In his 15 years as a business consultant Michael Landers has provided cross-cultural training to top multinational companies such as Apple and Nike. These days, U.S. builders like TRI Pointe, M/I Homes, and Lennar are booking him to explain the challenges and opportunities of selling homes to foreign-born buyers.
The top question he gets from his builder clients doesn’t have to do with language barriers or cultural norms. It’s a seemingly insignificant issue that many new-home salespeople deal with every day: Foreign buyers often don’t shut the door behind them when they enter a model home.
For a variety of reasons, many non-U.S.-born customers are not accustomed to closing the door when they come into a room, Landers told the audience at his recent Builders' Show presentation. It’s not done on purpose to offend the sales associate, but many salespeople perceive it that way. This turns a small misunderstanding into a big problem: The salesperson feels disrespected, the potential buyer picks up on the salesperson’s attitude, and the sale gets off on the wrong foot.
Instead, Landers recommends that sales associates recognize that the door issue is a cultural disconnect, not an attempt at being rude. He advises his builder clients to shut the door behind the clients and give them a warm greeting. Other builders have put a mechanical closer on the door of the sales office or model home, said co-presenter Linda Hebert of San Francisco-based Diversified Marketing and Communications.
Builders should recognize that foreign buyers are often put off by the welcome they receive in the sales office, Landers says. Buyers from many cultures view a model as a real home and would prefer to be welcomed into it at the door. “If I was coming to see you at your home I would wait outside to be welcomed in,” Landers pointed out. “These buyers are slightly put off at not having someone open the door for them.”
Obviously, cross cultural interactions are filled with potential pitfalls that could leave both parties feeling confused or disrespected. “Something as simple as how you greet someone could get you off on the wrong foot,” Landers said.
While it’s not surprising that builders on the coasts are facing these issues (37% of new home buyers in California are foreign born), communities in the middle of the country have large populations of non-native residents as well, including Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; Minneapolis; Houston; and Tampa. And as the middle class grows in countries such as China and India, more non-native buyers will enter the U.S. housing market.
The days of a homogeneous buyer pool are over, Landers said. “Even in a place like the University of Iowa, the number of bubble tea restaurants outnumbers Starbucks three to one, due to the large influx of Asian students,” he said.
Landers’ company offers a free online guide that lists information about the cultural expectations of buyers from 180 countries. Click here to access it.