Yes, we are “ONLY” sales people. The truth is, when serving foreign buyers, real estate professionals are often times the gateway advisor. We are the first point of contact in a new world. We are the “source foundation” influencer of all experiences to follow meaning that almost every referral, introduction and relationship made, particularly in terms of real estate, can be tied back to the agent who assisted with the initial purchase. Foreign nationals expect their agent to provide them with the accurate information and reliable resources they need to make educated decisions. Many agents are not prepared for the challenges involved in cross border transactions and have not yet developed the necessary expertise to serve foreigners’ best interest.
Here are some things to be aware of:
Sophisticated investors will already have their own financial advisors, investment model and long-term strategy in place. They will know what they are looking for in a property, what kind of return, gain or loss will work for them. They will have an asset protection and tax planning in order. They or their designated representative will most likely find you via a referral or select you from their own due diligence research.
Other clients will require a lot more time and attention. Depending on the culture your prospects are coming from, they may need to develop a relationship with you first. Then, after establishing rapport and trust, they will engage in business with you. Give them an overall understanding of how property is bought, sold, negotiated and transferred in the United States compared to their home country. Take the time to research where they are from and ask them questions to understand their perspective. Then, clearly explain the process, fees and ongoing costs involved. Provide them with a flow chart, checklist or timeline as a guide and materials in their own language if necessary to ensure a smoother experience.
While our contracts are required to be written and executed in English, do your clients want someone to explain the terms and conditions to them in another language? Do you need to hire a translator to work with you? Would they prefer to be referred to an agent who speaks their native language?
Be mindful when using digital translators. They are helpful, but not always accurate. It is ideal to have someone who is a native speaker to assist in communications, particularly someone who understands real estate terminology.
Before writing an offer, you need to know how your client is going to take possession of the property and how they are going to pay for it. Your client should be prepared for these two things before they even look at property, because it may take them several months to get their documentation and finances in place.
There’s a plethora of financial obstacles to overcome when transferring money into the United States. Since 9/11, incoming wires are under more scrutiny. The Patriot Act placed stricter limits on the movement of money to deter laundering for terrorism and other criminal activities. Also, some governments seriously limit the amount of money an individual citizen can take out of the country at one time or in any given year.
Again, the real estate licensee is not a financial advisor; currency exchange is beyond a licensee’s area of expertise; however, an agent must advise their clients on the timeline expectations and obligations of an offer, penalties for nonperformance and the consequences of breaching a contract. It’s in the buyers highest and best interest to be financially prepared before submitting an offer. They can use a company to facilitate the exchange and escrow of their currency like MoneyCorp, for example or coordinate this through their bank. (www.MoneyCorp.com)
If leveraging, they may need time for their down payment and closing costs to season in a U.S. bank account. After years of not lending to foreigners, there are more and more lenders with foreign investor programs like Chase, HSBC and Guild Mortgage. Get to know what programs are available through the institutions and professionals with whom you work.
It is not enough to understand how the foreigner or foreign entity is going to be treated by the IRS for income and capital gains purposes; your client needs to know how they will be treated in their home country as well. When it comes to taxes, they must have a global tax preparation plan.
In addition to the above, a foreigner could inadvertently be double taxed or taxed on world-wide income. There are also estate tax, branch tax and FIRPTA that they need to be aware of as well. There is neither the space nor the need to cover those issues here because unless you are an accountant or a tax attorney, you should leave this discussion to the professionals. Make sure your clients consult with their financial advisors BEFORE they buy. Take a class on FIRPTA so you are aware of the current regulations that affect property owners, sellers and buyers as well as holding agents. I recommend President and CEO of Esquire Group Jimmy Sexton’s class. For more information, go to www.nomoretaxtrouble.com
Symbiotic with tax planning is asset protection. Service companies like Esquire Group specialize in a holistic approach to wealth management using advanced tax planning strategies that involve structuring domestic or foreign entities to be in compliance with multi-border tax laws while legitimately protecting profits from excessive taxation. Purchasing in an entity is not always in your client’s best interest. Again, this is beyond a real estate licensee’s expertise. If your client does not already have their own attorney, make sure they consult an experienced and reputable attorney who understands international taxation as well as asset protection. They may need a referral to an immigration attorney as well.
There is more forethought and teamwork involved in cross-border transactions and they demand effective communication and professionalism. Always seek the counsel of your broker before advising your clients. To learn more, attend a GLVAR Global Business Committee Event. The Next GBC Forum is June 19th featuring ListHUB, internet listing syndication with a global platform, Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies and Greenburg Traurig, an international, multidisciplinary law firm. For more information or to register, contact LMarcelo@glvar.org