I’m sure you’d love your own piece of an $82.5 billion pie. The eye-popping figure was the total spent on U.S. real estate by international buyers between March 2011 and March 2012, according to the new NAR Profile of International Home Buying Activity. Even more astounding is that it’s $16 billion higher than the total for the previous year.
Interest in U.S. real estate is on the rise, and international buyers are seeking out U.S. agents to be their eyes and ears stateside. From afar, they recognize the strong signs of a buyer’s market, including affordability and the opportunity to invest in desirable locations—especially Arizona, California and Florida—where international sales are highest. It’s clearly good news for the agents in these states, which were among the hardest hit during the housing downturn. Whether agents outside these areas reap some of the benefits of an active international marketplace is entirely up to them.
Despite the upswing in international activity, the number of REALTORS® who have worked with international clients has remained unchanged for the past few years. In 2007—at the start of the U.S. recession—32 percent of REALTORS® reported having international clients. Just a year later, the percentage dropped to 26 percent. But even as the U.S. real estate climate has warmed, REALTORS® overall haven’t increased their attention on the international arena.
A couple of the primary concerns I hear from agents about international transactions don’t need to hold them back. One reason they give for not diving in is the low international demand in their local market. It may be true that global buyers aren’t flocking to your area, but just like international buyers are working across borders, agents can, too.
Right now, there are a million other REALTORS® in other markets across the U.S. who would be more than happy to share a commission if you can introduce them to a motivated buyer with ready capital.
How do you find these buyers to either work with or refer to others? Making a direct appeal and offering specialized knowledge provide the best chance at earning their business.
A direct appeal can be as simple as adding keywords to your website to increase the possibility that international buyers will find you and your listings. In fact, this is a great start, considering 21 percent of international buyers found their agent through a listing website. There’s a massive international audience on social media, as well. Think about ways to cast a wider geographic net and adapt the strategies you’re using now to gain new consumer contacts on your social networks. Engaging real estate agents in other countries is equally valuable, not to mention other agents in the U.S. who are busy with international transactions.
Another reason agents shy away from generating global business has to do with the complexity of the transactions. Language barriers and differences in tax laws and real estate regulations across countries can present real challenges. But they’re not insurmountable.
Gaining specialized knowledge provides the extra edge in attracting new international clients and successfully closing transactions for them. If you’re at all interested in capturing international clients, I encourage you to look into the Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation. It could be one of the most important steps you take to expand your business this year.
The upward trend in international sales of U.S. real estate is just getting started. I strongly recommend staying ahead of it.
Margaret Kelly (CRB) is chief executive officer of RE/MAX, LLC.
For more information, visit www.remax.com.