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While English may be the language of international business, politics, and economics, it is not used exclusively everywhere. Wealth is accumulating outside the Global West, with burgeoning markets and thriving groups of wealthy peoples who can reasonably expect to be treated in their mother tongue. And the number of these potential clients will grow as the world’s wealth continues to be redistributed.
When language barriers and cultural differences inevitably arise while attracting and communicating with international clients, what are the best strategies to overcome them? Here are nine tips shared by two luxury agents who are well-informed about international deals.
1. Become a bona fide expert in international real estate
Once you’ve decided that you want to specialize in this field, commit to honing your expertise before diving in. “There are licenses, certifications and other educational opportunities that will better prepare you in this field and differentiate you in the eyes of who you want – be clients,” says Sandy Sikens, professional real estate agent at LIV Sotheby’s International Realty.
2. Understand the do’s and don’ts in your customers’ culture
You need an accurate and sophisticated knowledge of the cultural norms of your international clients. Says Harry Nasir, Senior Global Real Estate Advisor and Associate Broker at Sotheby’s International Realty – East Side Manhattan Brokerage.
3. Develop practical knowledge of customer language
Learning another language is not easy. But if you want to demonstrate true excellence in global real estate, having a functional facility in the language of your target clients is an asset. “Tools like Duolingo and Babylon are great resources for learning the basics of the language,” Sikens advises.
4. Select translation tools and services that suit you
“I speak Portuguese, French and Spanish fluently, and I also have working knowledge of Italian, Arabic and Hebrew,” Nasir says. “I often work with Chinese buyers, and in the past I always needed a translator. All that changed one day when a buyer from China brought in an “electronic translator” that allowed us to communicate directly.” Nowadays, these tools are widespread. Duolingo and Babylon can both help with translation in real time, but there are also apps dedicated to this, such as Translate Me.
5. Know the documents needed to get to the letter
“In general, the process of searching for property and transactions is the same no matter what language you speak,” Sekens notes. The difficulty lies in translating documents to ensure that the client not only understands the process but also gets the representation he is looking for. Deep knowledge of all contracts and forms required is a huge bonus and part of our primary fiduciary responsibility to our clients around the world.”
6. Be patient when it comes to complex industry concepts
While buying and selling real estate may have in common in most parts of the world, each region and real estate market has its own dynamics – and as Nasser explains, this is where language barriers can complicate matters. “For example, in some cultures, there are no bidding wars, and it takes time for buyers to accept that others are competing for the same property,” he says. International buyers may not be familiar with concepts that are seen as popular in the United States. For example, Nasser had to help clients understand the difference between co-ops and condominiums. He points out that when speaking in different languages, it is necessary to ensure that nothing is lost in translation.
7. Stay informed on the economics of your target market
While it’s not necessarily about language or culture barriers, Seekins reminds agents that when working with international buyers, it’s important to be fluent in more than just languages. “You also have to be good at the economy, the currency, and the exchange rates of their markets. These have a huge impact on investment performance when buying and selling overseas,” she says.
8. Cooperating with another agent can help develop trust
“I would highly advise clients to partner with colleagues who not only speak the client’s language but also understand their culture,” Nasser says. “When I had a buyer from China coming to see one of my listings, I asked a Chinese agent to help me when I first offered the apartment. The buyers immediately felt comfortable and we closed the sale.”
9. To keep an eye on one prize, you better specialize
While incredibly rewarding, mastering the international market – along with languages and cultures – is complex, and well worth the time and attention it deserves. “As agents, we need to specialize,” says Sikens. “Target an area and an audience relevant to your area, where it’s better to be exceptional at one thing than often mediocre.”
By being properly prepared and having the right tools at your disposal, you will be ready to fill any gaps while expanding into international real estate.