Every real estate transaction has its own set of challenges, with outside professionals playing a key role in advising your clients on legal, lending, and other matters. Agents cultivating business in global and multicultural markets may find themselves needing a wider range of professionals in law, finance and tax matters to deal with any special challenges that might arise with multicultural transactions.
Building a wide net of contacts to turn to when outside help is needed not only allows you to enhance your reputation by being an exceptional “source of the source;” a strong professional team also increases your closing ratio, since you know your clients are in good hands, and often brings additional referral business.
One important note of caution: Never refer your customers to only one service provider unless you are willing to assume liability should that professional fail in his or her duties. For this reason, agents are encouraged to have at least three professionals in each category and let the consumer choose whom they want to hire.
Real estate law plays a role in every transaction—the review of legal documents and contracts which buyers and sellers must sign to close the deal. The same expertise is needed in a multicultural or international transaction, but it may be helpful to know real estate attorneys who can bring more to the table.
For example, you may be working with a Japanese client who has been transferred to the Bay Area. Though your client can speak English, they might find it easier and more reassuring to work with an attorney who can explain the legalese in Japanese, or draw comparisons to Japanese real estate transactions.
If you are cultivating business within a specific immigrant community in your market area, make it a point to find real estate lawyers within that community. It will help bridge both language and cultural barriers, and give you a resource not only for your clients, but for enhancing your own understanding of your client’s culture.
Immigration is another area of law that can complicate multicultural and international sales. Visa status affects how long a foreign national can reside on American soil and what they can do here. For instance, if a British couple approaches you about a second home, an immigration attorney can tell them whether their current visas fit their plans, and if not, advise and guide them on whether it is possible to apply for a different status.
Visa issues can also arise when working with immigrant communities. Be prepared by having a few qualified immigration attorneys on your team to provide your clients any needed assistance.
Money is the common denominator of all real estate transactions. But in a global transaction, funds may not start out in a dollar-denominated U.S. account. The time and expense of exchanging and transferring foreign currency can pose risks to clients’ transactions.
How should your clients go about choosing a U.S. bank? Should they rely on their overseas and U.S. banks to manage the transfer process? How do they know they are getting a good exchange rate?
Fortunately, there are currency professionals who deal with these issues for international real estate transactions. “Though many banks offer currency exchange and transfer, they charge fairly significant fees for hidden transactions costing the client up to four percent of the funds involved,” says Laura McLoughlin, Country Manager at Moneycorp. “A currency specialist can get the best rate, will charge a much lower margin on the exchange, can offer ways to lock in rates for a time, and can transfer funds on a same-day basis.”
These are tough times for obtaining a mortgage. Though you probably have well-established relationships with a number of lenders, their underwriting requirements may not be flexible enough to meet the unique needs of many multicultural buyers. Establishing contacts with lenders who are reaching out to multicultural markets can help solve this problem.
Many immigrants come to this country with sufficient funds and income to merit a mortgage, but no credit history to qualify for one. Others may mistrust banks or lack an understanding of our lending system and practices. For many major lenders, this represents an obstacle that can’t be overcome. Luckily, some community banks and credit unions have stepped in to fill the gap, and have found it to be a niche in which they can grow.
“We have a long-term term commitment to the multicultural and immigrant community in Southeastern Massachusetts,” says Leo MacNeil, Senior Vice President of Community Relationships at HarborOne Credit Union in Brockton, MA, a leading mortgage originator in the area. “Our nontraditional underwriting standards allow us to offer loans to many who might not otherwise qualify, and most become very stable loans.”
Reach out to smaller lenders or credit unions in your market who may already have a history within the multicultural community. Working with a local lender can help you close more sales and save valuable time in finding financing.
Capital gains, estate and other taxes play a role in everyday real estate decisions. For these, you probably provide your clients with a list of tax specialists or financial planners. However, just as in the earlier real estate attorney example, your multicultural clients may value the assistance of a professional from their own culture or community. Having relationships with several could help enhance your reputation in and show your support of the immigrant community.
A more complex tax situation confronts foreign nationals who plan to return to their native lands later, especially if they wish to repatriate funds. Here, a tax professional with international experience can explain possible tax consequences to your clients, and advise them on how best to move ahead with the transaction.
