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With sales to international buyers reaching a record $92.2 billion last year, there are growing opportunities for real estate agents to globalize their real estate business and attract international clients. During the “Managed Solutions for Reaching International Buyers” session at the 2014 Realtors Conference & Expo, experts offered advice for how agents can grow their global business and reach the international marketplace.
Panelist Eleonore Rojas, vice president of partnerships and product integration at Move Inc., the operator of realtor.com, NAR’s official property listing Web site, said referrals drive nearly 60 percent of international transactions, so it’s critical that agents network in their local and business communities to help expand and grow their international clientele.
Rojas recommends networking locally with clubs, community organizations, Chambers of Commerce, and local and state Realtor associations. She also recommends business networking at local and global conferences, where agents can make important business connections with foreign real estate professionals who may be a future source of referrals.
When it comes to portals showcasing listings to international buyers, Rojas recommends global listings aggregators with translation services, like realtor.com/international. She also suggests niche luxury and commercial sites, and franchise portals. Realtor.com/international includes listings from 40 countries in 11 languages. The site also supports home dimension and currency convertors and allows for consumers to search for a National Association of Realtors (NAR)-Certified International Property Specialist, whose specialty is global transactions.
“A Realtor needs to be in the middle of every international transaction to help foreign buyers successfully navigate the U.S. market and find a property that meets their needs,” said Rojas.
She advised agents to think globally and be aware of time zones, cultural differences, global influencing factors such as exchange rates, and local and global market conditions. According to Rojas, nearly half of international buyers search local Web sites for foreign properties, because those brands and sites are familiar to them in their country and the content is presented in their own language. The other half of international buyers looks to sites in countries where they are searching for properties.
“No matter where consumers are looking for listings, you want be there to service them and help them meet their property buying needs,” said Celeste Starchild, vice president and general manager at ListHub, who recommended that Realtors globalize their sites to help attract foreign clients. Starchild suggests that agents market themselves as local market experts with international expertise. She recommends making a great first impression to potential clients with a clean, well-organized and welcoming site that includes plenty of photos and videos to showcase the local community. Starchild also said agents should translate their site text into one or more languages, offer currency conversion tools or tables and do research on the countries they plan to target, so they can and take cultural considerations into the design of your site, such as selecting appropriate photos or colors.
“If you have a target market of buyers in mind, translating your Web site into that language will help clients find and navigate your site,” she said. “Translating your content also allows your site to be found in Internet search results, since some search engines will eliminate sites not in the searcher’s selected language.”
International buyers search for properties across the U.S., but California, Florida, New York and Texas are the most popular. Arizona, Illinois and Nevada are increasingly growing in popularity, while Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington are up-and-coming markets for international buyers. Rojas said foreign buyers tend to show preference to certain parts of the U.S. market. The markets of greatest interest to European buyers are California, Florida, New York and Texas; Australian buyers prefer California, Michigan, Nevada and New York; and Chinese are buying in California, New York and Washington.
Starchild said Chinese buyers are the fastest growing segment of international buyers in the U.S. because of rising affluence and appreciation of the Chinese yuan. U.S. property remains affordable, but tight credit standards favor cash buyers; 76 percent of Chinese buyers reported all-cash purchases of U.S. properties. Chinese buyers typically purchase more expensive homes in high-end markets, but markets like Dallas, Seattle and Irvine, Texas are of growing interest.
China has strict Internet regulations that make it a challenge for U.S. agents to market to Chinese buyers, but more than 90 million are searching for homes each year on sites like Fang.com, a Chinese site that dominates with a 50 percent market share of listings, said Starchild.
Rojas recommended several technology tools and messaging apps for real esate agents working with international clients, including WhatsApp and WeChat, which translate messages and allow agents to quickly and easily share videos and photos with their clients. “Find out what your clients are using and connect with them on the platform that they most prefer,” Rojas said.
Rojas said that high season for many international sales is the opposite from the U.S. market, where property buying peaks in the warmer spring and summer months; summer is typically a time when foreign nationals take extended holidays and real estate markets abroad tend to slow down.
“International sales typically peak during the U.S.’s slower winter months. This creates an opportunity for agents to take advantage of the slower U.S. market and focus their work on international buyers,” Rojas said.
Starchild ended the session with some final words of advice for attendees.
“Invest in your global education, define your space, set measureable and realistic goals, partner with trusted technology providers, and then continue to define and redefine your goals,” she said.