International Real Estate: Cast a Wider Net

A new referral network broadens horizons for practitioners with no foreign experience

October 1, 2003

Since listing a villa this spring that overlooks the Gulf of Policastro in Scario, Italy, Deborah Valledor, CIPS, CRS®, has fielded dozens of calls, many from executives in the United States and other countries interested in turning the property into a corporate retreat.

The property has four bedrooms and sits on 11 acres dotted with olive trees. Valledor, broker-owner of The Team Advantage, REALTORS®, in Coral Gables, Fla., has never been there. Yet she’s able to reply to inquiries with detailed information on the property, nearby restaurants and shops, local attractions, some history on the town, and driving directions.

All of that information—as well as a contact list of Italian real estate pros and the rules and protocols governing transactions in that country—she obtained thanks to a new transnational referral system created by the International Consortium of Real Estate Associations at its Web site, www.worldproperties.com. ICREA was launched in 2002 to encourage cooperation, information sharing, and standards among real estate associations in more than 20 countries. The National Association of REALTORS® is one of ICREA’s founding members.

Without leaving her office, Valledor has stepped across borders, tapping reams of free information to beat out even Italian salespeople on the $510,000 listing.

“It’s very unusual to have Italian property listed by an American, much less one who’s never visited the town,” says Valledor. “The owners previously had the property listed with an Italian, but they felt they needed someone who could provide more Internet exposure.”

Valledor was invited to bid on the listing by a daughter of the owners, who had seen an article Valledor wrote for the Florida Association of REALTORS® on working with foreign buyers. Valledor is chair of the International Committee at FAR.

Using worldproperties.com, Valledor compiled a package showing how she’d market the property and handle the transaction. She included

  • A marketing plan built around contacts in the transnational referral network
  • Information on Italian business practices, including real estate licensing requirements, licensees’ duties, and remuneration protocols
  • A glossary of Italian terms
  • The sales contract form
  • Information on Scario, Italy

“The daughter was blown away,” says Valledor. “No other salesperson had shown her this amount of material.”

Anyone can go international

For Valledor, a 12-year industry veteran, the listing opens a new front on her business. Although 75 percent of her clients are foreign households, typically in the market for a second home, the Italian listing is her first foray into selling property outside the United States. Valledor says the Internet is opening the door for cross-border sales—even by practitioners who don’t think of themselves as international specialists.

“With the Internet, anyone can get information on your market,” says Valledor, “You never know when you’re going to get a call from a foreign buyer or even a foreign seller.”

ICREA launched the transnational referral network to help smooth the way for such business, says Sharon Millett, former NAR president and ICREA co-chair. The abundant resources at worldproperties.com are key to the network’s value. For each of the countries represented in the network, users are linked to the principal listings and practitioner databases (REALTOR.com for U.S. practitioners) and can tap information and material—such as standardized forms; market data; and laws, rules, and practices—that they need to complete deals.

What’s more, the site adds a measure of assurance that deals can close with less uncertainty than characterized international transactions in the past, Millett says. That’s because ICREA’s member associations have agreed to an ethics code and an arbitration protocol. The arbitration agreement addresses one of practitioners’ main concerns about doing international business: the cost and complexity of pursuing a legal solution when a conflict arises.

An add-on resource

The transnational referral network won’t replace one-on-one networking among international specialists, says Miriam Lowe, vice president of international operations for NAR and ICREA secretariat.

Many such specialists hold the Certified International Property Specialist designation, for example, and they’ll continue to tap that network, Lowe says. There are about 1,100 CIPS designees, including about 150 based outside the United States.

Lowe says the new referral network should be particularly helpful for people who have an international opportunity dropped in their lap. “In the past, they may have turned down the business. Now they have this resource that makes it possible for them to consider taking on the deal.”

ICREA has no information yet on traffic volume at worldproperties.com. Homestore, which operates the site, is working on a mechanism that incorporates data provided by the consortium partners. There will be an impetus to start tracking traffic later this year, when Homestore launches a new distinctive properties feature. That feature, slated for introduction at the REALTORS® Conference & Trade Expo in San Francisco, Nov. 7–10, will enable practitioners to showcase properties at the site for a fee.

“People who don’t sell internationally today may wonder how they would use the resources on the site,” says Valledor. “But international business will come to everyone’s door some day. That’s how the business of real estate is changing.”

Member countries

Real estate associations in 23 countries participate in the transnational referral network at www.worldproperties.com, launched by the International Consortium of Real Estate Associations (ICREA). The network allows buyers, sellers, and practitioners around the world to find listings and real estate practitioners in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is the former director of multimedia communications at NAR.

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