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(Above) Credit: Matthew Ferrara, Dean of Innovation, LeadingRE; philosopher, photographer, writer and professional speaker

LeadingRE’s Culturally-Inclusive Approach to Business, Abroad and at Home

Editor’s Note: This is the cover story in the April issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine. Subscribe today. 

Simply having a presence in countries around the globe doesn’t necessarily mean you embrace cultural diversity. Truly understanding cultural diversity goes much deeper than that.

“When you have members in more than 75 countries encompassing so many different cultures, there’s a real art to doing business,” says Paul Boomsma, president and CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® (LeadingRE). “Global opportunities involve dealing with someone who is not like you, and that’s what embracing diversity is all about—not just understanding your differences, but celebrating them, and helping people realize their dream of homeownership. If we don’t do this well, we won’t be successful.”

Clearly, LeadingRE is very successful at doing just that. The organization facilitated introductions into more than 100 countries over the last year, and, as members continue to strengthen relationships with network colleagues, the frequency of these introductions is expected to rise.

“There is a very high level of trust, which is essential when you are referring clients internationally,” explains LeadingRE member Berry Everitt, Group CEO of Chas Everitt International Property Group in Johannesburg, South Africa. “The LeadingRE events enable us to interact personally, learn about one another’s countries and real estate markets, and build friendships as well as business relationships. This further facilitates our mutual success in an increasingly global marketplace.”

LeadingRE’s 2018 Global Symposium was held in Barcelona, Spain at the Hotel Arts. Members from among the network’s more than 75 countries came together to connect, learn and celebrate accomplishments. (Credit: AJ Canaria of PlanOmatic)

But for LeadingRE, cultural awareness is not just about doing deals across borders; it’s about a commitment to doing business in a way that recognizes—and encompasses—diversity, no matter where you are in the world, including right here in the U.S.

To that end, LeadingRE makes sure cultural diversity is not just a principle that sits atop the organization, but a pulse that beats throughout the entire network. Through a series of events and training, the organization makes cultural awareness and sensitivity part of its DNA.

LeadingRE President & CEO Paul Boomsma leads an exchange on the trends impacting the industry at the network’s 2019 conference with (L to R) LeadingRE Chief Economist Dr. Marci Rossell; Mike Pappas, The Keyes Company; Carol Bulman, Jack Conway & Co.; Chris Dietz, LeadingRE; Lennox Scott, John L. Scott Real Estate; and (not pictured) Steve Harney, Keeping Current Matters.

“We host ‘The World of Real Estate’ series at our global events to introduce people to the real estate practices of other countries and cultures,” says LeadingRE EVP of Global Operations Chris Dietz. “We have our cross-border introduction service to make those personal connections and help our people understand the nuances of this type of business. We also offer courses through Institute, our 24/7 online learning platform. And, our recent general session speaker at our annual conference was Professor Erin Meyer, author of ‘The Culture Map,’ whose presentation focused on the importance of cultural sensitivity.”

LeadingRE’s luxury home marketing division, Luxury Portfolio International®, extends this education with an emphasis on high-net worth individuals around the world. A recent whitepaper, “Luxury Real Estate: What Matters Most to Today’s Global Elite,” revealed differences—and commonalities—among affluent consumers in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America. According to Luxury Portfolio President Stephanie Anton, “being able to offer deep, research-based insights into the global, affluent consumer helps our members deepen their relationships and better serve their customers.”

This widespread investment in varied and consistent cultural diversity education is a proven factor in the success of LeadingRE’s members. As Dima Lorenz, managing director of Ark Properties in Shanghai, says, “There is no question that most of our markets are becoming more global, and with a well-documented increase of non-local buyers in almost all key international markets, a certain amount of cultural sensitivity is a foundation for moving forward.”

And, while LeadingRE’s global diversity training prepares members to do business around the world, it also helps American members embrace diversity at home.

