Pulte Homes, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., will build about 7,000 homes in Mexico this year, at an average sales price of about $25,000. Homes, all concrete, are 450 to 650 square feet. Bill Crombie, who was born in Canada and educated in the United States, is president of Pulte Mexico. "I'm the NAFTA man," he laughs. Crombie has worked in Mexico for 10 years. He offers his insights to BIG BUILDER:

1. If you're going, go. "You have to make a commitment to be there on the ground," he says. "Hire someone you trust there to be on site every day."

2. Be patient. Perhaps because of the weakness of government institutions, Mexicans do business with people they know and trust, observes Crombie. Plan on spending a lot of time as guests in the homes of your Mexican counterparts, with your spouse. "If any Mexican does not want to get to know you, but just wants a business deal, run the other way," he says.

3. Prepare financial statements for both countries. Financial compliance statements should be prepared under both Mexican and U.S. laws, preferably at the same time, says Crombie. The U.S. accounts for profits more conservatively than does Mexico. Unless statements are prepared for both countries, the U.S. balance sheet may get distorted, he says.

4. Master the mortgage market. Understanding mortgages is the "driver of success," says Crombie. In Mexico, an employer tax creates a mortgage fund, and most people work through this fund to get a mortgage, he explains.

5. Listen and learn. Americans in Mexico must remember that they are guests, says Crombie. "We come across in a very arrogant fashion," he sighs. The road is covered with the bodies of those who try to apply American business practices in Mexico, says Crombie. "We need to be good listeners, especially in the early stages."