Florida Realtor April 2013 : Page 14

Service with a Smile, Not a Handshake! culture shock Learn the culture of the international buyers with whom you’re working and avoid insulting them. By RichaRd WestLund 14 FLORIDA REALTOR april 2013 illustrations by carl weins

Service With A Smile, Not A Handshake!

Richard Westlund

Learn the culture of the international buyers with whom you’re working and avoid insulting them.

It’s no problem for Florida real estate professionals to name the three hot spots for international buyers: Canada, Latin America and Europe. For the past two decades, buyers from these regions have played a growing role in the state’s real estate market, and they now account for 19 percent of all home transactions, according to the Florida Realtors ®/National Association of Realtors “Profile of International Home Buyers in Florida 2012.”

But it’s a lot harder for real estate professionals to build their international business one customer at a time. It takes homework, patience and knowledge about different cultures. Many believe that the ability to adopt a fresh mindset and “step into the shoes” of a buyer or seller can be the single most important ingredient in success.

“If you want to reach out to international buyers, marketing is not enough,” says multicultural sales consultant Michael Soon Lee, president of Ethno- Connect, a company that provides training on how to sell more products and services to the multicultural market in America. “If you want to be successful in serving buyers or sellers, you have to be culturally competent. That means knowing how to treat people with sensitivity from the moment you meet to closing the sale. Otherwise your marketing efforts will be a waste.”

But it’s not always easy to recognize or understand an individual’s background or culture, says Jaqueline Teplitzky, a residential broker with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, with offices in New York City and Miami. “People dress the same and carry the same smartphones and tablets,” she says. “So you really have to dig down and take the time to understand their culture and how they do business in their own country in order to relate to them.”

Lee adds that one of the biggest myths in real estate is that people from different cultures want to do business only with people from the same background. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he says. “As long as clients are treated sensitively, they’ll find a way to bridge any language gaps—perhaps using a son or daughter as an interpreter.”

In fact, a global customer may actually feel more comfortable about working with a sales professional from a different background, particularly when it comes to protecting sensitive information. “With international clients, confidentiality is paramount,” adds Teplitzky. “You never say, ‘I just sold an apartment to your friend.’ If you do that, your business will stop immediately. Latin Americans, in particular, don’t want family members or friends knowing what they’re buying or anything about their affairs. In their own city, everyone knows their name, but when they come to the United States, they’re anonymous and they love it.”

Learning the Nuances Here’s a closer look at Florida’s three major international markets, with tips on learning the cultural nuances. But remember that these are general suggestions— some international customers are familiar with U.S. customs, such as a firm handshake, while others are most comfortable with their national traditions.


Canada is the largest source of inbound international buyers in Florida, thanks in part to its cold winters, stable economy and easy air connections. Neighborhoods of Canadian snowbirds and year-round residents can be found throughout Florida. In general, English-heritage Canadians prefer the Gulf Coast and Central Florida, while French-speaking Québécois from Montreal and the province of Quebec tend to locate on the Atlantic Coast and in South Florida.

Cultural Tips:

• While most Canadians speak English, those from Quebec usually prefer to converse in French.

• Know the appropriate holidays for both English and French Canadians, since there are clear differences between the two cultures.

• Be friendly and personable while avoiding a “hard-sell” approach.

(For more suggestions, see “Makeover: Reach the Canadian Market, eh?” pg. 28, in this issue.)

Latin America

Stronger domestic economies and improved political conditions have resulted in a flow of Latin American residential and commercial investment in Florida. From Colombia, which has seen an easing in domestic unrest in recent years, to Brazil, which is enjoying a robust economic boom, many affluent Latin Americans are feeling good about their future and buying properties in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and other parts of the state.

“A lot of wealthy Colombians are going back and investing in their own country,” says Teplitzky. “They want to have one foot there and one foot in Florida, and are buying homes in Miami and Orlando.” In South Florida, Venezuelans tend to cluster in communities like Doral and Weston, a short drive from Miami International Airport, according to Ronald Shuffield, president and CEO, Esslinger-Wooten- Maxwell Realtors©, Coral Gables. Many travel back and forth regularly to Caracas, while others are not welcomed by the current regime.

Brazilians like to live on Miami’s Brickell Avenue because it has an urban lifestyle, adds Teplitzky. “Brazilians have beautiful beaches at home, so they prefer the city,” she says. “However, Argentines like to buy on the beaches because it’s different from their own country.”

Chile has one of the most stable economies in the world, adds Teplitzky. “The wealthy are investing in their own country, but also getting money out by buying investment properties. They love the warm waters of Florida.”

