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Opinion Editorials

Cultural Idiosyncrasies

Being in Metropolitan Miami we deal with a lot of foreign nationals sellers.  Yes you read correctly, a lot of our listings are absentee owners from other countries that either bought vacation homes or investment properties and they choose to hire us when they want to unload them.

Rick and I consider ourselves good communicators.  We don’t like to leave anything to interpretation and make sure every step of the process is explained in detail.  This can sometimes be challenging and I tend to attribute communication problems to cultural idiosyncrasies.

Communication vs. Cultural Differences

These culture differences I speak about don’t have anything to do with language or behavioral patterns of different countries, I’m talking about the way we handle real estate transactions here in the United States.  If we as Realtors in the US find major differences in the way we do business from one state to the other, can you imagine the differences with other countries?

We just closed on a cash deal with Canadian Clients – I have to tell you that they were absolutely overwhelmed at the amount of paperwork that it took to close the property.  It was a simple transaction and they just couldn’t believe how complicated Americans make things (I am paraphrasing).

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We’re dealing with a French couple right now that has to ask 10 times what each clause in the contract means and why the same clause seems to be rewritten in different ways throughout the contract.  They own properties all over the world (South and Central America and Europe) – so we’re not dealing with people that don’t have experience buying real estate.

But the cake comes from a Venezuelan seller.  We speak the same language but cannot convince her that the selling strategy that they use in Venezuela does not work here in this country.  She expected to overprice a condo and just tell people the price was negotiable (when there were 25 other units for sale in the same building for less money and in better condition).  We found her a buyer a year ago that she refused and now is forced to sell $120k less than what they offered her.  There’s nothing I can say to convince them but now they are realizing that our markets are different and they should have trusted us.

Breaking International boundaries

I was so psyched to see Poppy Dinsey writing here in Agent Genius, because it would give us an inside look at the UK buyer’s mind and what they expect when investing in the US – maybe Poppy will humor me (hint….hint)

So how are we supposed to deal with the idiosyncrasies of each country and learn how to strategize in a way that makes sense to each individual client?  Our answer to this date is not to assume that people understand the process.  We take the time, from the beginning to explain how real estate works here in the US.  From representation, to exposure, to cooperating with other agents.  Nothing is left out………but those cultural differences can definitely prove to be a challenge.

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Written By

Ines is all Miami, all the time. A Miami Beach Realtor® with Majestic properties, Ines authors,, and and is always on communication's leading edge. She goes out of her way to engage and be engaged, often using Mojitos to keep the mood light and give everything she does a Miami flavor. You can find her goofing off or instigating trouble at Twitter, Flickr, Facebook or LinkedIn.



  1. Washington County Homes

    October 10, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    I completely agree that we could make the transaction process much easier than it is. There are so many papers that all those in the real estate industry know that when you go to a closing that you just have them get their writing hand ready. There are so many forms that could be compressed to less.

  2. Ines Hegedus-Garcia

    October 10, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    I wish it would only be the actual transaction that’s complicated for many – the listing agent vs. buyer’s agent; the commission structure; the inspection period, loan commitments, fiduciary responsibilities…….the list is endless

  3. Steve Simon

    October 11, 2008 at 6:57 am

    Ines it is different indeed, doing business with folkd from other Countiries and Cultures. I have had experience in teaching and brokerage with folks from many unique places.
    i will tell you this:
    What you have described is relatively easy to deal with (in this old man’s opinion). What I have found hard to swallow is the complete acceptance for the “lie” as a tactic if not a whole strategy!
    I have dealt with a few foreign nationals that have shown me that to lie is to do business where they come from. For obvious reasons i will not even hint at where these “Ports of Call” might be, but after the third or fourth travelor from one of these places employs the same game plan as they other you kind of get the picture. It’s OK, I just reach back take a deep breath and verify. Verify and do not pay in advance:)

  4. Thomas Johnson

    October 11, 2008 at 7:36 am

    @ Steve: You and I are just not sophisticated and nuanced enough to understand the fine art of the lie. The largest “port of call” for liars is our elected representatives in Washington D.C.

  5. Ines Hegedus-Garcia

    October 11, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Steve and Thomas – you guys have managed to make me laugh this fine Saturday Morning. 😀

  6. tony - vidlisting

    October 11, 2008 at 9:21 am

    For all of its warts, we Americans often underestimate the power of 1) making as many listings as possible available to a given buyer and 2) ensuring that an agent actually gets paid from a transaction involving another agent’s listing.

    In many countries that I am familiar both as a vendor, an investor, and no part owner of a foreign brokerage, the only “for sale” and “for rent” signs seen are for properties being sold/rented by the owner. Agents dont risk having other agents know that properties are for sale and “circumventing” their commission with some side deal with the seller. We are working to change that but it’s a slow process.

    Great article…as always


  7. Ines Hegedus-Garcia

    October 11, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Tony, Thanks again for your great input and THAT’s exactly what I’m talking about. Other countries deal with real estate is a totally different way and it’s out job here not to make assumptions and explain how things work.

    To continue that thought, it’s also important to explain to foreign buyers that loyalty to an agent is important (and possibly a buyer’s agency agreement to make sure their best interests are represented). We also find a lot of Foreigners that plan a weekend in South Florida and expect 4 different agents to take them out to see properties. Although there are many who would simply agree……our business model doesn’t have room for that.

    Bottom line – don’t assume and always inform

  8. Eric- New Orleans Condos and Lofts

    October 12, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    What you describe can happen to any of us with clients that are very American. Some people will never listen since they know better thyan us. It is however their money to lose as they wish. Once again they do not have to come from different cultures or countries. I have the the exact things you describe happen within the same family just this past summer.

  9. ines

    October 12, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    Eric – you are absolutely right – same issues without having to cross International borders – but lesson is not to assume people know how it works and take the time to explain.

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