Few organizations are as plugged into Houston’s economic situation as is the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR). Founded in 1918, HAR is Houston’s largest trade association, measured by individual dues-paying membership, and represents over 24,000 REALTORS®. As the Houston real estate market continues to grow stronger and outperforms national standards, Houston has begun receiving higher levels of attention from international investors, creating a need for real estate professionals that are familiar with international transactions and with fully developed skill sets capable of addressing the needs of an international clientele.
HAR created its International Advisory Group (IAG) to act as an international support body for its membership. The IAG is committed to advancing the international knowledge of fellow real-estate agents and to this extent is tasked with organizing educational and networking programs for HAR members. Despite strong interest on the part of HAR members to join the committee, the IAG is limited in size to ensure that discussions are focused and programming is effective. The agents affiliated with the IAG are purposefully selected from all areas of the city to ensure that the city is broadly represented. Leadership of the committee rests in the hands of the IAG Chair, who is elected by his or her peers for a two-year term. The incoming chairperson for 2013-2014 is Ms. Edna Corona. Over the course of her career in real estate, Corona has developed expertise with clientele from Mexico looking for residential properties as both primary homes and as investment opportunities.
More than 4,000 HAR members participate in the IAG’s international programs, which Corona deems to reflect the IAG’s effectiveness and the appeals of its programs. Some of the courses the IAG organizes present opportunities for participants to gain coveted industry designations. For example, one week-long program offered by IAG enabled participants to obtain the National Association of REALTORS® Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation. To qualify for this designation, REALTORS® are required to demonstrate advanced knowledge of the global real estate market and the expertise to work with international clients. Getting a CIPS designation “broadened my horizons,” said Corona. “I learned how to treat clients from other countries and how to do business in other countries by learning how to work with people of different cultures, who are used to doing business in different ways.”
Other classes offered by the IAG include “Risk Reduction in International Transactions,” which provides skill sets to mitigate issues that arise with both inbound and outbound real-estate deals. The IAG also offers an informative working lunch series entitled “Around the World in 60 Minutes.” In 2012, the IAG hosted two of these luncheons: the first featured a speaker from the U.S. State Department, Mr. Bob Hopkins, who spoke about diplomatic immunity in relation to real estate contracts; the second luncheon featured an international tax-attorney, Mr. Allan Tiller, who relayed information about global tax rules. Outside of these more formal sessions, the IAG invites HAR members involved with international transactions to attend various industry events and share their experience with other agents. IAG has produced informative webinars and videos, which will soon to be available online on HAR’s international webpage.
“Right now, most of our transactions are inbound and we have investors coming in from Japan, South America and Mexico, buying a lot of commercial properties and businesses,” says Corona, “so having a strong base of professionals who know how to handle international transactions is an important part to [the] continued growth of [Houston].” The IAG believes that by having these resources available to Houston real estate agents it will help prepare REALTORS® to competently and professionally deal with the potential difficulties of international transactions.
Networking is also a large part of the IAG’s mission. “We are working on getting the word [about IAG’s programs] out to other REALTORS® in the community,” said Corona. Representatives of the IAG are encouraged to attend events organized by community partners and other real estate organizations share information and best practices, and increase awareness of international courses offered by the IAG. In addition to work-related outreach, each year members of the IAG volunteer at Ronald McDonald House, interacting with children of families from all over the world who are staying at the House while they receive medical treatment at Houston’s Texas Medical Center.
Corona sees 2013 as an opportunity to build on the IAG’s continuing success. There are plans to make improvements to the international section of the HAR website, which currently has over 200 international listings in six different languages, as well as take concrete steps to increase the visibility of IAG. A big believer in the success of the IAG mission, Corona would also like to see membership in their international programs grow. She remarked, “We strongly encourage other REALTORS® to get involved in global real estate activities and take the opportunity to open the door to the world”.
For more information, please visit HAR International.
First published in the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of International Trade and Development’s International Newsletter, Volume 9, Issue 1, January 2013. The article can be found online here.