NEW ORLEANS – Nov. 14, 2014 – Sales to international buyers reached a record $92.2 billion last year, making it a growing opportunity for Realtors® who want to globalize their real estate business to attract international clients, according to experts at last week's 2014 Realtors Conference & Expo in New Orleans.
Referrals drive nearly 60 percent of international transactions, said panelist Eleonore Rojas, vice president of partnerships and product integration at Move Inc., the operator of realtor.com. That makes it critical for Realtors to network in local and business communities to expand and grow their international clientele.
Rojas recommends networking locally with clubs, community organizations, Chambers of Commerce, and local and state Realtor associations. She also recommends business networking at local and global conferences, where Realtors can make business connections with foreign real estate professionals – a future source of referrals.
When it comes to portals showcasing listings to international buyers, Rojas recommends global listings aggregators with translation services, like realtor.com/international. She also suggests niche luxury and commercial sites, and franchise portals. Realtor.com/international includes listings from 40 countries in 11 languages. The site also supports home dimension and currency convertors, and it allows consumers to search for a National Association of Realtors' (NAR) Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) whose specializes in global transactions.
"A Realtor needs to be in the middle of every international transaction to help foreign buyers successfully navigate the U.S. market and find a property that meets their needs," said Rojas. She advised Realtors to think globally and be aware of time zones, cultural differences, global influencing factors such as exchange rates, and local and global market conditions.
Nearly half of international buyers search local websites for foreign properties, because those brands and websites are familiar to them and content is presented in their own language. The other half looks to websites in countries where they're searching for properties.
"No matter where consumers look for listings, you want be there to service them and help them meet their property buying needs," said Celeste Starchild, vice president and general manager at ListHub.
Starchild suggested that Realtors market themselves as local market experts with international expertise. She recommends making a great first impression to potential clients with a clean, well-organized and welcoming website that includes plenty of photos and videos to showcase the local community.
Starchild also said Realtors should translate their website text into one or more languages, offer currency conversion tools or tables, and research the countries they plan to target. They should also take cultural differences into consideration with the design of their website, such as selecting appropriate photos or colors.
"If you have a target market of buyers in mind, translating your website into that language will help clients find and navigate your site," she said. "Translating your content also allows your site to be found in Internet search results, since some search engines will eliminate sites not in the searcher's selected language."
International buyers search for properties across the U.S., but California, Florida, New York and Texas are most popular. Arizona, Illinois and Nevada are increasingly growing in popularity, while Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington are up-and-coming markets for international buyers.
Rojas said foreign buyers tend to show preference to certain parts of the U.S. market. The markets of greatest interest to European buyers are California, Florida, New York and Texas; Australian buyers prefer California, Michigan, Nevada and New York; and Chinese buyers, so far, focus on California, New York and Washington.
Chinese buyers are the fastest growing segment of international buyers in the U.S. because of rising affluence and appreciation of the Chinese yuan, said Starchild. U.S. property remains affordable, but tight credit standards favor cash buyers, and 76 percent of Chinese buyers reported all-cash purchases of U.S. properties. Chinese buyers typically purchase more expensive homes in high-end markets, but markets like Dallas, Seattle and Irvine, Texas are of growing interest.
China has strict Internet regulations. That makes it a challenge for U.S. agents to market to Chinese buyers. Even so, more than 90 million search for homes each year on sites like Fang.com, a leading real estate website in China that dominates with a 50 percent market share of listings, said Starchild.
Rojas recommended several technology tools and messaging apps for Realtors working with international clients, including WhatsApp and WeChat, which translate messages and allow agents to quickly and easily share videos and photos with their clients.
"Find out what your clients are using and connect with them on the platform that they most prefer," Rojas said.
High season for many international sales is the opposite from the U.S. market, where property buying peaks in the warmer spring and summer months, Rojas added. Summer is typically a time when foreign nationals take extended holidays, and real estate markets abroad tend to slow down.
"International sales typically peak during the U.S.'s slower winter months. This creates an opportunity for agents to take advantage of the slower U.S. market and focus their work on international buyers," she said.
Starchild ended the session with some final words of advice for attendees: "Invest in your global education, define your space, set measureable and realistic goals, partner with trusted technology providers, and then continue to define and redefine your goals."
© 2014 Florida Realtors®