International buyers are an increasingly important part of the residential real estate market. According to NAR, regarding purchase of existing residential real estate, “Total purchases by foreign or foreign-born buyers were $82 billion [in 2011], up from $66 billion reported in 2010.” However, MLSs are not currently optimally positioned to help brokers serve international buyers and make it easier for those buyers to inject their money into the local real estate market.
I gained a more thorough understanding of this when I met with various practitioners, including brokers that focused on international relocation and other international clients, at the recent NAR meetings in Anaheim. I try to spend a lot of time with brokers and agents at these meetings – it helps inform my product consulting work, both when I work with MLSs and with vendors. I had a lot of new ideas for MLS features, but this blog post focuses on the international angle. One international-focused broker was especially articulate – “Why can’t we translate comments from English to other languages? And not having metric measurements on reports makes it very difficult to serve my clients.” I explained why comment translation was troublesome, both from a technical perspective (you think agents write their comments in English, do you?) and likely from other perspectives (e.g. translation may change a meaning and misrepresent the home, creating liability for the MLS). But the conversations inspired me to think more about these brokers’ problems.
The way some MLS systems handle internationization today is to allow the agent to specify their own language preference and for easily translatable field names and enumerated values to be displayed in that language. Metric measurement units, if available at all, are sometimes specified at the MLS level as an additional field – cluttering up reports for those who do not care about them. The agent experience is one thing, but the brokers in question were more concerned with the poor buyer experience. So, I considered how MLS might be designed to address this issue.
What I came up with is that MLS users should be able to specify two or three preferences when they set up a client record in the MLS: language, measurement type (U.S., metric, or both), and possibly currency (U.S., specific foreign, likely both). It would not be too difficult for a well-designed MLS to display client-associated reports and the client collaboration portal defaulting to those preferences. Currency is tricky because it is always changing – it would require a real-time integration with a provider of currency exchange rates and all reports would need to be date-time stamped and include text regarding the nature of constantly changing exchange rates. But optimizing those client-facing aspects of the MLS system based on client preferences shouldn’t be all that difficult.
As MLS systems continue to evolve to focus more on the relationship and collaboration between agent and client, continued evaluation of how the MLS can improve on that focus will be needed. I believe that, at least in some markets, MLSs should strongly consider how to improve internationalization features, to serve existing international buyers and to try to make it easier for brokers and agents to attract new international money to the local economy. If you believe so too, you should talk with your MLS vendor, and with the providers of your other real estate technology platforms.
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