Other Pros to Know
If your focus includes a local immigrant community, look there for other businesses that are involved in real estate sales, including:
- Home inspectors
- Moving companies
- Insurance agents
- Contractors, remodelers and repair people
You’ll show your support of the community if you add them to your resource list.
Finding the Right Professionals
Often, the type of professional you’re looking for determines where you look for one:
For professionals within an immigrant community, a good place to start is the local Chamber of Commerce. Some larger cities have Chambers within specific ethnic communities. For instance, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles (lachinesechamber.org) provides an online directory by business specialty.
Some professionals don’t have to be local. Currency exchange and transfer specialists do business by phone in all parts of the country, and can be found online. Look to professional associations like the American Immigration Lawyers Association (aila.org) and the Transnational Tax Network (ttn-taxation.net) for specialized law and tax advice.
Leverage networking opportunities. Global Business Councils at the local level and NAR’s Global division at the national
level sponsor events offering numerous networking opportunities to help you connect with experienced professionals. (See related sidebar on page 6.)
Who Merits Joining your Team?
What you look for in other professionals depends on the role they play in the transaction. In serving immigrant enclaves and multicultural markets, the players on your team should have strong bonds to the community, solid experience in their specialty, and multicultural sensitivity.
In highly specialized solution providers, expertise and credentials are important. For immigration law and international tax specialists, look online for affiliations with top professional associations, published articles, and past speaking engagements. Feedback from other global agents is also highly beneficial in determining their merit.
What should you look for from an outside professional, and what should they expect from you?
- Professionalism, competence, and expert knowledge.
- Good back-and-forth communication; they should keep you in the loop regarding the client’s situation as you should them.
- Sometimes, a more formal relationship. For example, MoneyCorp has a Referring Partnership Program, and assigns an account manager to the agent and the client.
Working Together for Mutual Growth
Part of what makes another professional a good team candidate is that they see opportunities in your market and are interested in working with you to grow them. “We are a great marketing tool for agents involved in global transactions,” says McLoughlin at Moneycorp. “Because of our size and international presence, we help clients get the best exchange rates at very low cost, with tools for risk management.”
While working together to grow the market, referrals will probably grow too. Buyer or seller referrals may come from local professionals, while larger national firms may become a good resource for finding other specialized professionals. For instance, one immigration attorney may refer you to another specializing in a particular visa category.
A few crucial things to remember when working with other professionals on your team:
- Don’t try to provide tax, legal or financial advice to your buyers and sellers—leave that to your experts.
- Ask your clients if they are already getting assistance from someone in these areas.
- Don’t steer clients to one professional over another. Remember, try to provide at least three good resources.
Putting together a team of outside professionals will take time and lots of networking, but is well worth the effort. A great team will help you successfully close more global sales, and build your international business.
Networking through Global Business Councils
Nearly 100 local associations of REALTORS® have formed Global Business Councils to help provide members with knowledge and connections to develop multicultural opportunities in their markets.
- Join your local Council. If you don’t have one, you may want to ask your association about starting one
- Attend Council-sponsored events featuring speakers from other professions (including those hosted by other local associations). Learn about business from their side of the desk and network with them and other global agents.
- Look into your Council’s resources. Many search for and reach out to relevant professionals and can help you connect with them.
To learn more about Global Business Councils and their many activities, please visit realtor.org/global/ae/global_business_councils/about.
Also, consider attending the new CIPS: Global Programs for Associations Course, which provides in-depth education on developing and growing global member programs that will prepare REALTORS® to succeed in a global marketplace. This one-day course is open to association executives, association staff, volunteer leadership, or anyone interested in understanding the value of global programs at his or her association. Contact NARglobe@realtors.org for more details.
Putting down roots in the community
Brockton, MA is a city of about 100,000 residents, many of whom are of Cape Verdean, Haitian and Latin American descent. In 2007, HarborOne Credit Union launched a Multicultural Banking Center promoting homeownership in the community. They have grown their local mortgage market by offering:
- Classes in financial literacy, citizenship and English;
- Credit coaching, foreclosure mitigation and workshops; and
- First Time Home Ownership workshops with multicultural REALTORS® and attorneys.
Small banks in other parts of the country are starting to follow suit, especially in the area of financial literacy education. Look for lenders in your area offering similar programs.