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Buying and selling homes is stressful no matter who you are or what the occasion may be.  It is even more difficult for those for whom English is not their native language and for whom the US is not their native land.

First there’s a language challenge (depending on English fluency).  Even more, there’s a cultural challenge in terms of how homes are bought and sold. Add the normal stress to the cross-cultural confusion and there’s a recipe for misunderstanding, bafflement, surprises and upset.  One of the biggest areas for clashes is how negotiations are carried out.

I have had the pleasure of traveling to many places around the globe and to live in Italy for the better part of a year while in college (in Florence, and yes, I loved it).  I remember very vividly some of my own cultural frustrations and although I was fairly fluent, missing a whole lot of social cues. I had to work to learn to negotiate for simple things like fruit and sweaters in the open air markets.  And I was just 20, not trying to purchase anything as significant as a house or condo.

My clients today come from all over. Typically, at any given time, more than half of my clients are foreign* (and I love working with them and hearing about their experiences, customs and traditions).  Every once in awhile,  we discover that buying and selling expectations are vastly different from Silicon Valley to wherever they came from. Here are a few:

  1. Expecting to negotiate at every turn, starting from the time the seller accepts the buyer’s offer and continuing until close of escrow (not done here: you negotiate at most two times – first when writing and countering offers and second prior to removing contingencies, if something new is learned during the course of the inspections.  If you negotiate at every opportunity, you will have everyone angry at you!)
  2. Not wanting to negotiate at all (we do not negotiate in the US as much as is done in Europe, China and other places, but we do negotiate some for homes and cars – in some countries there’s even less negotiating than here, but if you don’t try to negotiate a little you will probably leave money on the table)
  3. Not understanding the business boundaries (this can be the buyer/seller or one of their close relatives – when and how much to call or even whom to call or not – I once had the parent of a client call me and insist that I “make” his adult child buy a house!)
  4. Loyalty to one’s agent is expected here – some buyers may not understand the fiduciary relationship to the agent and don’t hire carefully, instead preferring to always work with the listing agent (thinking it will create a more favorable position).  Others will work with an agent for a year and then, when they are truly ready to buy or sell, drop the agent who has done so much for them and hire someone else (who can swoop in and make money fast).  They may find themselves in the awkward position of suddenly having the overlapping help of several agents who will be upset with their disloyalty and feeling hurt that their effort, time and attention are dismissed at the point of actually buying or selling. (Here, it’s expected that you hire one agent and work only with her or him and if you switch agents you have a good reason & communicate it clearly.) For us, this behavior is unconscionable but for some non Americans. it’s “just business”.

So I wanted to make a quick suggestion for non-native real estate consumers: when buying or selling real estate here, it’s really best to hire a great agent (do not work with more than one at once),  develop a relationship with him or her, and allow yourself to be guided by  your trusted Realtor (with your input and wishes pre-eminent, of course).  Your agent can help you to understand the home buying and home selling process here so that you don’t end up both frustrated and the target of anger.

It’s a bit like being a contractor or the conductor of an orchestra, this business of buying and selling a home.  There is so much to be understood and coordinated, and so many subtle things which you may not understand if left on your own, that you are at a real disadvantage if you try to “go it alone“.  Hire well and then ask about the process and expectations and learn how buying and selling is done locally.

*Here’s a partial list of where some of my non-US clients, past and present, have been from or now live: Canada, England, France, Finland, Russia, Ireland, Denmark, Japan, China, Korea, Viet Nam, Australia, Israel, India, Mexico (I am sure that I am forgetting some!)