Lorna Ramsey, top producer at KW Metropolitan, suggested that we meet at benjy’s for a Sunday brunch.
My wife, Marilyn and I had met Lorna at the British American Gala in 2002 through a mutual friend. We stayed in touch during the years that Lorna was not a REALTOR®, but was very active in the community. She started a group called “Wednesday Coffee” to bring ex-pats together and provide a support system. It has grown to over 1,500 members.
The next time we got together was at Scottish Country Dance lessons. Lorna was the “caller” (think square dancing with complications). She had not made the REALTOR® transition yet, but was very involved in helping not only U.K. ex-pats, but people like us be attuned to the Scottish culture.
But, I digress. Marilyn and I arrived at benjy’s at 13:00 hours (that’s 1 p.m. to you) in the midst of swirling throngs of Washington Corridor/Heights brunch hopefuls. We had reservations! Lorna swept in shortly after, and like magic, we were ushered to our front and center table.
Lorna suggested that we have a Pomagrada.
Like old friends, we talked about the familiar, but the conversation quickly turned to real estate. In 2009, Lorna had an unexpected opportunity to make significant life changes, including the chance to support her family. She made the move to real estate and became a REALTOR®.
We finished our first Pomagrada. Lorna orders the Crunchy Chicken and Brussels Sprouts which she assured us are fabulous. She was certainly right with the Pomagrada. Marilyn orders the same and I go with the Scottish Salmon.
With a background in journalism and catering in the U.K., Lorna’s outgoing personality and very hard work has made a winning combination. She is now a U. S. citizen and works for Keller Williams Metropolitan as its top agent.
Talking to Lorna about U.K. ex-pats, she is quick to remind us that her clients are from all countries, including the U.K. The one thing that is a focal point for her clientele is the quality of the schools. The British International School of Houston (Katy in 2016) is the epicenter of parents who want to insure that their children can seamlessly go from the U.S. to the U.K. without missing a beat. This does not mean that many ex-pat U.K. students are not enrolled in fine “public” schools along with the award winning “private” schools. Helping clients make the transition from their home country to the U.S. is especially rewarding for Lorna, allowing her to develop lifelong friends and repeat clients.
We get serious!
Ward: What about the downturn in the upstream oil business?
Lorna: This is part of the lifecycle of Houston. Many of my U.K. clients have not been directly impacted by the lower price of oil, but I am seeing quick transfers back to the U.K. Business has slowed down from the frantic pace of 2014.
Ward: What is the difference between practicing real estate sales and leasing in the U.S. verses the U.K.?
Lorna: It is very different! The commission structure for one is much lower and all listings are open listings. The key element for buyers and sellers is to select a solicitor (lawyer) that can put the deal together starting with sealed bids. The listing price is the floor for offers. In Scotland, properties are shown from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. In England, the property is for sale until it is closed. You can get “gazumped” by a higher offer on the day of closing and lose the property. Our way of doing business has to be explained in detail to clients coming from the U.K. I present my clients with a pamphlet outlining the process so that they can become comfortable with the transaction.
Ward: I understand that you hold the Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation. Has that helped your business?
Lorna: The CIPS training was amazing. As a new agent, it helped me focus on working with a much broader base of clients. Ex-pats from the U.K. are a core part of my business, but I feel comfortable in working with all nationalities.
Lorna suggested that we talk to Becci Himes, Executive Director, British-American Business Council Houston, to fill in some of the statistics on relocation of U.K. ex-pats, so we did.
Ward: How many ex-pats are in the 10-county Houston area?
Becci: The Consulate does not keep an active record of the exact number of British citizens in the U.S. as ex-pats do not register with the Consulate when they arrive. The greater Houston area has about 60,000 British ex-pats.
Ward: Again, how many families have children residing in Houston with them?
Becci: My best guess is 50% to 60% of employees bring families or at least a spouse/partner.
Ward: What is the average assignment time?
Becci: The average original assignment time is two to three years, but many end up staying five to 10 years. I know people who came for three years and are still here 20 years later.
Ward: What percentage of ex-pats buy rather than lease?
Becci: This depends on the relocation package. If it includes a down payment for a home, they will use it rather than lose it. If there is no provision in their package they generally lease.
Ward: What are some of the better known U.K. companies doing business in Houston?
Becci: Wood Group, BP, BG (British Gas), British Airways, AMEC Foster Wheeler, Agrekko, Atkins, Bibby Subsea, Direct Energy, Ensco, Hill & Knowlton, Lloyds Register, Regus Group, Severn Trent and Shell. There are approximately 350 to 400 British Companies doing business in Texas.
When checking air service between Houston and the major airports in the U.K., there are approximately 14 airlines servicing the routes with an amazing number of flights. So all you Anglophiles, since the airlines go both ways, get out your passports and let’s go!