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Imagine in one week visiting Bodrum, Turkey; Vanderbijlpark, South Africa; Baku, Azerbaijan; Santa Ana, El Salvador, and a town called Mtskheta in Georgia. For good measure, mix in trips to Vanua Levu, Fiji; Vilcabamba, Ecuador, and Melbourne, Australia.

Sadly, my passport doesn’t have stamps from any of these destinations, but I was lucky enough to speak with people in each one of these locales within a single work week. During this time, I discovered that applying humility, relatability and credibility can take you to places you never imagined.

At Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® (LeadingRE), we are always reminding agents “We are local. We are global.” They have the ability to help their clients with connections all over the world. I’m on the team that helps make those connections: the Cross Border Referral team. When one of our members has a client with real estate needs outside his or her home country, they contact us—and that’s where the adventure begins.

We collect information from the company’s relocation/business development team, and then we reach out to real estate companies on the destination end to see if they can assist the referring agent’s client. Establishing contact is not always easy; time zones, language barriers and cultural differences can create unique challenges. Relying on email is a quick way to ensure it goes nowhere. At a minimum, send an email and follow it up with a phone call, because, often, when the recipient receives an email in a language other than their own, it’s assumed to be spam.

Drawing on my experiences, I offer these tips for successfully navigating cross-border business.

Humility: Not a linguistics expert, I speak English, some Spanish, dinner-menu French and travel-basics German. Earlier this week, I called a very nice man in Tangier, Morocco, to assist me with a buyer referral. Swallowing my pride, I introduced myself in French, and he jumped in to speak English immediately, as if to say, “Please stop butchering our beautiful language.”

As silly as I sounded, it let him know that I was trying—I needed his help, not the other way around. This gesture (albeit an embarrassing one) was the key. Had I called him and immediately started speaking English, assuming he should understand me, it would appear a bit arrogant. Any time I travel, I try to learn at least a few phrases in the language of the destination; I apply the same rule to referral destinations. We had a good laugh over my bad French, and he was quick to assist me.

Relatability: When you are lucky enough to find someone on the other end of the line who speaks English, speak slowly and clearly. I understand Spanish much better when someone is speaking slowly; I try to remember this when the situation is reversed. I try to avoid clichés and slang, and I always follow up the conversation with an email recap so he or she can use online translation if necessary.

Further appealing to the destination broker or agent, find out what their preferred form of communication is. Many people with whom I speak prefer WhatsApp—some prefer texting. See what’s best for them, and you will get the response you need.

Credibility: Take the time to do a little research on the area. Get an idea for what home prices are so you don’t make an outlandish request, like a €150,000 three-bedroom flat in 6th Arrondissement in Paris, which would be well below the market price. After all, you may have already embarrassed yourself trying to speak the language, and this is an easy pitfall to avoid.

If you’ve only communicated by email or text and the person has a name you’ve never heard of, research it online. Find out the origin of the name and whether it’s male or female. This will prevent you from making an awkward introduction with “him” or “her.” Oftentimes, his or her profile is on the company website, so see what information is offered.

Speaking on the phone creates a humanness that email simply cannot match. It’s not the easier way, but it’s the better way of creating lasting business relationships and making the world a little smaller.

Kinsella_Beth_60x60Beth Kinsella is global member services manager for Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® (LeadingRE), which has 565 member companies in 70 countries around the world. To connect with the best names in real estate, or for more information, please visit

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