Brokerage leaders from around the world recently gathered at LeadingRE’s Conference Week in Las Vegas (L to R): Jeremy Hurst, IRG Intl. Realty Group, British West Indies; Dima Lorenz, Ark Properties, Shanghai, China; Benedetta Viganò, Giorgio Viganò Real Estate, Milan Italy; Chris Dietz, LeadingRE; Berry Everitt, Chas Everitt Intl. Property Group, Johannesburg, South Africa; Frank Morrice Arias, Servmor Realty, Panama City, Panama (Credit: AJ Canaria of PlanOmatic)

“When you open your mind, you start to see how many global cultures exist right here in the U.S.,” explains Boomsma, concerned that many real estate professionals overlook the impact and the opportunities. “Currently, 350 different languages are spoken in the United States, and 22 percent of the population speaks a language other than English at home,” he explains. “There are more non-English speaking people in New York City than there are in London. The bottom line is that diversity of all kinds is around us wherever we are, and we all need to pay attention to it.”

For Boomsma and the team at LeadingRE, cultural diversity is not just another bullet point in their value proposition…it’s fundamentally who they are. “It’s a key part of what we do,” he says. “We’re introducing someone, somewhere in the world every few minutes, so we see the amount of movement happening globally. We’re open-minded and ready to embrace someone everywhere in the world at all times.”

Ambassadors of Global Diversity
Carrying out the mission to embrace global diversity is LeadingRE’s network of 565 brokers located on six continents. Each day, they’re looking beyond borders to build business and, more importantly, lifelong relationships. Here, five members from various corners of the globe share how diversity has led their business, their markets and their mindsets toward important growth.

Having grown up in his family’s real estate business, Berry Everitt officially joined Chas Everitt International in 1990 and bought the firm from his father, Charles, in 1997. What started as a relatively small, family-owned company in Johannesburg has grown into the fourth-largest real estate company in South Africa, with what Everitt describes as “154 points of presence across the country” and about 1,300 agents.

According to Everitt, his company thrives in one of the most culturally-rich areas of the globe.

“Known as the ‘Rainbow Nation,’ South Africa really is one of the most diverse, cosmopolitan countries in the world, a melting pot that continues to surprise outsiders with its high level of acceptance and tolerance for different languages, ethnicities, cultures and beliefs—and to attract more immigrants as its democracy matures,” says Everitt.

Embracing cultural diversity will be critical for real estate firms to succeed today and into the future, says Everitt. “Investors everywhere seek the best returns,” he explains. “However, the investors bring their own perspectives, with likes, dislikes and beliefs that are grounded in their own experiences and environments. Thus, it is vital for real estate companies to have the intercontinental cultural savvy—or access to local experts in an organization like LeadingRE—to make their offering compelling to widely diverse investors in different locales.”

Dima Lorenz started Ark Properties in Shanghai in 2005 with his business partner and now wife, Kate.

When it comes to doing business in a global environment, Dima and Kate Lorenz embody the very definition of cultural diversity. “I myself am a German passport holder, born in Hong Kong to a Russian emigrant family, but grew up in Germany and was educated in the UK. My wife comes from a British expatriate family, but had her entire upbringing abroad, in Africa and the Middle East. We now live in Hong Kong and commute between Hong Kong and Shanghai. This set-up alone is grounds for enough cultural confusion,” laughs Lorenz.

However, it has given the Lorenzes an intimate understanding of the importance of embracing global diversity. “We are dealing with clients from the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia and putting them together with Chinese landlords on any given day,” he explains. “My wife is a certified cross-cultural trainer and executive coach. We conduct sessions and workshops regularly for our team to make sure they have the right skills—or just general awareness to deal with clients from various backgrounds.”

And despite their personal backgrounds and accumulated expertise in cultural diversity, the Lorenzes describe joining LeadingRE as an “eye-opener.”

“Having access to privately-owned leading brokerages that share the same passion for their clients and local communities has given us the opportunity to really understand the cultural norms displayed in other real estate markets,” explains Lorenz.

Founded in 1960, Giorgio Viganò Real Estate is headed by 29-year real estate veteran Benedetta Viganò.

