By Karen Monroe
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Shake hands or fist bump? Eye contact or not? One air-kiss or two? So many questions, as such a split second decision can affect the progress of our relationships with different clients. Understanding the cultural variances of our neighbors from abroad is the key to success when working with international buyers, sellers, renters and investors.
New York is a magnet for attracting people from all corners of the world. The unique diversity of our boroughs is testament to this. There really is something for everyone in the Big Apple. And people want a piece of it; they want New York real estate. No surprise here. New York is a great place to live.
The surprise can come when we fail to recognize and adjust to the obvious and subtle cultural norms that divide us. What may be completely appropriate behavior to us could be highly offensive to someone from a different background. Most often the result is not as extreme as ruining a deal, but rather it affects the overall connection we make with our clients. Real estate is a relationship business, and developing good relationships requires understanding.
Last summer I worked with a family from India. The parents, who live in India, were in town for a period of time to help get their college-age kid into an apartment before school started. I had a week to find a rental apartment in Brooklyn Heights. All good. But, what I learned along way is that they were accustomed to having a staff of people take care of everything for them. I was expected to be an extension of this.
Rather than take offense to the beyond full-service nature of our short relationship, I was able to accommodate their needs. For the most part. I had to stop short of offering to build the Ikea furniture they were contemplating purchasing when they did not receive the in-store service they expected.
Another international client, with whom I regularly visit open houses, is a two-cheek-greeting kisser. She told me in the beginning that one air kiss was not the proper way. It was a subtle adjustment, and my accommodating her customs makes her comfortable.
When starting a real estate relationship with a new client from abroad, or even from another state, it's vital to understand and adjust to our differences. It's all about getting along and taking care of business.
On the Run
Here's a dicey topic: Is it okay to use the bathroom when viewing apartments or attending open houses? I usually refrain from this. However, in asking other agents their opinion, I’ve found that to some it's not an issue. If you've gotta go, you've gotta go. Still, it's slightly awkward in my mind.
When there is a roll of toilet paper present in the bathroom of an empty apartment, maybe. No toilet paper, no go. Although I confess I have crossed this line on two occasions: once when no one was there, and recently while touring apartments with a client and another agent. No one cared. I felt weird. Oh well, when nature calls.
Open houses, now that's a real no go in my personal real estate playbook. The exception would be if someone has a small child who needs to go, or a pregnant woman who has to go constantly. When I was house hunting in San Francisco many years ago, my young daughter needed to relieve herself. We were at an open house that was not busy, so we ducked into a downstairs restroom. When we came out, the listing agent was waiting and he was furious. This experience is where I formulated my thoughts about appropriate bathroom behavior. It's a good thing that we didn't want to buy that house.
Right or wrong, whether you agree or not, to pee or not to pee is a dicey question.
Karen Monroe practices real estate at Douglas Elliman Real Estate, 156 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. She lives in the neighborhood and represents buyers, sellers and renters in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Karen can be found walking her dogs and running the parks, paths, streets and bridges of Brooklyn and beyond. For feedback and all of your real estate needs, contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.