Secrets to Reaching International Buyers

With foreign buyers snapping up $92.2 billion worth of U.S. real estate between April 2013 and March 2014, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2014 Profile of International Home Buying Activity, it’s obvious that there’s huge opportunity in the global market. But how do you reach buyers living in other countries?

Luckily, it wasn’t hard to find advice at the Real Estate Connect conference this week, hosted in New York, which is a top city for international buyers. Agents from some of New York’s biggest brokerages offered their top tips for getting introduced to buyers from around the world and becoming their go-to agent for buying U.S. real estate.

  1. Either learn another language or hire a translator. Before attempting to market to international buyers, you need to have a good understanding of where they come from. “Trust doesn’t come easily in other cultures,” said Nikki Field, associate broker at Sotheby’s International Realty, whose international business grew from 17 percent a few years ago to 76 percent last year. “People here generally believe you are who you say you are, but you have to earn people’s trust in other countries.” A big step in that direction is taking language classes so you can speak to them in their language. Asians are a big home-buying sector in New York, so Field takes Chinese-language courses at The City University of New York. “But if you don’t speak another language, it’s not the end of the world,” added Maria Babaev, CIPS, CRS, associate broker at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “You can hire a translator. But it’s important that you do something to show you’re trying to connect to their way of life.”
  2. Advertise experiences that speak to your international knowledge. Field writes in her marketing materials that she’s trained in the Chinese language at CUNY. You can also use familial connections in other countries or any past experience abroad in your marketing. Nora Ariffin, associate broker at Halstead Property, has family in Singapore and travels there at least twice a year, which she notes on her company profile, along with stints living in Europe and South Africa.
  3. Get on a plane and go. There’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction, so if you want to reach international buyers — go to them, Field said. Take trips to the countries where you want to find buyers, and once you’re there, get in with the real estate crowd. “Research the companies in the cities you visit, and go and introduce yourself to the agents working there,” Ariffin said. “When I go to Singapore, I bring materials for some of my best listings with me, and I can pass them on to agents who may have interested clients.” It also gives you a chance to show your knowledge and become known as the go-to agent for your market.
  4. Build a network of people who work in other global industries. Babaev has gotten to know wealth management advisors, immigration lawyers, and certified public accountants, all of whom have international clients. “These people can pass my information along to their clients when they’re looking for real estate here,” Babaev said. The more people you know who touch other people around the world, the more you become part of the international community, she said.
  5. Be a real estate advisor, not an agent. Once you’ve begun making contact with international buyers, don’t just focus on selling to them. Help them make decisions for the people they know, too — even if you aren’t the agent who facilitates the deal. “I want to know where every single one of their family members lives,” Field says. “So if a client tells me his son is moving to London and wants to know whether he’d be better off renting a flat or buying one, I can give him my opinion regardless of whether I get a commission off it. What that does is it lets him know that I am truly international, that I know markets everywhere. So when he’s ready to make a move here, he’ll know who to call.”

Graham Wood

Graham Wood is a senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at

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  1. In recent times foreign purchases have jumped as high 35%, and Chinese customers have led the way. They purchased more than $22 billion worth of American real estate in 2013. During that time $92.2 billion was the total spent by foreign buyers, according to a report published July 8, 2014 by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

    From April 2012-March 2013, Chinese buyers spent approximately $12.8 billion in the U.S. housing market, and the previous year foreign buyers spent $68.2 billion on U.S. real estate.

    Buyers from foreign countries feel that United States real estate market is a safe investment vehicle. We get a significant number of foreign buyers looking to buy in the communities that we service, like Hyde Park, Chinatown, and South Loop, to name a few.

  2. James M. Stewart

    Very curious re: sales to Chinese. Is there a political motive with our high cash obligation to the Chinese, as we obviously cannot get our own debt situation under control? I see many sales to Chines citizens of golf courses where I reside in the Grand Strand of South Carolina, on the coast!
    Spent three (3) years in Singapore, about a year of the three in Jakarta, Indonesia and environs. Sold
    property located in USA, including Hawaii, to both International and US expats in the Oil Patch! Was only acreage and homesites, and condos in the Phillipines.
    Included also travelling to Maylasia and the Phillipines.
    Most of my clients were Australians, New Zealanders, Brits, Scots and Germans after US expats! Oh, and business owners from India!

  3. James M. Stewart

    Incorrect mention of the Phillipines where I sold condos. Was Hawaii

  4. Great article, I was thinking about getting into this niche and after reading your article, I think I will give it a shot!! Thanks