Mexicans like to buy in Florida to diversify their investments and put some of their assets into the United States, says Teplitzky. Since security is a major issue in Mexico, real estate professionals might look for gated single-family home communities or condominiums oriented toward owner privacy when working with these buyers.

Cultural Tips:

• Since the entire family may make decisions collectively, be sure to build relationships with all family members.

• Don’t offer to shake hands with a Latin American woman, since many don’t want to be touched by someone who’s not a family member.

• Respect the customer’s privacy and confidentiality. Telling a Brazilian that you just sold a condo to his friend may jeopardize a pending transaction.

• Provide a wide range of services, including taking care of the owner’s property when it’s vacant.

• Cultivate the professionals who manage an individual’s or family’s wealth, since they are key advisors to the customers.


European buying activity has decreased since the boom years of the last decade. The ongoing debt crisis and austerity measures of the European Union (EU), combined with a weakening of the euro against the dollar, have made some Europeans reluctant to buy in Florida. In addition, EU buyers face visa-related issues that make it difficult for them to spend more than six months at a time in Florida.

However, buyers from northern Europe—especially the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Russia—still enjoy owning a second home in the sun, far from winter’s cold.

In general, European buyers with moderate incomes prefer Central Florida, whose family attractions and inexpensive homes make it ideal for extended seasonal visits. Many buyers from Germany and the United Kingdom buy homes in Southwest Florida, while South Florida’s cosmopolitan atmosphere and beaches attract buyers from virtually every European nation.

Cultural Tips (from Michael Soon Lee):

• Know the differences among European cultures.

• Greet a Russian customer with a viselike handshake and direct eye contact.

• Greet a German customer with a medium- firm handshake.

• Be prepared for tough negotiating tactics when working with Eastern European customers.

• Understand that negotiating with Russian customers can get quite heated and emotional, before quickly blowing over.

• Greet a French customer with a soft handshake, and be prepared for light kisses on both cheeks (something never done in Germany, England or the United States).

• Avoid pressuring U.K. customers, who do not like to hear “Take it or leave it.”

• Avoid telling jokes, because they usually don’t translate well, and remember that British customers have a different sense of humor.

Two distinct Cultures

Drawing from 30 years in California real estate, Lee says there are two broad types of cultures in the world. First are the individualistic cultures of the United States, Canada and Western Europe. “We’re all used to making decisions as individuals,” he says. “But Latin America, Asia and other parts of the world have collectivist cultures, where families are very important and decisions may be made by a group.”

Knowing that distinction can help real estate professionals prepare presentations, show homes, negotiate the sale and close the transaction. However, there are also very sharp differences among national cultures, even within the same region.

“A business can spend a great deal of time developing a marketing program only to see it falter at the sales level because of lack of training or understanding of cultural issues.” For example, a Los Angeles pizza company was very successful in marketing to the Mexican-American community years ago, but did not hire Spanish-speaking staffers to answer the phone. “That kind of business mistake is still common in real estate,” Lee adds.

In dealing with global customers, regional and national cultures differ on the nuances, such as greetings and gestures. People from other parts of the world may consider habits, such as the handshaking that Americans take for granted, inappropriate or insulting. So what’s the best approach? Lee recommends following the customer’s lead. If someone holds out a hand, shake it. If someone nods or bows, then nod or bow back.

“Your best source of information about a foreign culture is talking to your customers,” Lee says. “Ask them what behaviors they prefer, listen to their responses and treat those preferences with respect.”

Richard Westlund is a Miami-based freelance writer.

Is It Offensive?

Many real estate professionals are afraid to ask their customers any culturally related questions because they don’t want to offend them. One strategy to consider, according to Michael soon lee, is to disclose some of your personal background first. “let’s say you tell the client, ‘i’m a third-generation italian from sicily,’” he says. “that gives you a perfect opening to ask a client about his or her own heritage. People love talking about their culture, as long as they know you’re sincerely interested in hearing about it.”

Along the same lines, lee recommends talking less about your professional background—“ 10 years in real estate and 50 transactions in the past year”—and more about your personal information. “when you go past the statistics and accomplishments, your relationship with the client immediately goes to a much deeper level than merely business,” he says. “talk about your clients’ lives, foods and languages; listen to what’s important to them; ask questions and engage them on a personal level.”

Finally, it’s essential to recognize that once you get past the differences of language, dress and appearance, people are similar on the inside. “we all have the same goals, such as being financially comfortable and sending our children to good schools,” lee says. “if you can build a common bond and reach that comfort level, you’ll be successful with a client from any culture.”

Read the full article at http://browndigital.bpc.com/article/Service+With+A+Smile%2C+Not+A+Handshake%21/1347767/151310/article.html.

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