What Miss America Can Teach Us About Indian-American Buyers and Sellers

Nina Davuluri, Miss New York, took home the crown during the 2013 Miss America competition last month. This is the first time in the history of the pageant that an Indian-American has been declared the winner. To quote Ms. Davuluri, "Miss America is evolving. And she's not going to look the same anymore."

Truthfully, I am not much of a pageant person. But something about the newly crowned Miss America's remarks struck a chord. Last summer we devoted an entire edition of Global Perspectives to "exploring India." In researching the topic, my eyes were opened − the data is extraordinary. Did you know that there are more than 25 million people of Indian heritage living outside of India, making this the second largest expatriate group in the world after the Chinese? Data from the 2010 U.S. census indicates that the number of Indians in the U.S. increased 69% since the 2000 census. In fact, Indians are the youngest, fastest growing, most highly educated and highly paid ethnic group living in the United States today. So while the Miss America competition is a quintessential American event, Ms. Davuluri’s success should not come as a surprise.

Quick Facts:

  • 67% of adult Indians living in the U.S. have their Bachelor’s degree.
  • Indians are the youngest ethnic group in the U.S. with a median age of 31.7 years.
  • Data from the 2010 U.S. census noted that Indians had the highest average household income at $90,711 versus $50,046 for the total population.
  • Indian Americans own over 40% of the hotels and motels in America. This accounts for nearly two million rooms and property values in excess of $100 billion.
  • According to NAR’s 2013 Profile of International Home Buying Activity, the median price paid by Indian homebuyers purchasing U.S. properties was $300,000. This is over $121,000 more than the median purchase price paid by domestic buyers.

So what does this mean for your business?

As a global agent, you should be cognizant that there is a tremendous amount of opportunity working with Indian and Indian-American clients. Indians are purchasing commercial and residential properties throughout the United States. In fact, India (tied with the U.K.) ranks fourth in the top ten countries of origin for foreign home buyers in the U.S. (Canada is number one, followed by China and Mexico.) In comparison with properties in India and many other major global markets, the U.S. is more affordable. For example, the ultra-wealthy are eyeing the U.S. for luxurious second homes. The average price per square meter of a home in Mumbai’s Cuff Parade area is about 40% higher than a comparable property in New York City. Additionally, Indians view U.S. real estate as a safe investment with strong potential for return.

Source: NAR 2013 Profile of International Home Buying Activity

Social Customs and Business Practices

If you are interested in working with Indian investors, it is important to remember that there is a world of difference between Indian and American social customs and business practices. To be successful, you should recognize dissimilarities and be prepared to adapt to your client’s needs.

Below are a few tips to bear in mind when working with Indian clients:

  • Stay professional. Hierarchical social relationships are observed in meetings. Status is determined by age, university degrees, caste and profession. High status individuals speak first and those of lower status show deference and listen. Titles are highly valued. Always use professional titles such as “Doctor” or “Professor”. You should not address someone by his or her first name unless requested.
  • Be accepting when your clients are late. While Indians appreciate punctuality, it is not uncommon for participants to be late to scheduled meetings. You, however, should always be on time, and never show irritation when your clients are delayed. Also, don’t be surprised if impromptu meetings are requested at late hours.
  • Family and friends takes precedence. Social and family obligations supersede business commitments. If a client cancels an appointment because of a family commitment, gracefully express your understanding of the situation.
  • Take note of religious holidays. Religion plays a major role in Indian culture− both Buddhism and Hinduism originated in India. Be sure to check the calendar before proposing a meeting date as business is never conducted during religious holidays
  • Don’t talk business too soon. Trust and comfort must be established before “getting down to business”. Build relationships by finding common ground socially. Conversation regarding sports, movies, and families is a great way to break the ice.

Protocol: Indian Real Estate vs. U.S. Real Estate

If you are working with Indian investors who have never purchased property in the U.S. before, it is important you educate them. There is a vast difference between how real estate is practiced in India and how it is practiced in the United States. The more your clients know about what to expect, the better you can manage the process. For example, listings are not exclusive in India. Indians are accustomed to working with many agents when searching properties. Instead of telling them how exclusive listings work, demonstrate it. Show them the MLS, let them narrow down properties of interest, and accompany them to showings of other agents’ listings.

This is just one example of the many differences between U.S. real estate practices and Indian real estate practices. The more you know about Indian policies and protocols, the better prepared you’ll be to serve your clients.

NAR's CIPS designation offers a course, Asia/Pacific & International Real Estate, which provides in-depth information regarding working with buyers from Asia, including an entire chapter dedicated to Indian customs, business practices, and information on the Indian real estate market. If you want to learn more about working with Indian clients, this course will help you.