- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

When historians write about the 1990s, they might call it "the decade of immigration." Government analysts and writers have begun deciphering the 2000 census and are finding that this great country we call the melting pot is getting more and more diverse.

Some social observers would describe the United States more as a tossed salad than a homogenized melting pot, but the reality is that the face of the American consumer is changing.

While whites still make up the majority of the population, the number of various minorities is growing, many of them foreign born. These changes will have plenty of effect on the real estate industry.

Foreign-born residents make up 10.4 percent of the total population 28.4 million with one-third of them having come from Mexico or another Central American country.

Instead of referring to these folks as immigrants or foreign-born residents, I like the term "first-generation Americans." Semantics is everything in our culture and can produce a positive or negative spin on any particular issue. If we say, "immigrants," many native-born Americans will moan and complain of how we're being "taken over" or "invaded" by foreigners.

Keeping in mind that most every person in this country has roots elsewhere, we all had some great-great-great-great-grandparent who came over here on either a boat or by foot to begin a new life as a first-generation American. It will continue and that's not a bad thing.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) also knows this is good for the country and its industry. At its midyear conference last week in Washington, one of the trade group's most insightful forums was "Risk Management and License Law: Realities and Risks of Serving a Culturally Diverse America."

A panel that included a Hispanic and Middle Easterner used the 2000 U.S. Census Current Population Reports to paint a picture of the changing customer base Realtors and real estate firms will face in the not-too-distant future.

As the panel discussed how diversity in the marketplace is going to change the way they do business, it hit me how home sellers are about to see their world change as well.

While agents may have to work with the growing first-generation American population as customers and clients, homeowners will begin to see more of these folks as home buyers. These first-generation Americans come from parts of the globe that don't conduct business the same way native-born Americans do, thus the difference will be quite noticeable.

For some, a signed contract doesn't signal the end of the negotiation process, but rather the beginning. You just thought you sold your house for $255,900. Come settlement time, the buyer from the Middle East thinks he can drop even more from the agreed upon price. This may not jibe with American business, but it's the way business is done in that part of the world.

For Asian buyers, the practice of feng shui will govern the way they will buy property no house at the end of a "T" intersection will do. Hispanics buying a house may be using funds passed down from several family members thus, their input on the home purchase is imperative, and might slow down the transaction.

While these means of conducting business may frustrate native-born American homeowners, the NAR is preparing its members to handle these cultural differences as the first-generation American population continues to grow.

American business people opt for a low-relational mode of business. The contract is the bible of the transaction and separate from your personal relationship with the person with whom you're doing business. On the other hand, several cultures around the world are high-relational, meaning what's in the contract takes a back seat to developing long-term and trusting relationships with colleagues and business people. This is something we native-born Americans could learn from our new neighbors.

This advice from the NAR can help home sellers:

• Learn how to adjust to differences in others.

• Learn how to communicate effectively across cultural boundaries.

• Apply fair housing laws to your multicultural practice. Remember that dealing with people of different cultures means you may treat them differently on a cultural basis, i.e., the way they want to be treated; however, the decision to sell or show property to someone cannot be based on their race, creed or nationality, among other variables. Everyone must get equal service and equal access.

• Develop an "inclusive" business plan, which incorporates strategies that reach out to different cultures improving your business and reducing your potential for risk.

Since real estate agents are licensed by the state, they must abide by rules and regulations established by the real estate commission of that jurisdiction. Federal fair housing laws, however, apply to everyone brokers, agents, bankers and sellers.

Resources: Fair housing laws: U.S. Housing and Urban Development, www.hud.gov.

Census: www.census.gov. Here you'll find 60 detailed tables from the Current Population Survey. From the site, click "F," then select "Foreign Born Population Data." Under "CPS March 2000," choose "Data Tables."

M. Anthony Carr can be reached via e-mail ([email protected]).

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