Li Song was working three different jobs as a new Canadian, struggling to make ends meet. Coming from China, she went through considerable culture shock, even though she’d had a bit of English to get started.
Now Song is a successful salesperson and REALTOR® in Saint John, New Brunswick, not only helping immigrants buy their dream home, but serving as a valuable resource for other REALTORS® seeking to tap into a growing market.
As someone who has spearheaded a charity community program called PRUDE Inc.—which stands for Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education—to promote multiculturalism and knock down language barriers for newcomers, and who worked at the University of New Brunswick’s International Recruitment Centre, Song walks the talk.
Canada is poised to dramatically increase immigration to more than 400,000 per year as it aims to boost its economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic and grow in the future.
TIP: CREAStats.ca provides up-to-date data regarding population changes from migration and immigration.
According to a survey commissioned by Royal LePage in 2019, one in five homes purchased in Canada was by a new Canadian.
“The most important thing you can do as a REALTOR® when serving newcomers to Canada is to try and wear their shoes, so to speak, and understand where they are from,” says Song. “You need to really listen.”
Vancouver-based REALTOR® Ron Parpara also sees a lot of new Canadians in his real estate business. Like Song, he walks the talk, and donates a percentage of his sales toward building homes in developing countries, as well as volunteering to help the homeless.
“The most important advice that I can offer is listen well, give honest and clear advice, include the pros and the cons, and always work to create high standards for our profession,” Parpara says.
His team specializes in relocation and he has had strong feedback from people who are coming to Canada from other countries such as the United States and those in Europe and Asia.
“One agent can’t do everything, so having a proper team allows you to communicate with a broader clientele,” says Parpara. “A lot of people buy or even rent with us, because we have earned their trust and respect.”
Learn to read the nuances
Serving the immigrant market is easier said than done, of course. Newcomers may not yet have a good grasp of English. They are likely still adapting to living in Canada, which can include dealing with different weather and cultural mores. Even something as simple as ordering a beverage can be challenging for new arrivals.
“When I went into a Tim Hortons to order a tea, I was thinking green tea, as I came from China, not the black tea everyone else might expect. So what is in the newcomer’s mind for something that appears so simple is not always what you might think,” says Song.
If just ordering a drink invites nuance, consider the process of buying or selling a home, which can be mind-boggling and stressful for anyone, is especially daunting for immigrants.
Did You Know: on REALTOR.ca, consumers can search for properties using several different currencies from around the world and can search for a REALTOR® based on languages spoken? Make sure your profile is complete in your MLS® System to include your phone number, website, social accounts, designations and more. (Fields may vary by board and association). These details are important to connect potential buyers with you. Visitors looked at REALTOR® profiles 11 million times in 2020. That was an increase of 24% from 2019.
So, REALTORS® need to explain details such as home insurance and home financing, including the “how and why” perhaps more than usual. There may be additional guidance throughout the entire process, even if the buyer had purchased a home in their home country.
TIP: The Home Buyers’ Road Map is an information toolkit to help buyers make informed decisions when planning to buy a home. It’s available online (and in print in five languages).
Another item that must be explained to new Canadians that might go unnoticed otherwise is how to maintain a home, especially during the first year or so of ownership.
“Many people from other countries may have lived in a concrete apartment building, so how to winterize a house is something they have never had the opportunity to know,” says Song.
New Canadian clients may also have questions about establishing credit as they may be coming from a country where it isn’t required or expected for a home purchase. You may not have all the answers, but as you build a career in real estate, you’ve built a network of professionals you (and your clients) can trust.
New Canadians may need more assistance understanding the ins and outs of a new system, but in the end, it will be worth it, says Song, given that new Canadians tend to be keen on becoming homeowners.
“People are coming to Canada because it is safe and open with a good record of human rights, and they want to put a roof over their heads,” she says.
Strategies for marketing to new Canadians
What are some strategies to make yourself more attractive to international buyers and new Canadians who are seeking to buy or sell a home?
- Realize the power of reputation. Word of mouth goes a long way for REALTORS® who deal with new Canadians, Song says. If you do well, you will get referrals.
- Keep your finger on the pulse of areas of interest. Song keeps in close contact with bankers and other professionals who know about government and other programs that might be suitable for new Canadians. She recommends other REALTORS® benefit by doing the same. Be familiar with and read the publications that directly reach new Canadian communities.
- Get involved with local initiatives for newcomers. The St. John Real Estate Board, for instance, has created projects such as having local REALTORS® paint the walls of The Saint John Newcomers Centre so people there can feel more welcome, says Song.
- Get out into the community. The more you attend events where newcomers are gathering, the better your network will thrive. Remember friendships can flourish over food and events such as Chinese New Year festivities or the Indian Festival of Colours. They can broaden your mind and connections. Remember to follow public health guidelines for events held during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Travel internationally. If you’re able to, visit new lands and explore different cultures, which can help you learn how other people around the world live and do business.
- Consider learning another language. If you speak the language of your immigrant clientele, the better you will be able to understand and serve their needs.
- Reach out directly with your own newsletter. Song publishes newsletters through her company Song Good Associates, which she operates with her business partner and real estate mentor, Janice Purdy.
- Maintain a Google presence and post on social media. “Keep active so that people know you exist online. Marketing online is important,” Parpara says.
- Grow your knowledge with courses. “It’s always good to take courses from real estate councils and associations,” says Parpara. “There is a need for more outreach to new Canadians and immigrants. You want to increase your exposure to a variety of clients, different cultures, age groups and personalities.”
- Keep up to date on the lending and qualification process in Canada, says Parpara, who has a business background in banking. Get to know reputable mortgage brokers, who can sometimes find creative solutions.
- Join CREA Global. CREA Global makes it easy for thousands of REALTORS® in Canada and international real estate professionals to network, exchange referral opportunities and compete in international markets.
Canada’s immigrant population is large and growing. Currently making up about a fifth of our country’s population, immigrants are expected to make up to 30% of our population by 2036, Statistics Canada predicts. REALTORS® looking to expand their client base are wise to tap into this increasingly lucrative market.