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Can You Work with Foreign Buyers?

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By Andrew Taylor

COMMENTARY—Domestic American buyers today are too few or can’t afford the current housing market. International buyers often have greater buying power, and their numbers are growing rapidly.

These two basic facts are driving a globalization of the real estate business in the US. This comes with opportunities for agents.

The most obvious sign of globalization is the increasing number of sales going to foreign buyers. In California and Texas, about 1 out of every 10 homes sold goes to a foreigner. In Florida, about 1 in 3 does.

Agents who seek out foreign buyers have an advantage with both foreign buyers and local sellers.

As I run an international property portal for Chinese homebuyers, Juwai.com, most of my focus is on Chinese buyers, who are currently the fastest-growing buyer demographic in the US.

Joel Goodrich, a San Francisco agent whose listings range from half-million dollar properties to $20-million dollar mansions, told me, “Many of my sellers ask me about international buyers, and especially China. When I tell them that I will market their property to every potential buyer in the US, and also overseas, they have more confidence in my ability to get the best price possible for them.”

Agents often ask me for my advice on working with foreign buyers. Here are my four top tips:

1. Be prepared to help them compare properties in widely different geographical areas. Juwai.com recently received an inquiry from a buyer in Beijing who wants to spend $1.5 million on a home in the US, either in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles or Las Vegas. To work with this kind of buyer, you need to be able to compare and contrast not just nearby neighborhoods, but different cities and even different states.

2. It’s a cliché but nonetheless true that real estate is a people business. Invest effort in building a bond with your buyer. Learn something about their home economy and political situation, and even a few words from their language, especially “thank you”. Don’t be shy to ask what they want, and ask repeatedly—if you have to—in order to get the information you need.

3. An educated buyer is a good buyer. Make sure your foreign buyer understands your credentials and how the agency relationship works. Explain the basic economic and market data about the area they are considering. It helps them if you can refer them to all the other service providers they will need, including a tax advisor and a good attorney.

4. If you are a member of NAR, take their training course called “Expand Your Market” and get certified as an International Property Specialist. Educating yourself and improving your credentials will make you more impressive to—and more successful with—foreign buyers.

Andrew Taylor is Founder – CEO Sales & Marketing of Juwai.com, the No. 1 Chinese real estate portal for property in the US and around the world. Andrew has over a decade of online and media experience, and a half-decade providing online services to agents.

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