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Some luxury real estate agents might be mystified that their Chinese buyers don’t want a home situated right beside a scenic lake or river. But for Janet Moore, Global Luxury Real Estate Advisor at Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, it would be fairly obvious that such a property is breaking a cardinal rule of feng shui. After all, she’s been representing luxury buyers in Asian markets for more than 12 years.
The same holds true for Daniela Sassoun, Senior Global Real Estate Advisor and Associate broker at Sotheby’s International Realty – East Side Manhattan Brokerage. Her fluency in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese means her portfolio is filled with overseas clients — so she appreciates the important cultural nuances of each buyer.
“In terms of the size and style of a home, the expectations of a client from Mexico City can be vastly different than those of a client from Madrid,” Sassoun says. “They may share a language, but the culture is very different.”
So, what do luxury agents need to know when navigating transactions and relationships with international buyers — especially when it comes to cultural and linguistic differences? Here are three tips that professionals would do well to keep in mind, according to Moore and Sassoun.
1. Provide clarity around the purchase process
“The most common mistake I see or hear about is that the agent didn’t communicate the process clearly enough,” Moore says. “You need to over-communicate and set the expectations for the clients. Let them also know each timeline, as well as costs — factoring in exchange rates, of course.”
It’s the same advice Sassoun shares. “I have a schedule with a loose timeline that I provide to all clients that delineates what to expect in every step,” she explains.
She notes that agents need to know how the purchase process works in the markets where their foreign buyers are coming from so she can inform them of the differences. “For instance, we do due diligence first in New York, whereas it’s after-contract in most countries. And in Manhattan, processes related to co-ops are hugely different from anywhere else in the world.”
Because these details can make or break a deal — especially with respect to how long it takes to send money and process payments — Sassoun encourages agents to have a list of lawyers and bankers who speak the client’s language.
“On a related note, I found a title company that translates documents into Chinese dialects for me, which makes my process a lot easier than when I used to have to go line by line to explain all the rules and requirements,” says Moore.
2. Immerse yourself in the culture and customs
To understand the unique norms and customs of different cultures, Moore and Sassoun agree that it’s essential for real estate agents to conduct relevant research. While that involves consuming educational content in print or online, nothing compares to traveling to the countries where buyers live, and learning by direct observation and participation.
Traveling can help motivate agents to form a functional foundation in the client’s language, which helps build trust with international buyers and their representatives. Sassoun notes that it also provides opportunities to develop bonds with local brokers and bankers.
Crucially, it provides context and insight into where the client is coming from and what they’re accustomed to. “You can understand the contemporary and traditional architectural styles, and perhaps see firsthand where your buyer currently lives,” says Sassoun.
But above all, it’s the little things that often matter most. “Manners and mannerisms are very important,” notes Moore. “It’s best to learn the common courtesies, and the do’s and don’ts.” For some of her clients, this can be as simple as making sure to hand out business cards with two hands rather than one — it may seem minor, but actually signifies a deep awareness and respect that can make a major difference to an international buyer.
3. Impress them with your nuanced knowledge
It’s imperative to have in-depth awareness of cultures and customs, and a range of social, political, and economic topics that are relevant to individual clients. This extra research drives conversation and lets agents know which subjects to steer clear of, as there will be countries where past or present geopolitical events are contentious.
“Before I take someone out, I get familiarized with what’s going on in their country,” says Sassoun. “Know the situation with the government, the market, and current affairs — you have to be able to carry on a conversation on something other than real estate.”
More than anything, being conversant in a variety of areas helps agents cultivate stronger relationships, which are the crux of every luxury real estate endeavor. “It’s very important to let them know you as a person, so they can trust and like you, and want to do business with you,” says Moore.
“Understand that you will be their conduit to resources,” advises Sassoun. “Do not misplace their trust; be a valued fiduciary, and you may just find yourself as the preferred broker for all their friends back home.”
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