By Guest Writer Michael Soon Lee, CRS, GRI
April is Fair Housing Month and Fannie Mae’s National Housing Survey consistently shows that Hispanics, and African-Americans are generally more positive about owning a home than the general population. More than one-third of Hispanics and African Americans say they will buy a home in the next three years, compared to less than one quarter of all other Americans. Asians also continue to remain strong in their belief in home ownership.
REALTORS® need to recognize that these groups have different reasons for buying a home when working with clients from these cultures. The Survey said that Hispanics give greater value than Whites to the belief that owning a home is a symbol of success or achievement. They also feel that owning a home provides a tangible asset to borrow against if needed and owning a home is a good way to build up wealth that can be passed along to their family.
On the other hand, African-Americans tend to value homeownership because it allows them to live in a nicer home, is a good retirement investment and owning a home is a good way to build up wealth that can be passed along to the heirs. It also motivates one to become a better citizen and engage in important civic activities, such as voting, volunteering, and contributing to charities.
Asians value housing as a form of wealth-building for future generations, to stabilize the cost of housing and a sign of success in America. They tend to be less emotional about a home purchase and are more concerned about buying at the right price to maximize their equity from the very start.
Home buyers from diverse cultures present a tremendous opportunity for real estate professionals to sell more homes… if they are willing to adjust their practices to meet the unique needs of people whose culture may be different from their own. However, to do so they must get past many myths and misunderstandings about ethnic clients.
First, most real estate agents are unaware of the size of this market. More than one-third of all Americans are minorities and by 2050 they will be the majority. Many agents make the mistake of ignoring their clients’ culture and, instead, just try to treat everyone the same. This would be the equivalent of handing a blind person a real estate brochure to read because that’s what you do with all of your clients. However, most sensitive agents would adjust their practices to meet the unique needs of this client as you should do with all of your clients.
Many real estate agents wrongly believe that multicultural people only want to do business with people from their own culture. In most cases, nothing could be farther from the truth as long as they are treated with respect and patience. Unfortunately, in the first thirty seconds most agents will insult a minority client at least three times. This happens when agents try to shake their hand rather than allowing the client to give the greeting that is most comfortable for them; look clients in the eye when this could be a sign of disrespect in some cultures; and violate the client’s personal space by standing too close or too far away during conversations.
It’s a little-known fact that in some cases, minorities deliberately seek out agents who are from outside their culture. For example, some Asian and Hispanic clients often look for agents who are not from their culture because they are afraid that if they share personal financial information with one of their brethren their private information might get spread around their community.
Developing a diverse customer base takes more than simply printing brochures in different languages. It requires a long-term commitment and a willingness to adjust your business practices to meet the special circumstances of minorities. You can bridge this gap and increase sales to multicultural clients by educating yourself about cultural differences.
Another diversity difference that affects real estate professionals is negotiations. Many minority clients are used to haggling over everything from clothing to food to houses. Clients who hail from negotiating countries will bargain over every aspect of a real estate transaction before, during and even after close of escrow. You’ve got to learn to be a superb negotiator when dealing with folks from these cultures or your deal may never close.
Also, contracts are not the same around the world. In the West we generally put everything agreed upon in very detailed contract. In other cultures more is often left to verbal agreements and contracts can be changed at any time so be sure to document everything carefully.
Clients from outside your own culture can be an increased source of income if you’re willing to adjust, just a little, to make them more comfortable in doing business with you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Soon Lee, CRS, GRI, is the author of “OPENING DOORS: Selling to Multicultural Real Estate Clients”. He has spoken to real estate companies and at conventions across the country about how agents can increase their sales to multicultural clients. His company, EthnoConnect®, provides keynote speeches, training and consulting on to real estate companies throughout the country. Mr. Lee can be reached at (800) 41-SPEAK and his website is: www.EthnoConnect.com.