By Lynda Fernandez, CAE, RCE, CIPS, senior vice president of public relations and international at the Miami Association of REALTORS®.
International real estate buyers and investors enhance REALTOR® profitability, boost markets, and expand the economy. In Miami, for example, foreign investment helped our market recover much faster and stronger than anyone expected from the 2006 downturn. The top three countries that invest in South Florida are Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil. Foreign sales account for 24 percent of total unit sales and 39 percent of total dollar volume in our market.
All REALTOR® associations, regardless of size, market, and resources, can have successful international programs. Our association, the 45,000-member Miami Association of REALTORS®, is currently the largest local REALTOR® association in the nation, but our CEO, Teresa King Kinney, launched our international council nearly 25 years ago when we were 90 percent smaller. We have expanded our efforts considerably over the years but are still doing many of the things we did then, including hosting events and international education, conducting market research, and offering tools and resources to members and the media. Even though we have about 2,000 members in the council, most REALTORS® do international business on some level. (There are more than 110 global business councils at REALTOR® associations nationwide.)
Power of Partnerships
Relationships are key to developing an international presence. Although mobile devices, social media, and other technological advances enhance our connectivity and have changed the dynamics of communication, relationships remain crucial for all business endeavors, particularly when it comes to global business.
We have many valued partners throughout the world whom we’ve met at international conferences or were introduced to by another partner or organization. Sometimes members put us in touch with organizations overseas, and sometimes foreign groups and brokerages reach out to us. These partnerships help us generate significant business opportunities for our members. For example, foreign buyers purchased $6.2 billion worth of property in our market from August 2015 to July 2016, up from $6.1 billion the year before. Partnerships are also a great way to build your association’s global reputation, which will further attract prospective partners and opportunities.
Identifying New Markets
To find the best international partner markets, determine who is already interested or buying in your area. Find out whether there are any foreign companies or industries doing business in your market. For example, the BMW auto plant (the largest in the world) located 20 miles from Greenville, N.C., announced a $1 billion expansion in 2016 that will likely boost area property sales to German nationals.
In Miami, we track direct flights and tourist activity because they are great indicators of future interest in our market. This information is typically available from your airport(s), convention and visitors bureaus, or similar entities. In the Chicago area, REALTOR® associations have designated members to be real estate liaisons to foreign consulate offices.
A few years ago, we added mandatory MLS fields to include buyer country, state, and postal code of origin. We are now working to develop data reports and tools to provide to our members and the media. Such information will help us gain additional insight into international buying activity in our market.
The National Association of REALTORS® offers national, state, and local research on its website nar.realtor, that provides deep insight on international trends, top markets, and buyer characteristics.
International Conferences, Expos, and Trade Missions
Participating in international events is another great way to establish partnerships and open new markets. Although this may seem costly, there are ways to offset the expense. At the Miami Association of REALTORS®, we’ve developed a list of economic development agencies and other entities to share costs. We also secure sponsors, barter, or use other creative ideas to offset the expense. For example, association members pay $499 for shared time (about three hours) in our trade-show booth.
We attend different international events every year, depending on which markets we are targeting. In 2016, we attended MPIM in France, AREAA Summit in China, Inmocionate in Spain, NAR-India, IX Salon Inmobiliario in Colombia, Cityscape Dubai, Salon Immobilier in France, and Congress/Expo in El Salvador.
You can host your own international event or inbound trade missions as a less expensive option. In 2016, we hosted a CRS Spain trade mission, a group from Austria and other international delegations at our congress in November.
Offering the NAR Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) and other international education is a great way to help members realize the importance of expanding globally and to draw attention to your members and market. We will hold five CIPS classes in 2017; last year, we hosted two full CIPS institutes. We have 392 CIPS designees, including five staff executives. We also host other internationally focused member education events, including classes on immigration and visa programs, international business etiquette, and programs on referral business and how to do business in various markets.
Presenting courses on doing business in the United States for foreign partners or at events abroad is another way to gain international presence and exposure. We’ve presented in many foreign markets, including Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, India, and the UAE. Many foreign organizations are interested in how business is done in the United States so they can elevate professionalism in their markets. This is especially true in countries without licensing requirements. This type of collaboration strengthens relationships and helps promote markets in the United States and abroad.
Tools and Resources
Associations can easily create tools and resources that not only help members but also help promote the association and the market:
- Co-branded international marketing materials (miamire.com/cobrand). We create international marketing materials for members to personalize and co-brand with their logos and information. Materials include fliers showing our international connections and syndication of listings, top 20 reasons to buy, fliers on schools and communities, and international brochures with market information and resources for foreign buyers that the association distributes at international expos and events.
- Foreign Investors Guide. This guide is a compilation of articles, included in eight languages, by attorneys on immigration and visas, forms of ownership, financing, starting a business in the United States, and other information of interest to foreign buyers. We are working to put this guide online.
- ProxioPro. We provide our members at no cost with this international marketing and networking platform that offers automatic translations of all listings into 19 languages, detailed profiles of offices and agents, and one-click networking for international referrals.
- Communication and media exposure. As with most things in business today, communication and the media can be extremely powerful. Global business development for REALTOR® associations is no different. Whether it’s releasing statistical information to the news media, inviting foreign partners to your events, or highlighting awards and accomplishments, getting the word out will draw more attention to your association and generate further success.
Lynda Fernandez, CAE, RCE, CIPS, is the senior vice president of public relations and international at the Miami Association of REALTORS®. Reach her at 305-468-7040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.