Marketing and Selling to Multi-Cultural Buyers

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This week we speak with Fernando Pages.

As bad as the housing market has been hit, there is one group of buyers that continues to grow:  The multi-cultural market – immigrants and their families.  Since 1965,[  the number of first- generation immigrants living in the United States has quadrupled from 9.6 million in 1970 to about 38 million in 2007. 1,046,539 persons were naturalized as U.S. citizens in 2008.  So, if you’re not acknowledging and preparing to sell to this market, you’re probably missing sales.

Fernando Pages immigrated to the U.S. with his family as a child.  As a builder he has recognized and catered to the unique needs of this expanding market.  In our interview, he shares his experiences in building for different ethnic groups, and his advice on how to serve this market:

In the 80’s we were designing and selling small homes and subdivisions for Hispanic clientele. We were selling houses and selling them successfully.  But I began to notice that as soon as we sold a home and the buyers moved in, they started to remodel it. They were changing the houses to better suit their lifestyle, because we had built the houses to suit someone else’s lifestyle. This brought back a memory.

I was 5 years old when my family immigrated to New York. We moved into an apartment that had the typical Anglo-American floor plan, with wide open areas. My family was disturbed by a lack of a proper wall between the kitchen and dining room area. So they put up a makeshift barrier to separate the rooms.

In America we’re used to that open space between the two rooms so that the cook can associate with the guests and we were building homes with that same feature that we thought everyone wanted. But not everyone wanted it. People were remodeling the kitchen to block off that wall and separate the two rooms.

They were also finishing off the garage area with drywall and using it as a dining room. Meals were large social events because they had large families and were using it as an eating area. They would open up the garage door and have this sort of inside/outside experience. They weren’t using the backyard at all, they were using the front yards. The driveway became an entertainment area and the lawn was used to park automobiles.

So, we began looking at how our buyers were using the homes, and we decided to stop building a home they didn’t want but design it exactly the way they wanted to live.  It was a leap of courage because we had to go against the real estate axioms. But we did it first as an experiment on a number of houses. We found that those houses sold first and the people were very happy with it because they wouldn’t have to remodel it to fit their lifestyle.

We found there were certain amenities that worked and others that were unnecessary. We began to do things like finishing off the garages; we extended the feeling of that as a living area. We began building closed kitchens. For many immigrants the kitchen is not a show area, but a shop. The stove isn’t a showpiece, but more like a table saw. These were subtle things, but important to ethnic floor plans.

Differences Among Cultural Groups
What I do is go into an area and specifically identify a group. I go around and talk to them, get to know them. A restaurant is a great place to do this. You can go in and sit down and get to know the owner of the restaurant.

If you ask them directly about floor plans they’ll usually say the same thing – that they’re all the same. But if you dig a little deeper and ask them what bothers them about they’re homes, then they will be a little more specific. If several people of the same group bring up the same problem, then you know it’s not a personal preference but an ethnic one.

For example, with the Vietnamese community I discovered that it was extremely important for them to have an outside venting range hood instead of a recirculating one. Another thing was they would almost all eventually make the garage into a kitchen because they liked to cook outdoors. So we started offering that as an upgrade. The standard kitchen would be in the house but the garage would have all the utilities for a kitchen as well.  We had to make some adjustments for this to work, but we did it and we did it safely.

The argument was that we have 10,000 Vietnamese families here that were bootlegging these kitchens and we didn’t want one of these to explode and anyone to be injured. So it was better for us to build them the right way and make them safe for use. We made the plans and parameters and offered it as an upgrade.

There are all kinds of smaller examples as well, such as Fung Shui. For many cultures it’s a sort of balancing of energies from a spiritual perspective, almost like good luck. An example is that it’s very rude to have the high point of your house pointing at your neighbor across the street. So if you design houses for this group of people, you may want to rethink the way you design this point or gable. You may want to turn the rooms so that you have your gable lines on the side as well.

A stairway facing the front door for them means that all the good energy in the house, all the happiness and love, is going outside the home every time the door is opened. So we have to turn the stairway so it isn’t aiming straight out the door. By addressing these very subtle things, when they have family visit it will not be pointed out and grandma or grandpa will not say anything about it being bad.

I learned about this from a good friend of mine that was having trouble trying to sell the homes I was building. Suddenly, one day he started selling them and I thought, great. But what was happening was he was hiring a Vietnamese remodeler to come into my homes and fix all these little things that were culturally wrong with them. So I was building them and he was fixing these little things for around $3,000, and then people were buying them up.

Merchandising Display Homes for the Multi-Cultural Market
Do your research. If you have one dominant ethnic group in your area then get to know them. Learn a little of the language and the culture. That will turn you into a friendly face and allow you to understand the culture and their likes and dislikes.

If you build those things in as they’re pointed out to you, you’ll sell more homes than your competitor. People want to pass down their traditions to their families.

Homes in the Middle East they have a living area on the roof. One of the things we did for our Middle Eastern buyers was put a flat roof top on the garage so that they would have an area similar to what they had in their homeland.

Adapting for Multiple Buyers
I made an excel sheet and put all the preferences by ethnic group and rated the groups by local population. Then I went through the amenities and decided which ones were a plus and which were of less importance. Another example is for Muslims it’s very important the way the toilets face. They shouldn’t ever face, depending on where you are, towards Mecca.  Also, it’s very important for them to have a separate area for them to wash their face and hands before prayer that’s not beside a latrine or toilet. For many people that’s just an amenity, a little thing. But for Muslim buyers it was essential. So we could point those things out when showing a home to someone that was Muslim.

You don’t need to do a separate plan for every ethnic group. You can instead incorporate these things in such a way that the larger groups in your area find what they are looking for.

The Sales Presentation
Being able to speak the language is a big thing. So if you have an agent or an employee that can speak the language that will help a lot. For a lot of immigrant families it’s difficult for the older ones to learn a new language. So often times the younger ones will do the translating. Being able to speak directly to someone, especially the decision maker or buyer, in their language is a big help.

Even adapting your office to the culture helps the buyer to feel comfortable. If you entered an office in China and they had some baseball memorabilia displayed, you would feel a little bit more at home.

The translating of documents can be difficult, but if you’re into it deep enough, getting those documents translated is great.

Another thing we would do for our traditional Muslim families is have two living areas, one for the males and one for the females.  If you’re sensitive to that, then you can point it out. You can point out the two living areas and they will recognize that you are trying to help them. It’s something that’s sensitive for them and because of your addressing it they will become more comfortable buyers.

If you aren’t seeing an increase in ethnic buyers yet, you will.  Watch the trends in your market; what different nationalities and cultures do you see moving in.  Then, do your homework; learn their cultural preferences and begin looking for ways to incorporate them in your floor plans.  By being culturally sensitive, you’ll get a big head start on your competitors and quickly build relationships that lead to referrals and more sales.

Listen to this weeks audio interview.

Comments (1)

Jack Mossman - The Nines Team at Keller Williams in Stockton
The Nines Team At Keller Williams - Stockton, CA
The Nines Team at Keller Williams in Stockton

Jerry - Great information.  We have such a hard time getting our local builders to vary from their tried and true plans.  They see it as catering to the minority of buyers ... in reality, most of the adjustments made have little impact on buyers without a cultural mind-set.  The highest number of surnames in purchases are: Hispanic, Indian and Chinese .... I like the "upgrade" options that could accommodate some of the cultural preferences.

Sep 28, 2010 07:02 PM