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How to Tap the Canadian Market

February 5, 2013

Canadians make up the biggest contingent of foreign buyers of U.S. residential real estate. Could they represent a niche opportunity in your market?

If you’re in the Sunbelt, the answer is definitely yes. If you’re not, you may be surprised to learn there are pockets of Canadian expats and snowbirds in many other areas of the U.S. A little research on your part will be required to crack this nut. Start with research resources in the Global section of NAR’s site (realtor.org/research/research/reportsintl). But don’t stop there. Talk to your local association’s Global Business Council to see if they know of Canadians buying property in your area.

A great online resource is the Canadian Expat Network, at canadianexpatnetwork.com. Under Resources, click Canadian Groups for a list of Canadian expat organizations by state; also connect with their page on Facebook. Call the nearest Canadian Consulate and ask about Canadian presence in your vicinity. Inquire about communities with pockets of Canadian residents, Canadian-based companies with locations and transferees in your area, and about a local chapter of the Canadian Snowbird Association.

Target a part of Canada

Based upon where you are located (East or West) and where Canadians in your area hail from, choose several cities in Canada for prospecting. Most Canadians purchasing property in the U.S. come from major urban centers and their surrounding suburbs. If you are in the South Atlantic states, you will probably want to focus your effort on Eastern Canadian cities like Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton. In the West, look toward Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.

Educate yourself

Selling to foreign buyers requires mastery of a lot of information, as well as knowing when to consult other professional advisors in areas outside your expertise. Learn more about these topics:

Differences in real estate business practices between the U.S. and CanadaThough Canadian and U.S. property transfers are similar, they differ on how transactions are completed. In Canada, the closing phase of a home purchase or sale is handled by the real estate brokerage’s conveyance department and the client’s lawyer. Explain to your Canadian buyers how escrow works (if they are commonly practiced in your market) in a U.S. transfer, and the role of a title insurance company.

Potential cross-border pitfallsTax and visa considerations are significant issues in cross-border transactions. You don’t have to know the minutiae of the law or how to navigate it (refer clients to other professionals for that). But you should be acquainted with issues relevant to your client’s situation. Depending on length of stay and use of property, your buyer could be subject to U.S. income tax, withholding on rental income, capital gains and estate taxes. Make your buyers aware of these issues before they buy and encourage them to seek professional advice so they don’t encounter unexpected consequences.

Ancillary costs of ownershipAbsentee ownership has many hidden costs. Make sure your clients are aware of them during the purchase process. Depending on the area and the nature of the property, the costs of homeowners insurance, hurricane insurance, property management, maintenance, upkeep and utilities can become substantial.

How your market compares to othersChances are your clients won’t just be considering properties in your market, but in other parts of the U.S. and even Canada too. Make sure you know how the prices, expected returns, property taxes and other metrics for your area measure up to other hotspots for Canadians. Is Palm Springs a better deal for your client than Scottsdale? The more you understand about your market in relation to others, the smarter you’ll look to your clients.

Reach out locally

Begin by prospecting with people geographically closest to you. If there is a local chapter of the Canadian Snowbird Association, get to know the members and consider sponsoring an event. Contact state and local government agencies tasked with marketing your area to Canada, like local tourism and convention groups, and economic development organizations. If there are offices or facilities of Canadian-based companies in your area, contact their human resources departments to offer your services to transferees. Don’t forget to reach out to local colleges and universities that draw Canadian students.

Visit the Great North

You should also plan trips to your target Canadian cities and introduce yourself to professionals who will help supply your Canadian pipeline. However, take caution in your approach on these trips. Licensing laws preclude agents who are not licensed in Canada from marketing directly to Canadian consumers.

Canadian real estate professionalsBuyers looking for property in the U.S. will probably ask their local agent for advice and information first. Their agent in turn will want to refer clients to someone in the States whom they know and trust. Check the online Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) directory (at realtor.org/global/cips_network/overview) for qualified Canadian agents, and research brokerages in the cities you’re targeting.

