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How to Choose a Global Niche

Reprinted from NAR Global Perspectives
You’ve decided that specialization is an attractive strategy, especially for global real estate agents. Now, how do you define YOUR area of specialization? For some agents, the choice is obvious. More often, however, this requires some research and soulsearching. Here are several of the most important considerations:

Where does global business already exist in your market?

What is drawing international buyers into and out of your community? Do multi-national corporations play a significant role, bringing foreign workers and/or executives to your market? Are colleges and universities attracting international students? What about high-net-worth investors in luxury homes? Or, do you see growing interest among your aging population in retiring overseas? Each of these segments, and many others, can form the basis for a specialized real estate practice with global connections.

Understanding the nuances of the opportunities in your local market area usually requires further investigation. Some of this can be accomplished online. For example, a quick search of a college or university website will tell you how many international students they attract each year and where they are coming from.

International activity might not be immediately apparent in your market, but a quick Google search can tell a different story. Searching “International companies Charlotte, NC,” for example, yields results that show nearly 1,000 foreign-owned firms in Charlotte, the number of workers employed by international companies, and the city’s marketing initiatives to continue attracting foreign business.

Beyond online research, finding global business opportunities also requires networking. Once you have discovered the pockets of international activity (corporations, schools, resort/luxury properties, etc.), identify the key players. Contact the HR departments of international companies, or the admissions offices of the universities—they are often the first point of contact for those relocating to your area. Spend some time with them, explaining your expertise and how you can help their employees or students. (Dropping off a stack of business cards won’t do it!)

Make connections at your local Chamber of Commerce and use them as a conduit for learning about key developments in your area. Again, don’t just drop off a business card—get involved with Chamber initiatives and become their go-to resource for international expertise. Via networking, you may also discover opportunities that are “under the radar” of other agents, but could form the basis for an attractive niche opportunity.

What are your strongest areas of knowledge and interest?

Your research may reveal an excellent niche opportunity for global business. Ideally, however, you should select a niche that’s also well-suited to your interests and areas of expertise. For example, consider a global agent in the U.S. who learns that a new Regional Center is under development in his area, offering opportunities to cultivate business with affluent foreign investors seeking EB-5 visas.

While tempting, this agent hasn’t already assembled a network of high-powered immigration/EB-5 professionals to support his efforts and has very limited knowledge of the issues affecting this type of client.

Besides, he feels more passionate about helping members of a local and growing immigrant community—which happens to reflect his own ethnic heritage—achieve homeownership in his market. For this agent, it’s completely viable to build a niche based on repeat and referral business with members of this local immigrant group.

Do the numbers add up?

Specialization is an excellent strategy because it significantly improves your ability to connect with certain types of clients. That said, you also want to make sure your niche isn’t too small. After all, 100 percent of one or two transactions a year probably isn’t enough to pay your bills (unless you’re commanding very substantial commissions).

Consider one hypothetical scenario: An agent from Houston, Texas, notices that the percentage of international buyers in his state has consistently inched upward over the past three years and now stands at 12 percent.1 He investigates further and learns that employers in his city applied for roughly 13,000 H-1B visas in 2014, for jobs earning, on average, $83,000.2

He decides to specialize in helping foreign workers with their property needs, focusing initially on the human resources departments of the top employers. He also reworks his website, providing information and resources specially designed for transferring workers from overseas.

If this agent can successfully get the word out and demonstrate his expertise in helping this type of client, the odds are good that he’ll be able to capture business within this niche. Even if 13,000 visa applications only results in 5,000 hired guest workers, it’s still realistic that he could initially close one side of a transaction each month. Once established, additional repeat and referral business will improve his closing rate.

What are future expectations?

While it’s very difficult to accurately forecast any market’s growth potential, it’s good to be prepared for potential shifts that might help, or hurt, your area of specialization. For global agents, changes in exchange rates, for example, often prompt new demand for properties from buyers backed by a strong currency.

Likewise, the growing economic fortunes of one country (China, for example) can bring new buyers onto the scene. By staying tuned to these developments, and adjusting the scope of your niche(s) accordingly, you’ll be able to sustain the ebb and flow of various opportunities.

Who are your competitors—and ​potential collaborators?

Before diving into a niche, it’s also a good idea to scope out the competitive landscape. If someone is already active in your desired area of specialization, is there room for you too? Is it possible to work together on a complementary or collaborative basis? This aspect of your research should also include professionals in related service fields, such as attorneys, financial planners, etc., who may share interest in working with clients from the same niche market, expanding possible referral opportunities.

Areas of specialization can be established around many different types of categories, including specific and blended niches based on:

Location

  • Your own local market
  • A particular destination market
  • An emerging market

Residential properties

  • Luxury
  • Vacation homes
  • Developments/ managed communities
  • Recreational (golf, ski, waterfront, equine, hunting)

Commercial properties

  • Office
  • Retail
  • Hotel
  • Industrial
  • Land

Type of buyer/seller

  • Investor
  • Developer
  • Relocating executive
  • Temporary worker
  • Retiree
  • Immigrant
  • Student

Language/culture

  • Fluency in another language
  • Interest in other cultures

1 The percentage of international buyers in Texas was 7 percent in 2012, 9 percent in 2013, and 12 percent in 2014. Source: NAR’s Profile of International Home Buying Activity.

2 Source: MyVisaJobs.com. U.S. agents can go to MyVisaJobs.com to conduct a similar analysis for their market.

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