Blog: R.E. Tales
(Hey, they all can't be pretty...)
In my practice, I see a disproportionate number of ethnic buyers, far more than their percentages in the US population would lead us to expect. (Lest anyone worry, most all are either US citizens now or at least legal residents – I cannot recall meeting one who was here illegally.) Before you read on, please understand that I am taking in very broad generalities here. People are all different.
Why more of these folks than one might expect? I have theories. One is that it demonstrates to your relatives back home or wherever, that you have been successful. In many countries, landowners are very much respected. Not everyone has their own place either., not like it is here on our area where you almost expect everyone to own where they live or at least aspire to it. Secondly, many immigrants came from countries where the citizens are much closer to farming than US citizens are today. There, it seems more normal for everyone to be involved in agricultural matters, more so than here. Thirdly, they may miss foods that they have enjoyed all their lives but have difficulty getting here. Or maybe they don’t taste the same.
Let’s talk about some of my experiences and group buyers to make some sense of it. That’s a dangerous practice to follow because people are so different. First, I see a lot of Oriental buyers. The vast majority are Chinese. I never see Japanese. I have always been puzzled why I don’t see them. The few Koreans I have worked with tend to have Protestant religious reasons which contribute to their search for land. The Chinese mostly seem to be interested in growing vegetables. But there are some, like us, who look forward to a getaway, a weekend and vacation place. Or an investment. I gather there is great interest in NYC and other cities from Chinese investors, who as nouveau riche businessmen are doing this all over the world. But I don’t handle apartment buildings or commercial property, so I don’t see those folks.
For a while, I had standing weekly visits from mostly Chinese who were brought to me by a NYC broker that we called King George. We got off to a rough start in our first phone call. King George speaks very little English and of course my Chinese is non-existent. From that experience, we both learned it was much more effective for us to communicate by email. It eliminates the hearing difficulties. There are no accents in email. In that first call, we were mostly clueless to what the other was saying. In person, one understands speech better as with inflections and hand gestures plus what you see out the window, real communication is possible. I think communication is why so many other agents complain to me that they do not like foreign buyers. When you have to be 100% tuned into what your customer is saying and still cannot be sure they understand you, the day with them becomes very long and tiring.
Eventually, King George and I got into a reasonably comfortable relationship and we were able to joke with one another. He brought one customer who made an offer on a much more expensive place than the offer would indicate – $88888.88. Yep, 8 is a lucky number, but not so lucky that the owner considered accepting. One of the customers came several times and I got a good idea of just what they were looking for. And I found them a perfect place. I called King George the day it was listed and he made an appointment for them the following day. An hour after they arrived, we had a deal. Twenty two hours from listing to having a secured a buyer.
Now you may think I had this one easy. Not so. First, I’d logged many hours with them on earlier trips. But the worst was yet to come. It seems they did not want to put any money down until they were sure they would get financing. But that’s not how it works and it took King George many calls, maybe threats, to get them to understand this. Then, good gosh, they did not want to pay for a lawyer. You need a lawyer if you want a closing, and no lawyer up here would take them on if they could not communicate – somehow. And none of them work for free either. So, finally they got it, that without a lawyer working for them, there was not going to be a closing. With some work, I found a NYC lawyer who was fluent in both Chinese (Mandarin) and English. That solved the first problem, but not the problem about him getting paid. Eventually, they gave him some money and things went along – until we needed to do a subdivision. The lawyer. like King George and the buyers, lived in NYC and could not come up for just that. So the work devolved upon me. But I said I’d have to be paid for this (this is not normally something which is part of my job). But I did the work and things went along well, only I was nervous about actually receiving the money they’d promised. But I did get it at the closing. That took a while as they balked at everything their attorney said needed to be done, then finally did it after enough time passed with nothing happening.
