“Nicaragua” is not an Address: Success Strategies for Cross Border Referrals

By Beth Kinsella, Global Member Services Manager, Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®


Do you work with clients who have real estate needs outside of U.S. borders? As the global market place continues to evolve and more people purchase homes outside of their native countries, you can provide exceptional service to them by helping them connect with a broker just about anywhere in the world (“just about” being the operative phrase) through a referral. Working with referrals outside of American borders is an education, providing lessons in geography, math (read: name that time zone) and perhaps most importantly, cultural awareness. The norm is that there is rarely a norm. Real estate practices vary from country to country, and just when you think you have one country figured out you will be quickly confused by another.

The challenge of cross border referrals is made greater by the number of people involved. In some cases, there is the client who is buying or selling, the agent who is working with the client, the relocation or business development team who is working with the referring agent and, in companies that specialize in this type of business, a cross border referral team who is working between the originating company and the destination broker. Does that make your brain hurt? Here are some ways you can ease the pain:

Set the Bar Low and Beware of Tire Kickers

At the risk of sounding pessimistic, cross border referrals have many variables and numerous points at which the transaction can derail. Caution clients that this is a difficult and almost assuredly slow process. The clients should have their paperwork, finances and basic research in order before the process begins.  Is the client really prepared to purchase a €3-million-dollar chateau in the south of France, or is he having a midlife crisis and watching too much House Hunters International? Ensure that the client who is buying or selling is serious, not just testing the waters. Wasting the time of a valuable contact all but guarantees that he or she will not be interested in doing additional business in the future.

Communicate Clearly

Abandon the notion of “That’s how we do it here.” Your way of doing things is not universal; for instance, you might prefer conducting all of your communications via email. Many countries are not as email-centric as the United States. Also, keep in mind that if you are trying to establish initial contact with someone who does not speak English as a first or even second language, your email could easily be perceived as junk mail.

Contacting someone by telephone is always the best first step. Certainly this can be intimidating, even hilarious at times, but making the attempt shows legitimacy. Who would spend the money or time to make prank phone calls to another country? Anyone can send an email, and it doesn’t cost a dime; that phone call says you mean business (even if you butcher the language).

Google Translate is a huge help, even if you can only squeak out a few words in the language at hand. Occasionally you’ll get someone on the other line who speaks a bit of English, and you will make progress. Once you reach a point when you can get an email address for your contact, communication by email is easier with the help of Google Translate. A tip in regards to using any translation site: use the most basic vocabulary possible (caveman speak). Avoid slang or colloquialisms and remember that many English words have multiple meanings. Always follow-up by phone because if the recipient is receiving an email in a language other than their own there is a good chance they (or their email server) may think it is spam.

Know that “Nicaragua” is not an Address

Getting detailed information is key; this cannot be overstated. When gathering information from the client or referring agent, make sure to get all of the facts. This includes: client contact information, exact listing address (country, city, state/province and postal code), housing type, language requirements of the buyer or seller and any other pertinent details. The more information gathered, the smoother the process will be. Less back and forth with the destination broker will cut-down on placement time.

Exercise Patience

This can be easier said than done. We are in a drive-thru, next-day-delivery, order-from-your-phone culture. This is not always the way the rest of the world works. Getting a response from a broker in another country can take days, on occasion more than a week. Being patient is key and communicating that to all parties involved is essential.

Accept Differences in Business Practices

While your company might pay on a buyer referral, it is uncommon in some parts of the world, including the United Kingdom. Understand that this is not a character flaw of the destination broker or a bad policy of the company he or she represents, it’s simply not a business practice there. Take one for the team and understand that even though you aren’t getting a share of the commission, you are providing your clients with great service, and they will likely come back to you with future business and refer you to their friends and family. To avoid an uncomfortable situation, have the referral fee conversation up-front with the destination broker and make sure to send a referral agreement.

Another major difference to keep in mind is that in some countries, no real estate license is required to sell real estate — that means anyone can sell a house (yikes!). It’s always best to go on the recommendation of someone who has worked with the company before. When that’s not possible, research, research, research. Find out about the economy in the destination country; are they having any major political issues or other threats to the housing market? Dig around the Internet with the agent or broker’s name and the company name; look for a physical address of the company, not just a website. If your gut instinct tells you that something is off-base — keep searching.

Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®, a selective global community of the highest quality independent real estate companies, has made it a priority to effectively service this type of business with a Cross Border Referral Team based in several different countries. The team serves as a hybrid of liaison/concierge/matchmaker to assist member brokers and others when their clients have real estate needs around the world, reflecting the global focus of the network.

Despite the many differences between cross border referrals and business sourced closer to home, there is no discrepancy in what is most essential: the value of human touch and impact of an agent who is willing to go the extra mile. To learn more or to get assistance with cross border referrals, visit www.crossborderreferrals.com.