Helping Canadian Snowbirds Navigate Vacation Communities

Nina Paight combines mortgage specialists, new-home builders, and deep knowledge of luxury homes and resort amenities to promote her Florida community abroad.

August 14, 2014

Nina Paight, GRI, CRS
Sales associate
RE/MAX Realty Group
Fort Myers, Fla.

How do you serve the needs of the Canadian snowbirds looking to buy a vacation home in Fort Myers?

A lot of it is just trying to understand their time frame. They have a limited amount of time they can spend here, and my job is to try and find the community that will give them what they’re looking for. I mean, they’re coming for a vacation; it’s not their primary home. So they want to be able to play tennis, play golf, and go boating. Really knowing the communities and what each one offers helps me with being able to refer them to the best area for them.

I’ve been here since 1987, so I know it pretty well. But there are always new communities popping up. Also, being kind of between Lee and Collier counties, I have to know the whole area. But ultimately, you focus on the communities that your customers are interested in.

I live in Chicago, so it’s funny to hear the idea that new communities are constantly popping up.

I know. Basically what happens is a builder will buy up a tract of land and build a new neighborhood. Around here, people tend to trade houses every five years. They buy a new house, and then some five years later, they say: “Well, I need a new house. This one’s old!” For people from an area where they are surrounded by 100-year-old homes, it sounds kind of bizarre — but it’s just different here.

So, you’ve been working with Lennar Homes and RBC Bank’s program, which helps home buyers from Canada navigate the complicated process of purchasing a vacation home in the United States. Can you tell me how this partnership helps make transactions smoother for your clients?

It’s been very beneficial. See, you can get a loan in Canada within around five days. As we all know, that is just not the case in the United States, especially for a foreign national. RBC is a Canadian bank, so they know what the Canadians are expecting. They can really coach them and hold their hand through the process, and they have all kinds of events and outreach in order to do that.

RBC now has this terrific program for Canadians buying here. It’s a seamless transition for their customers to be able to get a loan here, or credit card, or other financing. We’re able to go with RBC, and they don’t have to worry about transferring Canadian to American dollars. My clients are then dealing with people who can sort of “speak their language,” even though we’re all speaking English, of course. I really like having them as a partner that I can refer customers to. It’s a very comforting feeling.

What would you recommend for a real estate professional who is looking to partner with a large lender or home builder in order to demonstrate their own unique real estate knowledge?

I would recommend asking for referrals from other agents you know who may have a relationship already with that company. A lot of it is just getting the word out among your colleagues. One of my associates knew I work with Canadians, and he just e-mailed me about an opportunity. We constantly do that for each other.

Also, just going to meet with people. I mean, most builder reps are more than happy to meet with real estate agents because they know they are the ones bringing them customers. Same thing with these mortgage companies. I remember struggling with having Canadians who wanted loans several years ago, and local banks didn’t want to do it or would charge extra fees to do it. So having this connection has been great.

How do you stay up-to-date on all the new communities in your area?

You have to educate yourself. And lots of builders will send real estate agents invitations to open-house events at their new communities. That’s a great way to get to know them.

Is there a lot of variation in what these communities offer?

It definitely runs the gamut, from communities that have virtually no amenities to ones that have just about everything. The ones with little or no amenities are trying to appeal to the people who don’t want a lot of fees. They’re basically single-family communities, and maybe each house will have its own pool if they want, but there’s not a clubhouse or anything. On the other hand, you’ll have a community where home owners will pay $10,000 to $12,000 a year because they offer golf, tennis, a fitness center, a movie theater. Basically, anything you can possibly imagine in a community, they have it within their gates. So it’s definitely about knowing what the client is looking for and what their price range is.

Some of the communities serve really specific groups. For example: Treviso Bay here in Fort Myers is a TPC, which stands for tournament players’ club. It’s the only TPC in the world where you get a membership by buying a home there. So that’s unique to that community. They have a nice resort facility there, and it’s very expensive to join and very sought-after.

You need to understand what the various communities are offering. Most of them will have a pool and a club at minimum. The more high-end ones have more. I’d say the most expensive amenity is golf. It just takes a lot of land, a lot of administration, and that adds a lot of cost to the builder. But it’s just a matter of getting in to see the amenities and being able to share that with people, and be their eyes and ears.

How do you get the word out about your specialized knowledge of these communities?

I’m an independent contractor. I don’t have a big team, so I don’t do that sort of massive type of marketing. Being with RE/MAX, we have an internal network that I can tap for referrals. Also, I’m a Certified Residential Specialist and a luxury home specialist. So I try to focus on those networks, too. I will also e-mail Canadian agents in specific locales, say, a club where some of my current customers belong, and I’ll ask them if they have any people who might be interested in this or that area. It’s more targeted than spreading the news far and wide, but that works better for me.

Meg White

Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.