REO brokers who want to gain an edge with asset managers and banks are being encouraged to form "international shops" designed to better work with foreign investors.
"We're starting to see a lot of money from offshore," said John Yen Wong, the founding member of the Asian Real Estate Association of America at REO Expo in Fort Worth, Texas. "These people made a lot of money off the boom and view the U.S. as a safe place to park their money here. They're not flipping houses either. They're renting out and they'll leave their money here for the next five to 10 years."
A report from the National Association of Realtors this week showed international clients will spend an estimated $82.5 billion in U.S. real estate this year, up from $66.4 billion in the 12 months ending in March.
"The key question everyone is asking is how do we find these international investors?" said Ivan Choi, senior vice president for Matt Martin Real Estate Management.
Lisa Mundahl Greene, a broker-owner for RE/MAX in Seattle, works with investors from Vietnam, China and Canada who are buying previously foreclosed single-family and multifamily properties. The Vietnamese group buys roughly 20 properties per month, she said.
"I'm looking for someone who's fluent in these languages to help me work with more investors," she said. "These international brokers are operating on their own, and I'm trying to extract them out to work for me."
Tatyana Chashnik, a broker with Home Real Estate in the Denver area, said she's taking advantage of a large Russian community in her state. Being able to speak fluent Russian has helped her gain a trust in the community not just for real estate. Many, she said, aren't actually investors. They're looking for someone to help them assimilate.
"I sell maybe two to three homes per month to Russian clients," she said. "But they don't just ask for your advice on real estate. They want advice on how to live here."
Yen Wong said executives at the major banks such as Citigroup (C) and Wells Fargo (WFC) are targeting the international demand, but they want to be sure the REO brokers who receive these listings can handle these high-end investors.
"The Hispanic community in particular will have a $1.6 trillion buying power by 2016," said J.R. Martinez, former president of the Fort Worth National Association of Hispanic Realtors and an agent with Kenneth Jones Real Estate. "We are seeing a lot of investors from Mexico and South America."
Martinez advised brokers to contact the Hispanic chamber in their communities to make contacts with interested foreign investors. Investors call these organizations, he said, and they are looking for REO brokers to help them find previously foreclosed properties.
"Don't judge them on their appearance," J.R. said. "They may be dressed very modestly and have a very modest house. But trust me, there is cash under the mattress."