Charleston’s sea of international companies, established maritime trade and growing tourism accolades are drawing more out-of-towners looking to buy homes in the region.
That has triggered the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors to recently launch a program to teach area agents about different cultures and techniques needed to market properties to those outside the Lowcountry’s borders, particularly to international clients.
Owen Tyler, the association’s president, said Realtors have been seeing an uptick in international buyers for the last several years. The association’s program is intended to arm Realtors with the know-how in the growing marketplace.
“We have buyers from overseas and even other parts of the country. This will teach how you deal with that and the cultural exchanges,” Tyler said. “Perhaps things we do here, like hand gestures, may be acceptable to us, but from an international standpoint it may not be that way.”
The new initiative, announced this year, includes a five-day course starting May 6, teaching cultures of international buyers and allowing Realtors to earn a Certified International Property Specialist designation. The label provides research, network and marketing tools for global trade, officials said.
The week-long course will be taught by David Wyant, a global real estate expert and owner of Wyant Realty and Across Borders School of Real Estate in Ormond Beach, Fla.
Elaine Worzala, director of the Carter Real Estate Center at the College of Charleston School of Business, said international sales includes know-how in terms of color of homes, of proximity to cemeteries and even how staging properties that could discourage certain buyers.
“As we have a global marketplace here in Charleston with an international community, there are people coming from all over and they have cultural differences,” she said. “They have different tastes and other differences and if you can learn them in advance, that helps.”
The National Association of Realtors reported in its October 2012 South Carolina International Business report that the top five countries of origin immigrating to The Palmetto State are Mexico, India, China, Colombia and the Philippines.
The report added that foreign buyers and recent immigrants purchased 7 percent of the U.S. residential market in 2011, using cash 55 percent of the time.
“Immigrants, first-generation Americans, and buyers with extended families living abroad also represent a growing demographic among potential homebuyers in all 50 states,” according to the report.
The local Realtor association does not track total international sales in the region, but anecdotal evidence suggests growing interest.
Jeff Akers of Akers Ellis Real Estate and Rentals, said the group, which largely sells homes on barrier islands such as Kiawah, has seen an uptick in foreign buyers from Europe and Latin America.
“Four or five years ago I never heard about anyone from Latin America looking at real estate at Kiawah, so that’s new,” Akers said. “Many are realizing the U.S. real estate market is a good deal.”
Akers’ firm has adapted to the burgeoning marketplace by tapping international brokers to get “ourselves in front of the foreign buyers.”
The firm’s marketing strategy also includes translating its Lowcountry listings into foreign languages.
“If somebody is over in Spain and the listing is in Spanish, it gives them confidence that the listing broker, no matter where located, is welcoming,” Akers said.
Reach Tyrone Richardson at 843-937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.