In California, home builders have learned the hard way not to assume that buyers from other countries know that the home price doesn’t include furniture.
 
In the wake of lawsuits from disappointed home buyers, builders have been putting plaques on their homes: “Furniture not included in the price,” diversity consultant and real estate professional Michael D. Lee told attendees at the International Builders’ Show session on secrets to selling to the multicultural buyer.
 
Tip 1: Don’t assume a customer knows the details about the processes of buying or financing a home in the United States. Homeownership in many countries is rare, so be prepared to educate.
 
“You have got to adjust your processes a bit to meet their needs,” he said.
 
In the long run the effort  is worth it since the segment of foreign-born home buyers is growing at a fast pace, he said. The tenth most common surname of home buyers in California is Smith. The nine before it are either Asian or Hispanic.
 
And they are good prospects because they tend to have a strong desire to own a home of their own because they view it as a sign of success in America. They also often have strong finances.
 
In many cases, Asians buyers work long hours and all week long, and then put 22% of everything in savings, said Lee. Because they work long hours, time is precious; chances are, if they show up at your model home center they are ready to buy.
 
“They are not just looking, they want to buy your home,” Lee said. 
 
Tip Two: Don’t assume they want a sales person from their own culture.
 
“They will work with anyone with sensitivity to their culture,” said Lee. In fact, they may prefer someone who is not from their culture because they think that an agent from their community will gossip about their finances within the community or know their negotiating tactics.
 
Tip Three: Buying signs are different.
 
Asian buyers, for instance, will walk through the home looking but not commenting and showing no signs about whether he or she likes  or dislikes anything in the home. Then, they may start speaking to each other in their own language. While many American agents hate that and assume they are talking about the agent, Lee suggests that is a buying sign because they are looking for some privacy to discuss the home among themselves.
 
Tip Four: Be ready to negotiate everything, even after a contract is signed.
 
The United States is not a negotiating country but in many other cultures negotiating is expected, Lee said.
 
“They will negotiate with the guy on the bulldozer, asking about lot premiums,” Lee said. They may even negotiate at the closing table, not realizing that contracts are set in stone after signing. For these buyers the closing table is when they think they have the most power so Lee suggested that you hold out one option, one you typically throw in anyway, to offer at closing. If they don’t ask for anything else, throw it in anyway.
 
Tip Five: Be aware of cultural traditions that are different from those of Americans and spend some time learning about them.
 
For instance, many Asian buyers believe in Feng Shui principles and won’t buy a home that violates them. He showed a photo of a home with a walkway leading straight from the front door to the street. Many Asian buyers would not buy that home because, according to Feng Shui, it offers bad luck a direct access into the home. Curved walkways are better, he said. The number four is bad as well in the culture.
 
Also, tell buyers before a slab is poured, because some cultures want to “consecrate” their home by putting various objects in the foundation.
 
Tip Six: Home buyers of other cultures are often secretive about their finances, which can impact the finance department.
 
Lee said that many Hispanic and Asian buyers worry that revealing they have a large down payment saved could endanger their lives because many distrust banks and keep their cash in their homes, which has resulted in instances of home invasions.
 
Instead of asking how much they have for a down payment, give them a menu of choices. Show them the required investment and what monthly payments would be for various amounts down. Most likely they will choose the one that they have the saved down payment for.
 
Tip Seven: Don’t assume your potential buyer doesn’t want to talk about their culture.
 
Don’t be afraid to ask a customer about his heritage. “Can you tell me where your ancestors are from?” is how Lee suggests phrasing the question. Don’t assume all Asian cultures are the same.
 
He suggests you ask home shoppers: “Do you have any beliefs that might impact the purchase of a home?” Don’t be afraid to ask what their beliefs are, perhaps sharing some of your own.
 
Tip Eight: When a family group arrives it can be difficult to know who is making the buying decision. The best way to find out is to ask a question and then see who answers.
 
Tip Nine: Don’t automatically shake hands. In some cultures hand shaking, especially with a woman, is not a tradition. Greet them when they arrive and then wait to see how they behave. If they bow, bow back. If they offer their hand, shake it. Be aware that other cultures may have different personal space preferences, with Asians often preferring more space than Americans and some Middle Eastern buyers stepping to within a few inches of your face. Eye contact is not always considered polite.
 
Tip Ten: Treat every customer as an individual.
 

Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder magazine.