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Missy Howell, right, of Watson Realty Corp., talks about the value of real estate trade missions and the opportunities they provide Realtors to expand their business internationally. She was joined by Diana Galavis, also from Watson; Sally Suslak of T...
Jax Daily Record Monday, Sep. 19, 201612:00 PM EST

Realtors look for clients around world

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by: Kevin Hogencamp  Contributing Writer

Some real estate professionals are overlooking a key market for sales generation: The world.

Watson Realty Corp.’s Missy Howell isn’t one of them.

She is among Northeast Florida agents who specialize in working with global customers and promote pursuing international relations opportunities through real estate trade missions.

The National Association of Realtors says foreign buyers spend more than $100 billion annually in the United States.

International buyers are especially sought after because they tend to spend more on home purchases and are more likely to make large down payments or pay in full.

“We don’t just compete with Miami and Orlando — not anymore,” Howell said, noting Florida is the country’s top market for global real estate buyers. “There’s a whole world out there that Jacksonville is competing with.”

Howell joined three peers on a Northeast Florida Association of Realtors Global Business Council panel discussion on real estate trade missions.

The event was to increase real estate professionals’ awareness of the opportunity to promote themselves to other cultures, said organizer Gonzalo Mejia, chair of NEFAR’s Global Business Council.

Panelist Larissa Ortiz, owner of Global Properties Realty & Investments in Ocala, said trade missions pave the way to establishing valuable business relationships — and having fun.

Trade missions can be undertaken individually or with groups. Many real estate associations and their global councils, in particular, list trade missions on their websites.

Ortiz helped lead an Ocala/Marion County Association of Realtors trip this summer to the Dominican Republic, her home country.

Among the mission’s highlights were networking and sharing best practices with other real estate professionals, learning about the country and its real estate market and meeting one-on-one with potential buyers, she said.

“You go on trade missions to open doors,” Ortiz said.

Howell said learning how real estate works in other countries and educating prospective buyers and investors on the U.S. system go a long way toward opening those doors.

“We are the only country in the world that does real estate the way we do real estate,” she said.

Watson Realty Corp.’s Diana Galavis and Traditions Realty’s Sally Suslak also were on the NEFAR discussion panel.

The National Association of Realtors says Florida consistently ranks third behind California and New York in U.S. international sales, although factors like currency exchange rates and tax regulations result in global demand patterns constantly shifting.

Canada, Europe, South America and China are among the largest sources of foreign buyers in the United States.

In March, Suslak and Howell represented NEFAR at the world’s largest annual real estate conference in Cannes, France.

The event’s organizers say the conference has more clients per square meter than anywhere in the world at any one time.

“We learned that, especially in Europe, a lot of people want to place their money in a place that’s safe,” Suslak said. “They don’t even necessarily expect to get a return on their money.”

A prolific traveler, particularly to Germany, Howell acknowledges that for some, leaving their home country for a sales pitch abroad is a daunting proposition.

“The thought of a trade mission can be kind of scary if you haven’t done one,” she said.

That’s why being prepared is paramount, she said.

“Know what you are marketing,” Howell said. “Make sure you are wearing the Jacksonville hat and make sure you know what it has to offer.”

She said real estate professionals planning to go on individual or group trade missions should begin planning about a year before the trip.

About 10 months out, agents should begin making appointments and getting acquainted with the language.

“You don’t have to speak a foreign language to do business internationally, but it helps if you know key phrases like ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ ‘thank you’ and ‘nice to meet you,’” she said.

Howell said travel to and within the destination country should be booked about six months out.

Three months before the trip, marketing materials should be finalized and gifts should be purchased for foreign business associates and those who made introductions. If gift-giving is appropriate in that culture, that is.

Also, it’s important to reconfirm appointments about two weeks before the mission and, afterward, to send a handwritten note, Howell said.

Ortiz, who parlays trade missions with vacations, says promoting business abroad does little good without follow-up.

She says many of the 7,000-plus Realtors in her database are associations she made during trade missions.

“Remember the reason you went on the trade mission,” she said. “There’s still work to do when you get home.”

In the end, nearly everything in real estate comes down to relationship-building, Ortiz said.

“This is the only profession where we need each other to sell,” she said.

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