Serving a multicultural client base as a real estate professional is no longer an option—it’s expected. Engaging and interacting with clients of varying cultures, whether coming from down the road or overseas, is the new standard in real estate practice.
One group, specifically, culturally tied to India—and identified by the U.S. Census Bureau as “Asian Indian” to delineate a group separate from North American Indians—is the second largest Asian group in the U.S. at 3.3 million, according to Darryl Freeman, manager of Market Integration in First American Title’s Strategic Markets division. The Asian Indian population, Freeman recently shared at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo, will expand to 3.9 million in the next five years—a population, with a median household income of $100,295, rife with real estate-related opportunity.
Cultural perception, Freeman offered, can be compared to viewing an iceberg—we generally receive just 10 percent, or external characteristics, such as dress and language, when we assess culture.
“Culture is more importantly defined by what’s on the inside,” Freeman explained. “We have to be very careful about making assumptions based on the 10 percent, because while we’re 10 percent right, we’re also 90 percent wrong.”
The 90 percent, or the internal characteristics of culture, include body language, gender roles and familial structure—indicators you often don’t deduce through observation. The 90 percent also includes behaviors and beliefs around deal-making and shelter.
“The U.S. is unique in how we practice real estate,” said Freeman, who cited title as one area often lacking a direct connection culturally. “One of the reasons we at First American have devoted a significant amount of our time and resources and money to this focus is because we realized that when we have clients who come from other countries, there is no strong point of reference in terms of understanding the real estate practices that we have.”
Freeman shared the “valid generalizations”—not stereotypes—that a real estate professional representing an Asian Indian client may experience at closing. Chief among them is the emphasis on bargaining.
“For us as Americans, when we sign the contract, the negotiations are done,” Freeman said. “In Asian Indian culture, when they sign the contract, that means it’s just beginning. You shouldn’t surprised if they show up at closing, and you’ve been negotiating for three or four weeks, and now they want to renegotiate the price of the house, or renegotiate the commission—or they want a rebate, a bonus, or a kickback. They’re not trying to cheat us, or be sneaky or deceitful or greedy. It is their culture to bargain. They expect it.
“It’s important not to let our emotions get caught up in it, and get offended and pass on our angst and offense to our clients,” Freeman continued. “Most contracts are going to take two or three levels of offer and counteroffer before they settle at the final price.”
Asian Indian clients, not unlike others, respond to data—days on market, recent sales, etc. Presenting this type of real estate information, according to Freeman, can lessen the back-and-forth.
Conversations at closing, as well, are influenced by culture. An Asian Indian client may cease speaking at any point in a discussion—an action you may wrongly interpret as a red flag.
“It’s very unnerving—in Western culture, we don’t like quiet,” Freeman said. “We are uncomfortable with it. We’re thinking, ‘What are they thinking?’ or ‘Did I say something that got them mad?’ Do not feel the need to fill the space. Give them their few moments of silence.”
This indirect communication could also manifest in other ways—a tossing of the head side to side, which indicates “no” to you, but is a sign of agreement to an Asian Indian, or a “maybe” or “possibly” that, in fact, means “no.”
Time, in addition, is understood differently. An Asian Indian client may be “late” for an appointment by your standards, but is arriving “right on time” by theirs.
“Time is operated upon in two measures,” Freeman said. “Most other cultures in the world do not operate upon time being linear; time is fluid for them—it’s a rolling wave. It’s not because they don’t respect you or value you.”
Confirm appointments and share the importance of the time allotted, as well as reiterate the option to reschedule, Freeman recommended. This gesture not only accommodates the client, but also conveys your competence.
“In the next five years, we expect about 84 percent of all new-home purchases to be within the multicultural market,” Freeman shared. “The multicultural market is not the market that’s coming—it’s the market that’s already here.”
Staying sensitive in service, and adjusting course if needed, according to Freeman, will get you there.
For more from this year’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo, stay tuned to RISMedia.com.
Suzanne De Vita is RISMedia’s online news editor. Email her your story ideas at email@example.com.