Referrals: 6 Steps to the Easiest Money You'll Ever Make

Elizabeth Wilson
July 26, 2013

"You don't have to actually close a transaction to make money in real estate. Somebody sends you a client, ready to buy something, they're already pre-qualified, you've been recommended... life is good. You get inbound referrals, you send outbound referrals."

That was Janet Case, CEO of, a multilingual online global real estate networking platform. She was speaking to a sea of real estate professionals at the recent AREAA Vancouver conference, which focused on doing business internationally.

Ms Case pointed out that the largest number of foreign buyers in the US about 23 per cent are Canadians.

"How many of you are referring business to US Real Estate Agents?" she asked.

Maybe ten hands went up.

Another great question came from Georges Pahud, past President of CREA and Vice Chair of ICREA, which runs

"How many of you have asked your customers, your future clients, 'Have you ever considered buying a house somewhere else?'"

Four hands went up.

"Scary," he said. "There's probably close to $1 billion in commission being collected by American Real Estate Agents, and we're not getting any of it. If you can refer a client to someone in the US or France or Thailand, you'll get part of the commission. All for asking a simple question."

Jane Hoffman, a top Kelowna broker talked about getting inbound referrals. She noted that people are retiring and realize they don't have much time left to create memories. So they're buying in BC. She sees a lot of wealthy Albertans moving to Vancouver and Kelowna. She's also seeing the first glimmers of interest from Asian buyers.

But, she says, "If you don't have networks that include Real Estate Agents from other places in Canada, the US or anywhere in the world how will you get referrals?

Here are some of the priceless tips that came out of the AREAA conference.

All your marketing, from your business card to your email signature to your voicemail greeting to your website everything should include your country and country code. Let people know where you are, and act like you expect international business.

Georges Pahud had a great example of a Real Estate Agent in Newfoundland who learned that a lot of his clients had bought real estate in Florida. So he flew to Florida and talked to four or five Real Estate Agents who were specialists in different areas. Then he built a website loaded with information about those areas for people who wanted to buy there: schools, hospitals etc. He found local news about those areas and posted it on his website. Now, people who are interested in buying there go to his website and go to him.

"Now what does he get?" asked Mr. Pahud. "He gets a listing. He gets a referral commission for the places that they buy in the US. And he also probably sells them another place in his locality because they're buying down."

Specializing will help you both give and get referrals. Become an expert in some slice of the market and people will come to you.

Bill Hunt, international business consultant for Keller Williams Worldwide, sees untapped potential in international students... or rather, their parents, who often buy homes for their kids.

He said, "There were 218,000 international students that came into Canada last year on visas. Of those 218,000, there were 110,000 university students that entered in to schools in three different areas, the first being Ontario, followed by BC, followed by Quebec. In BC, 28 per cent of those 110,000 studied here."

Of those, he said 30 to 40% are going to buy a house, or have one bought for them.

For a Real Estate Agent hoping for referrals, he suggested focusing on the countries where most of the international students come from: South Korea, Japan, China, India and Taiwan. And his other pure gold tip was to form a relationship with the universities' housing departments and international agents.

Get to know people working in the areas you're interested in not just real estate professionals but visa specialists, currency exchanges, tax specialists and other resources that people buying a home away from home require.

One of the best ways to do this is to get involved in organizations that foster this kind of exchange.

AREAA, the Asian Real Estate Association of America, is one example. It was the host of the conference that was the source of all these tips, and its entire purpose is to create international networking opportunities. One of AREAA's benefits is access to Proxio, which CEO Janet Case describes as "like LinkedIn for agents." (Proxio is also a perk for ICREA members.)

Service clubs, national and civic chambers of commerce, and even international special-interest groups can be the starting point for some invaluable relationships. Most countries put on real estate expos, so they're another opportunity for meeting face-to-face with people you need to know.

"Long-distance buyers, particularly in the luxury category, often won't see the property in person: 90 per cent of those first views are by video," according to John Geha, president of Coldwell Banker Canada.

His advice is to find a professional video team and don't stint. A standout video will capture attention right from the start. And with only 12 per cent of Real Estate Agents investing in video, it's an easy slam-dunk.

If you're angling for referral commissions, consider the quality of the videos offered by local Real Estate Agents in the area you're interested in. Those who have high-quality video on their websites are good people to target. (And their videos will make your website look good, too.)

Big bonus: you can start your own channel on YouTube to show off all this great video, and that will enhance your Google standings.

Once you've decided on your specialty, emphasize it on your website and your other online branding. It's worth spending some money to hire a reputable website design firm or a search engine optimization expert to give your site an advantage. Get personal recommendations from your network, and don't believe anyone who says they can guarantee that they'll get you a number-one spot on Google. If they say that, run away fast.

But don't stop at your own website. The secret to being found is to be everywhere. streams your listings for free, with direct email links to you. We spend all our efforts on building traffic and getting top search engine rankings. Take advantage of our visibility by connecting your listings and brand with Potential buyers who might not find your own website will still find you.

Social media platforms are indispensable branding tools, but you don't have to be on all of them. Google+ is important because, like YouTube, it increases your standings with Google. LinkedIn is a terrific B2B networking tool, and a great place to join relevant groups. The more you contribute to group discussions, the higher your visibility. Facebook and/or Twitter may or may not work for you, depending on the demographic you're going after.

Remember, though, that on social media you have to post consistently or you're just wasting time. Two Vancouver companies, RESAAS and HootSuite make it easy to manage your social media posting. HootSuite gives you a dashboard from which you can do all your tweeting, posting, liking and updating. RESAAS automates much of your posting by blasting out any changes to your listings as social media.

ICREA and offer the Transnational Referral Certification Course (TRC).It can be done online, but live classes are also organized around the world. The course covers finding a referral partner, agreeing on compensation, meeting customer service standards, participating in the compensation dispute arbitration process, and using ICREA business tools.

The National Association of Real Estate Agents offers the Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS)courses, which provide you with the knowledge, research, network and tools to globalize your business. They're offered online, as individual classroom courses, or as part of a CIPS Institute.

Think global, act local... and act global too! Referrals are too good to pass up.

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