Chinese can be more demanding than other groups. (“Can be” does not mean “always”.) Witness one who called me on a place I had been active with but had not yet sold. The owner finally brought in another agent to work parallel to me; the winner was to take the full commission. We do things like that once in a great while. So the Chinese fellow called on a Friday afternoon and wanted an appointment for the next day. But I was already fully booked and politely told him so. Could he make it another day? No, he didn’t want that. He’d decided to come Saturday and I was just going to have to blow off the ones I was previously committed to. But I won’t do that no matter how important the person on the other end of the lines thinks they are. First-come/first-served; I am determined to be fair. So this guy somehow found the other broker, got him to change his schedule, and he agreed to buy it then and there, which, while legal, twisted my nose some when I learned of it. But it got untwisted after I was told how hard the closing was with this guy. Everyone involved with him hated him by the time they were done.
And then there was Mozart (his email name). He came up to see a very cheap and rundown place I had, wanted it, and kept insisting that I should lower the price. I tried to explain it to him as I do for others once in a while: I was not the owner and while I worked for her, I had no authority to lower the price myself. I said, “If you want a lower price, make me an offer. That’s the best way to see how low someone will go.” But he wouldn’t; to his way of thinking, the lower price had to come from me. Mozart’s English was very very poor but even his friends (who spoke it better) could not make him understand what I meant. Over a period of months, he kept asking and I kept explaining. I even wrote him a very long explanatory letter, asking him to take it to someone who spoke Chinese so they could translate it. I wanted him to fully understand how real estate works. He came up a second time, but we had the same results. No sale.
Finally an Hispanic fellow bought it, at a good discount, too. Months later, when Mozart next contacted me, he asked about it. I told him it was sold and he was surprised. Then when he learned what it brought, said he would have paid that. There’s a lesson here.
The last time I saw him he just came unto look around on his own and stopped in to visit. He smiled, then hugged me – so something got through.
Sam, one of my customers, came from Long Island and, years later, when they wanted to sell, they engaged me. This turned out to be a long process and it’s still not over. He had some money and volunteered to advertise in two places in “the city” (like there is only one city). Over time, he spent thousands. I have never specifically targeted the NYC papers. They are VERY expensive since they reach a lot of people. But not the right people. In my experience, not many New Yorkers are interested in owning land so far way, nor do most of them have any reason to get so much, when an acre seems like a lot to them. They have a hard time fathoming just how large 40 or 100 acres really is. And a place in the suburbs generally is a big enough step for a true city person to take at once. Sam knew that the Chinese were actively buying in NYC so half of his ads were focused on them.
We got a lot of responses and right away, we learned that if neither of us spoke at least Mandarin, many of these potential customers would never get their questions answered. So, he cajoled a lady at the paper to be our translator whenever it was needed.
That was shortly after this happened. I spoke with an elderly man whose first question was “did I speak Chinese?” They all seem to know that in English. Hearing I didn’t, he got his granddaughter on the phone. She didn’t even have an accent, her English was perfect. He’d ask something, she’d ask me, I’d answer. But by then he had another question for her; he’d never wait for her answer before he fired off another question, one after the other, with no interruption. It must have been frustrating for her. Finally, angry now, he grabbed the phone from her and asked if this 40-some acres (with two good homes and a barn for $325000) was in Flushing? Flushing? You cannot find that much land to buy there at once no matter how much money you had. And an apartment costs that much. I told him, No, that it was three hours north. Mad, he just hung up.
Many Chinese came up, loved what they saw, and returned, only to decide it was too far. Not a one gave an offer, which is surprising as I have found that ethnic folks are the ones (other than real estate professionals) who are not afraid to make offers, even crazy offers. Bargaining is a cultural thing for them and many of them (I do, too) enjoy the process. I’d make a lot more sales if I could get my non-ethnic customers to do this.
Another ethnic group I see a fair number of customers from are from an Arabic or Indian background (and that includes a few who originated from northern South America or the West Indies). Yes, I realize they would object being lumped together but, despite their many differences, their approach to country real estate has many similarities. They bargain. They come up with friends and family in tow, folks who often want to go into a real estate venture with them. They all want to raise some specialty animals. But not cows. Goats, chickens, sheep, ducks – those are all good and of interest. But not vegetables. One of my English clients who has dealt with them says they “all” lie as a beginning to the bargaining process. I am not sure I would make that statement, but a recent experience illustrates it.
