International buyers have made a huge splash in NYC real estate in recent years. Some have even called buying NYC apartments “piggy banks in the sky.” But, this is not news — international investors have been purchasing in NYC forever. And good brokers know they can pick up just one international client and parlay that into more business, including rentals and future sales with referrals. Some even argue that international buyers are easier than local buyers. However you see it, if you want to attract international real estate buyers, have a plan and be deliberate.
Optimize Your Online Presence for International Clients
All of your online assets should demonstrate any proficiency in foreign languages, previous international trade acumen, as well as any travel abroad. If you’ve worked with international clients, get a review or testimonial on your website. Your message should be consistent across your online profiles. Have a Skype or WhatsApp address listed publicly. You want to speak their language and it starts with the first impression. Whether a previous client refers you or they see one of your great listings online, most buyers and sellers will research agents before making the initial contact. If your profile does not read international, you may not get that call or email.
Be on the Lookout for the International Client
If you want to be the broker for international customers, the obvious second step is to look for opportunities. Be alert in your inbox for international email addresses, foreign names or phone numbers and give those a higher priority immediately. If their email signature file includes a WhatsApp or Skype address, consider following up via that method. If they are French, find a quick salutation or phrase in French to acknowledge their native tongue. Mirror your client’s actions and understand their situation. Be mindful of time differences. Calling your new customer in the middle of the night won’t make a great first impression.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Imagine the experience of someone living abroad. Attempting to get more information online about an important and expensive real estate transaction thousands of miles away can be daunting. We take for granted how we do things here. But for any outsider, NYC real estate moves quickly, is complicated and is extremely competitive. The more familiar and reassuring you can make the initial contact, the better.
Assume they don’t know anything about our neighborhoods, co-ops, subway lines, rentals, brokerages or attorneys. In many places abroad, there is only one brokerage in a deal, so plan on laying it all out early on. Always consider the long-term relationship, future business and referrals — especially if you want to build an international clientele. Immediately demonstrate your expertise in buildings or neighborhoods. Someone attempting to purchase real estate from far away wants to know that they have an expert on their hands. Just like all leads, follow up right away to let them know that you are responsive. But take it a step further with an international client.
Add Value From the Beginning
Suggest a 30-to 60-minute Skype call with a new international prospect — not just to “meet” you, but for you to give the buyer a lesson on all things NYC real estate. If they are serious about buying an apartment and don’t have any experience, an international buyer will take you up on this offer.
Send them a sample call agenda, like this:
Financing NYC Real Estate
- International mortgage lending and preapproval, if financing
- Data, statistics on the overall market
- Comps review for sample neighborhoods
- Listing Broker vs. Buyer’s Broker and communication about listings
- Method for making offers, best & final, list price vs. market value vs. sale price
Co-op and Condo Boards and the Application Process
- Lay out the framework for the amount of personal financial information the board will require for a condo board application
- Review a sample application with them
Closing Period and Closing Costs
- Attorney’s role, offering plan, due diligence and timing
Expectations, Roles and Responsibilities Working with a Broker
- Explain how brokers are paid and that there is no cost to the buyer
- Tell them how you typically work and ask how they would expect you to work
- Lay out the framework for a successful new relationship
Be Their Feet on the Street
Someone attempting to do business from abroad is relying on a person they have never met and may never meet. Make it clear to them upfront that you will shoulder the burden of the search. But more importantly, you need to establish trust, expertise and commitment from the start. Many times an international buyer will have a local child or family member. Make the connection with that person as soon as you can as they may already have a broker relationship. As early in the conversation as possible, demonstrate that you are a full-service broker. Send videos, photos and market data. If the purchase is pure investment, offer to assist in obtaining tenants and managing that process. Someone wanting an expensive asset in NYC will find comfort in knowing they have a local resource. Show off your abilities, honesty and resourcefulness early and often.
International clients are just like domestic clients. But let’s face it; the task is different for someone who isn’t local. So making a good first impression, giving them confidence in your abilities and expertise matters more. They will rely on you for so much more than a local buyer or seller. Shoulder the burden, keep them in the loop and prove that you are resourceful.