Foreign Service

In 2009, nearly a quarter of REALTORS® had at least one international client. Here's how to keep those buyers happy.

May 1, 2010

Helping buyers scoop up big bargains in South Florida is Peter Zalewski’s specialty. The former financial journalist made a career switch in 2006 when he saw a growing opportunity in Miami’s overbuilt condo market.

Zalewski, CIPS, got his real estate license and launched a brokerage—unabashedly named Condo Vultures LLC—with the goal of connecting buyers with deeply discounted properties. His Bal Harbour, Fla.–based company now has 30 sales practitioners.

He and his teammate, Jenny Huertas, CIPS, director of international sales, close an average of eight sales per month that involve foreign buyers. Through their work, they’ve learned a few lessons worth sharing.

Lesson 1: You must be a good teacher. Many U.S.–based buyers know little about the purchasing process, but foreign buyers are even less familiar with it. "For some buyers, especially those from Latin America, the process can be a bit confusing and intimidating compared with how real estate is handled in their country," Huertas says. Patience is required as you carefully walk them through each step.

Lesson 2: Learn the buyer’s language. You don’t need to be fluent in the client’s language, but it helps to know basic terms that are involved in a real estate transaction. Ideas can easily get lost in translation. 

Lesson 3: Find out where they’re coming from. What’s the economy like in their part of the world? Why do they want to buy here? "In the past, when there was a currency crisis in Latin America, some of the richest and brightest came to South Florida to invest," Huertas says. Now, foreign buyers are attracted to the weak dollar and discounted prices. Insight into the other economies can help you to explain why it’s a smart idea to purchase in your market.

Lesson 4: Be organized and responsive. A large share of foreign home buyers—nearly than 46 percent, according to NAR’s research—pay cash for their U.S. property. They expect to close quickly, so you must be ready and able to make that happen, Zalewski says. In addition, you have to be available to work with buyers intensely during typically short visits to the United States.

Lesson 5: Go out and get them. Huertas regularly visits other countries to hold buyer seminars and creates promotional videos in other languages, and she’s diligent about following up on international referrals. "The key to success in anything you do is consistency," she says. 

Get Certified

The Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation includes courses on crosscultural relationships, regional market conditions, investment performance, tax issues, and other subjects. Visit

Katherine Tarbox is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine. Previously, she was editorial director for Washington Life. She is the author of the international bestselling book A Girl’s Life (Dutton, 2000) and has made hundreds of media appearances including The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and CNN.