It comes across, at first glance, more like a World Cup soccer atmosphere than a meeting of real estate professionals. Flags fly representing dozens of countries. Participants don headwear; many dress as a nod to their culture. They hand out candies made in their home countries and sing and dance along to their local music.
It’s fun, to be certain, but it’s also business. Important business. And it happens every year at RE/MAX R4. Affiliates who attend the Global Referral Exchange quickly learn how the popular networking event opens doors to business opportunities around the world.
The thing is, these opportunities are available to all Affiliates all the time. The RE/MAX global network is always there – though, to be fair, not always gathered in one room – but it’s up to each Associate to harness its power.
“I can create connections with agents in Portugal, Turkey, India, Argentina, Costa Rica, Spain,” Alex Lombardi says. “The possibilities are there because RE/MAX truly is a global network.”
Here’s how to get started making (lasting) connections with agents anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world.
Know the Needs in Your Market
For Lombardi, a Sales Associate with RE/MAX Ultimate Realty in Toronto, global networking is vital to expanding the boundaries of the business endeavor she started six months ago to connect Canadian buyers with Italian properties.
Lombardi says many Canadians of Italian heritage are looking not only to sell real estate held in their families but also to buy vacation and commercial properties as investments. The recent decline in Italian property values has spurred interest.
Once she recognized this growing market, Lombardi made contact online with RE/MAX agents in Italy last fall before eventually meeting them face-to-face at the Global Referral Exchange.
“I can’t get on a plane every time a client wants to see a house worth 100,000 euros,” Lombardi says. “Every agent abroad is like a soldier on the ground.”
Meeting RE/MAX agents and brokers from Italy is a key component of her strategy. As is meeting them in Italy. After further introductions and discussions in Rome and Torino, Lombardi met with Dario Castiglia, president, CEO and co-founder of RE/MAX Italia, and his team at the corporate headquarters in Milan for endorsement of a referral exchange program with the RE/MAX Italia network of more than 1,500 agents.
“I have created a system that will allow agents in Italy to share their listing with me by offering them an opportunity to promote properties on our local MLS network,” Lombardi says. “It expands the reach of the properties to over 40,000 agents in the Toronto Real Estate Board and the general public at large. Buyers will be referred to agents in Italy for a referral fee. And local sellers living outside of Italy who own properties there and wish to sell will be referred to a trusted RE/MAX agent in the region, also for a referral fee. It’s a win-win situation.”
It’s important, Lombardi says, for Associates to put their money where their mouth is. That means mastering networking, building trust and having a game plan that offers equal or more than what they take.
“Certainly speaking the language of the country you wish to do business with, as well as having some knowledge of the geography and real estate market there, is a definite bonus,” notes Lombardi, who is fluent in Italian.
Build a Track Record
Referrals spring from relationships, which almost always begin with a conversation. Just ask Miguel Soria, a Broker Associate with RE/MAX Advance Realty II in Miami, Florida. He reports earning eight to 10 referrals a year – just by attending R4.
A native of Argentina, Soria follows up with every connection via email, then, based on the response he receives, adds value to the relationship by offering his services. Referral fees (on both ends) are discussed before a referral is made.
“I’m always trying to get in contact and make stronger connections with offices in countries where I already have clients, like Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela,” Soria says. “And I try to visit Affiliates at their own offices when I travel to those countries. Recently, I met with RE/MAX City in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to secure a direct relationship and to reinforce the business ties.”
Soria advises agents to get in contact with one or two offices in the countries or states where they’re looking to do business and include them in regular marketing.
“Incorporate those foreign contacts into drip campaigns to receive periodic emails with offerings, and present yourself as the expert you are in order to develop a rapport quickly,” he says. “Once trust is in full swing, business follows easily.”
Standing out from the crowd, whenever and however possible, is also a plus. Broker Associate Robert Blitzer of RE/MAX Allegiance in Alexandria, Virginia, encourages Associates to differentiate themselves from every other agent.
“It’s a people-to-people thing,” Blitzer says of networking and referrals. “No matter where you are in the world, you want to do business with people who know what they’re doing and who you like and trust.”
Make It a Two-Way Street
Roughly 75 percent of Michael Simons’ business is referrals, the majority of which come from fellow RE/MAX Affiliates.
“I have a client from St. Louis who wants to buy a retirement home in Costa Rica and sell their home in Missouri,” says Simons, Broker/Owner of RE/MAX Tres Amigos in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. “We can find an agent to help sell their house right here within RE/MAX. Every time someone is moving to Costa Rica, we send back a referral to another agent to sell their house. It’s a two-way street.”
When he adds a foreign agent to his mailing list, Simons makes sure the content is more about his area and what’s going on in his life rather than about his listings.
“This way, the connections I make become more concrete as people learn about my country and my life,” he says. “It keeps them thinking of me when they have a referral in my area.”