Savvy Foreign Affairs

If you are just starting to work with immigrant buyers and are a little skittish about customs or have doubts about your skills, take a look at some of these quick tips for improving your foreign relations.

March 1, 1997
  • Give equal attention and respect to a woman who is part of a couple buying property. At times she may seem more passive than her male counterpart, but she most likely wields a great deal of financial power in the relationship. As Sheida Hodge puts it bluntly, ''If the female doesn't like you, you won't get the deal.'' Hodge has a California real estate license, and her Irvine, Calif.-based company, Professional Training Associates, does cross-cultural training that teaches real estate professionals how to market to foreign-born prospects.
  • When you're dealing with documents and your buyers aren't fluent in English, have an interpreter--someone who knows real estate--sit with your prospects and translate. You can contact the relevant foreign consulate in the nearest major city for recommendations.
  • Avoid using slang terms you've learned in another language. They may have connotations you're unaware of, and you risk offending your prospects.
  • Don't make assumptions. For instance, just because someone speaks Spanish, it doesn't mean that person is from Mexico. A smoother way to find out about a prospect's background is to casually ask, Where's your family originally from? Then ask whether the prospect has any special beliefs regarding a home purchase. (A good example is the concern that some Chinese buyers have about feng shui. It's a belief that placement of objects and physical features--like windows and doors--can create a positive environment for its inhabitants and generate good health and fortune).
  • Align yourself with loan officers, home inspectors, and other professionals associated with the buying process who speak a foreign language. They can be helpful in explaining the technical details of a transaction to your buyers.
  • If your prospects start speaking to one another in their native tongue at a showing, don't assume it's a bad sign. As Michael Lee points out, ''Salespeople are sometimes uncomfortable when they can't understand what a prospect's saying. But it's often a good buying signal. They're probably not going to talk about a house unless they're interested in it.'' Lee is a broker with Realty Unlimited, Lafayette, Calif., and also does multicultural training for his company, Seminars Unlimited, also of Lafayette.
  • Be sincere and deliver what you promise. Immigrants rely on business referrals from family and friends. Robert Aldana, a salesperson with Contempo Realty, San Jose, Calif., says, ''Members of the Hispanic community will send you a tremendous amount of business if they've had a good experience with you. Once you've established trust with them, they'll be a source of referrals for a lifetime.''
  • Educate prospects regarding what services you perform and how you get paid. ''Lots of foreign buyers want to be loyal to you, but educate them about what they need to do to be loyal,'' says Lee. ''They may think that just because they buy something through your company, you'll get a commission.''
  • Don't promote your business through foreign language publications and television stations if you--or someone at your company--don't speak a foreign language.

Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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