A year before, I had spent a day with Haddam and his family. Nothing came of it but, finally, he did call me back to look at more real estate. When he arrived, he had his buddies with them. They said they wanted to raise some animals. They didn’t like the place they came to see, not a big surprise as no one else does either. So I showed them some other vacant places. One, they liked.
A few days passed and I got a call from Shalam, who seems to be sort of their leader. He asked me to communicate just with him. OK, I don’t care, as long as they have their act together. He wanted to buy the place but wasn’t sure if the others were ready. But not to worry, he’d buy it on his own if they weren’t. And he assured me that if any of them bought anything, anywhere, it would be through me. So I worked through his verbal offer, submitted it to the owner, and it was accepted. I sent him the contract to sign and send to me, along with his deposit check. I had his email address to use, which I wanted as in an email, I can understand what he is saying and won’t have to make guesses because of an accent. Well, he wanted something changed. No problem, I changed it and resent it. Time passed, he wanted something else changed and I repeated the process, for a total of 4 times before we were done. But he would never send me a signed contract to present, nor would he give the deposit (that got changes several times, each one lower than the last).
In the process, the story of what he (they?) changed: now it was also a slaughterhouse. That’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax because now you get into changing zoning laws, something no one can ever be sure about. That was another one of the changes incorporated in the series of contracts I sent out. The further we went, the more complicated it grew. Still, he kept insisting that they were going to buy a series of places and they would only deal through me. I’d be their exclusive agent.
Sounds too good to be true? Well, a friend who works for another company called me during the process. He had an offer he wanted to make on the same place; I told him I was dealing with some people on it already, so he agreed to hold off a bit, nice of him. Then he called me again and we talked at greater length. It turned out after all that there was only one party who wanted to buy it. He was dealing with the same folks I was and getting the same exact story about being their exclusive agent. As might be expected, that engendered a conversation between us. We agreed to split any commission from any sale from Shalam and company and would work together as a team just the same as if it were a regular co-broke.
So I told Shalam to buy from whoever he wanted, that both of us agents would be working together to make it happen. And I have not heard from him since. Maybe, caught in a lie, he doesn’t want to face either of us?
Hispanics form a distant third or maybe a fourth ethnic group. I see at least as many South Americans as Mexican or Central Americans. They do not seem to have cultural preferences on the kind of farming they’d like to do and, if you don’t mind bargaining, are usually quite nice to work with. I get a kick out of riding with them and overhearing their conversations. I am no longer fluent in Spanish, and read it better than I speak or hear it. But I can often get the gist of a conversation and, after a few hours of this, delight in giving an answer in Spanish to them. Then they start wondering what they might have said that could embarrass them. We’ve had some laughs together on this.
The other third or fourth group are northern Europeans and Canadians, who tend to like the idea of dairy farming. They ask penetrating questions and language rarely presents a barrier. They are less apt to bargain as sharply (or to buy since once they realize there are advantages of staying home – price controls, government-sponsored vacations and the like. Other cultures are even rarer – southern Europeans and Africans. Almost never.
One last ethnic group speaks perfect English, though they may sometimes speak in their first tongue when riding with me. That’s the Amish. Because of their large families, they are the fastest-growing ethnic group in America and every one of them hopes to have a farm. Parents find it important to try to arrange things so each son can have his own farm. Most of them come from areas where they can no longer find the farmland they need to support this growth. Most often this means more expensive areas. I find they can usually afford whatever they set out to buy. I have dozens of stories about them, but we’ll let that go in another chapter. They are very frugal and spend little money unless it’s something they feel they really need. Farmland is one of the thing they need. And, yes, they like to bargain too. For the most part, I find them a joy to work with.
Some are merely amusing. some can help you immensely. All are interesting.
After 40 years, I've learned a lot, & acquired unforgettable experiences. Follow these long enough and you'll eventually get the whole book. (Names probably changed, for obvious reasons.)