Working with foreign buyers and sellers may be different from what you are accustomed to in your normal course of real estate practice. In many cultures throughout the world such as India, Egypt and other portions of the middle-east and Asia, business is highly personal. Most business meetings will start slowly and involve extended inquiries into topics such as your travel and well being. Your clients will want to develop a personal relationship with you, their chosen professional, before they will engage in business transactions with you. These relationships take time and nurturing, sometimes over a period of many months. Be patient. For us Westerners it is a time to hurry-up and slow down. Be aware that you are perhaps being tested.

Often it is difficult enough to develop relationships with people who appear to think, look and act like us. However, when it comes to developing a business relationship with people from differing cultures, it can take on a whole new persona! In the Western culture we move quickly with business decisions and find it unnecessary to develop long-term personal relationships with those with whom we do business. This is not true in other parts of the world. If your transaction seems to be dragging on, stop and think about the culture of your client. Tune in. We must be conscious and aware of this and not become impatient. It’s time to slow down.

In order to foster international cross-cultural business transactions, it is imperative that you reach out and learn about the history and culture of the people with whom you wish to conduct business.  All cultures have good and bad characteristics, including our Western culture.

If you suddenly find yourself working with someone from a different cultural background, quickly get up to speed. It is our job to open our minds to new and different experiences. Be open minded and curious. Ask questions. Read as much as you can about their culture and history. The book Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands by Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conway is an excellent place to start learning about business practices in more than 60 countries. Talk little about yourself unless asked; rather ask questions about the other person’s culture and family. Listen. Slow down and do not press business issues too long or too soon. Try their food. Get out of your comfort zone and a new world could open up to you. Be adventurous and you will gain insight into customs practices from other parts of the world. Consciously decide to be appreciative of the differences you discover. Being an open-minded, curious individual will serve you well in creating and maintaining long-term cross-cultural relationships.

If you encounter cultural practices with which you are uncomfortable, be respectful but do not participate. Generally, they will understand and not expect you to join in. Also, it should not be your goal to change the world. Realize this is their custom and some of your customs could appear just as strange to them.

For virtually all people of the world, food is a common denominator. I think back on one of my first exchanges of a true international nature. My family had the pleasure of doing business with a retired Commodore from the Egyptian Navy. During his visit to Houston we asked Commodore Aziz to dinner. He commented that he would really like to go where locals go to eat. So, instead of the usual “cookie cutter” type restaurants we chose Shanghai Red’s, which exuded the rustic flavor of Texas and offered a wide selection of food. The restaurant, long closed, sat on Brady Island alongside the Houston Ship Channel and offered a view of the turning basin. We had a wonderful time visiting over our meal. So invite your new friends to join with you in a meal. Have a place or two in mind so when the opportunity presents itself so you are prepared to extend an invitation. The time spent together will deepen the bond. Be mindful that in many countries meat, pork and alcohol are prohibited foods so choose a place that is suitable for your guests. And, if you are invited for tea, go. Your goal is a long-term bond that will be remunerative both emotionally and financially.

To learn more about international real estate, sign-up for the Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation classes being offered by your HAR’s Member Training and Profitability Department.