The company enjoys a healthy, active market in Milan. According to Viganò, since the 2015 EXPO—a universal, six-month exposition—Milan has become the point of reference for residential and commercial real estate investments.

Being prepared to do business in a global environment is critical to Viganò’s success, she explains. “Italy has signed the Reciprocity Act; therefore, almost anyone can buy here, if an Italian can buy in their countries,” she explains. “Opportunities are many, and surely, the most important (factor) is word-of-mouth. If you sell a property to a foreign buyer, he or she will certainly refer your company to their friends and clients because they know you are an expert, and they trust you because you respect their culture.”

The importance of embracing global diversity—and the role that LeadingRE plays—cannot be underestimated, says Viganò. “Clients who want to move to other countries need to be understood and respected. It is always scary to buy where you are a foreign citizen, as it might take years before you are able to embrace another culture. Our long history with LeadingRE has helped us to know the cultural differences of other countries, and the relationships we have built allow us to introduce our clients to people we know personally.”

Thriving in the ever-growing Philippines real estate market, Pinnacle Real Estate Consulting Services, Inc. is led by Michael Mabutol, with 18 years in the real estate business. With two offices, 150 full-time employees and more than 800 co-brokers across the nation, Mabutol helps the firm navigate important market trends, such as co-working spaces, income-generating properties and township projects.

According to Mabutol, “the Philippine market has been continuously diversifying. A few years ago, service offices and co-working spaces were virtually unheard of, but now, there are more than 150 players in this space. The retail market is equally buoyant despite heavy competition from the e-commerce industry. The government has cleared some roadblocks for the implementation of REITs, which will provide local and foreign investors more options to park their capital.”

Michael Mabutol shares insights with fellow members during LeadingRE’s Global Symposium. (Credit: AJ Canaria of PlanOmatic)

All of this is leading to an increasingly global landscape. “We’re living in a global market,” explains Mabutol. “Opportunities are coming from different parts of the world. Borders are also becoming increasingly porous, enabling much-needed capital to cross borders more efficiently. For instance, the ASEAN region is slowly integrating into a single market, and companies that embrace diversity and are well-equipped to work with other nationalities will find success in every market they venture into.”

This is where LeadingRE is an invaluable asset, allowing Mabutol to learn from fellow members and share information and best practices. “Being part of LeadingRE has opened doors for us and enabled us to tap into other markets.”

Frank Morrice Arias has been the broker/owner of Panama’s Servmor Realty since 2001. Servmor has been the largest firm in MLS production for Panama since 2012.

With an overstock of inventory in the mid- to high-residential market, Morrice currently finds himself in a buyer’s market. However, he expects an improvement in Latin American economies to help absorb excess inventory in the years ahead. “Panama’s GDP has grown over 5 percent in recent years, and 2019 is forecasting a 6.3 percent increase in GDP, so our general fundamentals are okay,” he explains.

According to Morrice, one of the main challenges for firms outside of the U.S. is a “lack of adequate policies to regulate the industry, develop new agents and implement an MLS, which has an impact on the level of professionalism. We started an MLS in 2012, which has been a catalyst to increase the level of transparency and professionalism in our industry, but it is a culture change. We expect it will take several more years for it to be the norm.”

In the meantime, Morrice is able to take advantage of different opportunities and educate himself on how to increase business through his involvement with LeadingRE. “I do believe real estate is local, but being able to have access to relationships and understanding the global marketplace through our affiliation with LeadingRE has lots of value. It is critical for undeveloped markets like ours to learn from more developed markets like the U.S. so we can establish strategies on how we can be better and create more value for our customers.”

A World of Possibility
Ultimately, LeadingRE’s roadmap is focused on driving opportunities to its members worldwide and providing systems, connections and education to support their success—including the insights that come from being part of a truly global organization.

“We are uniquely positioned to benefit from the diversity that comes from having members in all corners of the world,” says Boomsma. “Whether working with a client from another country or within your own diverse community, tapping into what we can learn from one another is incredibly powerful.” 

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Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at