Plan a trip and call on their offices. Put together a presentation that talks about what your area offers Canadian vacationers and investors. Make sure it’s full of information Canadian agents can use to spark client interest and answer questions about your market. Follow up once you return to your office and cultivate these relationships. They should become a major source of referrals.

Wealth advisors and financial consultantsCanadians with considerable assets will be looking for ways to diversify their portfolios, and U.S. real estate investments might offer better returns than are available in Canada. On a visit north, introduce yourself to financial advisors who serve this type of client. Look for professionals with the designations Chartered Strategic Wealth Professional (CSWP) and Certified Financial Planner (CFP). The Financial Planning Standards Council has a “find a planner” feature on their website at fpsc.ca. Also ask your contacts among Canadian agents for names of professionals they know and trust.

Cross-border legal and financial consultantsCanadians making purchases in other countries usually use the services of consultants to negotiate the maze of legal, tax and immigration issues that, if mishandled, can result in a money-losing transaction. Establishing relationships with these advisors will benefit you twofold. They’ll make their clients aware of your services, and you will need theirs to meet the needs of your own Canadian buyers.

Canadian real estate expos and conferences“Real estate conventions are a terrific way to meet Canadian agents and other related professionals,” says John Sebree, VP of Public Policy with the Florida REALTORS®, who recently accompanied Florida Governor Rick Scott on trade missions to Montreal and Toronto. “Renting a booth at an expo like REALTOR®QUEST and stocking it with information about your area will draw a lot of interest from Canadian agents.”

More networking considerations

If you haven’t already, establish relationships with any other key professionals who can support your clients. For example, a tax consultant with experience in Canadian/U.S. cross-border transactions will be a good addition to your panel of experts. You may also want to research lending sources for Canadians who wish to finance their purchases. (See the October 2011 issue of Global Perspectives for details on building a network of related global professionals.)

For clients interested in investment properties, make sure you have relationships in place with cross-border tax and accounting specialists who can conduct due diligence on transactions, and with well-run property management firms. “Relationships, trust and expertise are very important to Canadians,” says Ray Levin, of eXp Realty in Scottsdale, Arizona, for whom about 70 percent of Canadian sales involve investment properties. “Canadian investors want lots of financial information, and trust you and your team to advise them wisely.”

Don’t forget the Internet

Some clients will find you through an online search. The home page of your site should have a section tailored to Canadians looking for U.S. properties. From it, visitors should be able to click through to a main page dedicated to this part of your business. On the Canadian page, outline the selling points of your market to Canadians, and a message on why it’s a great time to buy. Provide a link to a currency conversion engine. Remember that Canadian spelling is British as opposed to American, so spellcheck the document in Canadian English. If Quebec is in your targeted geography, provide the same page in Canadian French.

By casting a wide net north and south of the border, you’ll begin receiving inquiries from Canadian prospects. With a good professional network in place and solid knowledge of your local market, you’ll be turning them into buyers and referrals in no time at all.


Leverage Your Exposure through Trade Shows

Canadian real estate conventions tend to be regional instead of national, allowing you to focus your efforts on whatever part of Canada you are targeting. Major trade shows and expos include:

  • REALTOR®QUEST, to be held in Toronto on May 2 and 3, 2012, is promoted as Canada’s biggest real estate trade show, drawing about 8,000 real estate professionals. Learn more at realtorquest.ca.
  • The Property Show, also in Toronto, had a one-day session at its November 2011 show on investing in the U.S. Go to thepropertyshow.ca for more on future events.
  • The BC Real Estate Convention, the largest real estate expo in Western Canada, is scheduled for March 2012 in Vancouver. Details are available at bcrealestateconvention.com.

(Again, if you will be promoting U.S. or other property to Canadian buyers, you need to be licensed in Canada.)


Crossing-the-border Dilemmas

Although the U.S. allows Canadians to visit for six months of the year without a visa, most provinces require residents to live within their boundaries at least six months and a day in order to qualify for health benefits.

When Canadians cross the border, their health benefits remain behind them. The Canadian government strongly recommends that its travelers buy supplemental health insurance to cover time spent outside its borders.