hampton, CIPS, SRS, broker-owner of Centered International Realty in Chicago. “Even though you’re there to talk about a home, you have connections to the business world you can share with students. And if you can make that connection, it’s better than any referral.”

However, you can’t expect to simply show up and rake in the leads. Arrive at university events with something relevant to your business that you can share with students, advised Mábel Guzmán, AHWD, a broker with @properties in Chicago. “You have to bring something to the table,” she said. “Come with information, and come with market knowledge.”

Hampton—whose first international client was a Chinese woman whose parents were paying for her college tuition and housing—said he regularly attends student affairs events at DePaul University in Chicago. He looks for undergraduate students from foreign nations who are planning to enroll in a graduate program and stay in the city for the foreseeable future. “Those who are confident that they will stay and do a grad program are more likely to buy,” he said.

Jim Kinney, ABR, GRI, a sales associate with Baird & Warner in Chicago, said real estate professionals should develop relationships with human resources professionals and student unions at universities. Ask about students who are enrolled on a fellowship, which can often provide clues about foreign students who are committing to stay in your area long-term.

Kinney also suggested practitioners shouldn’t be afraid of language or cultural barriers. “So many of us feel like, ‘I’m American, and I have a Midwestern accent,’” and that will be a hurdle to forming a connection with foreign buyers, he said. “There’s such a richness of experience out there, and you may have relatives in countries with similar needs as the buyers you seek. If you have a knowledge base, you can be the connecter with prospects.”