Foreign Home Buyers Help Housing Market – But Be Wary of Cultural Differences

by Chicago Agent

New home buyers from across the globe are presenting new selling experiences for Realtors.

Foreign investment is surging in a myriad of markets across the country, and it’s presenting Realtors with a new batch of situations and challenges they may not be used to anticipating.

According to the National Association of Realtors, in the 12 months leading up to March of this year, home sales from international buyers increased from $66 billion to to $82 billion. The average price paid for the homes was $315,000, a marked contrast to the median U.S. home price of $218,000.

But with new buyers comes new standards of conduct. American communication norms – shaking hands, eye contact, maybe even a light pat on the arm or shoulder – are well-established modes of interaction; however, when showing properties to a prospective buyer from Thailand, for instance, the situation enters a whole new dimension of interaction.

Carol Kope, a broker for Westchester Homes in Yorktown, had such an experience, when she showed a $750,000 property to a family from Thailand. During the showing, Kope patted the family’s three-year-old son on the head. In America, it was a harmless sign of playfulness, but in Thailand, the pat would be a sign of profound disrespect. The boy’s parents did not see the action, but his older sister was quick to notify Kope of its danger.

“She saved the sale,” Kope told the New York Times. “Had the parents seen me do that, they would have walked.”

Diane Cummins, the director of sales for Prudential Douglas Elliman in Katonah and Somers, had a similar sales experience with a family from China. After several showings – none of which seemed to interest the extremely polite family – Cummins was notified by the daughter of the clients that her mother, like many Chinese cooks, needed a home that featured a kitchen stove next to an exterior wall. Because of the hot oils that are used in wok cooking, direct ventilation to the outside would be critical for her cooking.

As soon as Cummins heard this, she showed the clients a $750,000 property with an appropriate kitchen that they promptly purchased.

Cummins calls this new style of real estate “boundary-less real estate,” and she said that Realtors will have to adjust to the new market.

“We’re going to see more and more” foreign clients, Cummins said. “We are still like toddlers when it comes to this aspect of our business.”

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