How to Get—and Keep—International Clients

Tips for where to find overseas buyers and how to communicate with them through the transaction.

April 22, 2016

So you want to expand your client base globally and reach buyers overseas. How do you get their attention from across the pond? In many cases, you can’t rely on good search engine optimization to draw international prospects to your website. You have to take a more proactive approach to find them.

Start by networking online with real estate professionals worldwide. For REALTORS® who have earned the Certified International Property Specialist designation, there’s a database at realtor.org that can help overseas buyers and their agents find qualified professionals in the U.S. market they’re targeting. But you can also join organizations such as the International Real Estate Federation or promote listings on ListHub Global or WorldProperties.com, the website of the International Consortium of Real Estate Associations.

Making the First Contact

When an international prospect contacts you, it’s imperative to remove language barriers from the start. Dan Easton, CIPS, GRI, broker-owner of Three Springs Realty in Blairsville, Ga., uses Google Translate, which allows text on his website to be translated into more than 90 languages. Visitors just select from a drop-down menu to choose their language. He’s also equipped his site with widgets for metric and currency conversion.

“I want my foreign buyers to feel as comfortable as possible about contacting me,” Easton says. He’s also learned to add even more information to his listings to give clients who can’t be there in person more of an incentive to work with him. “The biggest difference between [foreign buyers] and Americans is when foreign buyers are interested in a property, they may want to see a floor plan along with photos and video.” Adding room-by-room dimensions to your property descriptions can also help international buyers with their search when they can’t pay a visit in person.

Keeping Them Engaged

E-mail and texting are a standard way to keep in contact with long-distance clients, but it wouldn’t be wise to rely solely on those forms of communication. Though many international buyers purchase property sight unseen, it doesn’t work that way when choosing an agent, says Marsha Collins-Mroz, CIPS, GRI, a sales associate with HomeSmart Connect in Arlington Heights, Ill.

At the beginning of a relationship with an overseas client, you should set up a video chat via Skype, Join Me, or another service to establish rapport. Have a translator on hand in case you need extra help communicating across languages. “People do want to see you at some point and know who they are working with,” Collins-Mroz says. Services like Join Me allow you to share your screen so you can show a listings page while discussing properties.

During the initial video meet-and-greet, you should ask international clients what their preferred method of communication is, says Mallina Wilson, ABR, CIPS, a sales associate with Keller Williams Western Realty in Bellingham, Wash. E-mail may be sufficient for some, while others may prefer certain apps that allow for photo sharing, texting, and voice memos all in one. WeChat is such an app popular in Asia, and Wilson says she often uses it as her primary correspondence with Chinese buyers.

“You should be using whatever tools and technology your clients do,” Wilson says. Collins-Mroz also uses Viber, an app that allows users to call each other free from anywhere in the world.

Doing Something Extra

International transactions are often more difficult to navigate, so it’s important to go the extra mile to show clients your commitment to their satisfaction. For brokers, that may mean hiring agents or someone on staff who can speak the language of your target demographic. Paul Martis, CIPS, a commercial broker with Coldwell Banker in Oak Brook, Ill., hires sales associated who are fluent in Mandarin and Hindi in hopes of attracting Asian clients locally and abroad.

“When you’re trying to work with a foreign investor, it’s much easier when you have someone on your team who speaks their language and understands where they’re coming from,” Martis says.

Individual agents may decide to have a translator on hand during all stages of the transaction in order to make clients feel like they’re being heard at every stage. Wilson and Collins-Mroz have translators ready for three-way calling with clients and to translate documents. Collins-Mroz sometimes even travels abroad to deliver documents to her overseas clients and explain them in person—which doubles as a good excuse to get out of the country and immerse herself in another culture, she says.

But a big key to successful transactions with overseas clients is providing enough photos and video of a property to make them feel well-informed about their purchase choice. Silvia Dukes, CIPS, CRS, a sales associate with Tropic Shores Realty in Spring Hill, Fla., says most of her clients want to see more imagery than a typical listing provides. “I’ll take as many pictures as they want to see, and I’ll create video tours exclusively for them and upload them to YouTube,” she says. “I want to do as much as I can to make sure they know what they are buying and will not be disappointed once they get here.”

That kind of accommodation resonates with foreign buyers because they typically need more time to understand how U.S. real estate differs from their home country and to make a purchase decision. “Otherwise, working with a foreign buyer is not that different than working with a client who is out of state,” Dukes says. “You just have to keep track of the difference in time zones.”

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