Cultural Differences in the Home Housing Agents Should Be Aware Of

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Written by Hana LaRock

An international housing agent has a very cool job, no doubt about that. Helping people buy homes, sell homes, find places to rent, or commercial property to buy, is generally an exciting experience that offers both emotional and financial reward for both parties. Except, instead of working with people just within your market, you get to work with people from all over the world.

Cool, right?

Well, yes. That is until you make a very easy—but potentially offensive—mistake. When working with people who come from different cultures, backgrounds, religions, disabilities, or really anything that’s a fundamental part of that person’s past, present, or future, it’s important to be sensitive to that, even if it may seem unfamiliar to you.

Shoes or No Shoes?

In some countries and cultures, it is customary to take off your shoes when you enter someone’s home, a hotel, room, etc. In other cultures, it’s polite to ask people to leave their shoes on, or to do what they are comfortable with. Whatever the case may be, you as a real estate agent should offer both options to make your clients feel comfortable, and don’t act surprised if they go ahead before you have the chance to ask.

The Number 13 or 4

If you’re from the West, then you know the number 13 is bad luck, so much so that certain elevators may even skip the 13th floor, at least in the United States. However, this isn’t just unique to this part of the world. In some Eastern countries, like China and Korea, the number 4 sounds like “death”, so this is bad luck, too. In a building, the fourth floor will become “F”.

The First Floor or Floor Zero?

Speaking of floors, in some countries, the first floor is actually floor number 1, making the next floor number 2. But, in others, for instance in many European countries or in Mexico, the first floor is the ground floor, “planta baja”, or floor zero. This can be confusing to some people, so be sure to let them know beforehand in case you’re meeting on a certain floor, or if you’re letting them know you have an apartment available on a specific floor. Some people may be okay with a third floor apartment, but not when they hear the first floor doesn’t count.

A Mezuzah on the Door Frame

What’s that thing on the door? Before you let your clients know they can’t hang anything on the walls, be aware that some people may want to hang a mezuzah on the door frame. This typically won’t damage anything, and even if it did make holes, it’s important that Jewish people do this. The same goes for people with other religious or cultural beliefs who may hang some type of prayer or protection for their home or have prayer rugs in their house. Saying, “nice artwork” can come off insensitive.

No Shaking Hands

In some cultures and religions, shaking hands is not the go-to greeting. Neither is kissing on the cheek or giving hugs (though, in the age of COVID-19, most people are refraining from this, anyway). Regardless, a good rule of thumb is to never reach for a handshake/hug/kiss unless the other person initiates it first (and, unless you’re comfortable with it yourself!). There are many reasons why someone won’t go for a handshake. It could be because the proper greeting is to bow or to place hands in a prayer gesture on the chin. Or, it could be because due to the person’s religious beliefs, they are not allowed to touch the hand of someone else (but, perhaps the man is able to if you’re a man, too).

The Bidet and Bathrooms

What’s that thing for in the bathroom? When people come to Europe for the first time (depending on where they are coming from), they may be shocked to see a bidet in the bathroom, and may even be uncomfortable with what it represents. Of course, this is something that people can get used to—and may even grow to like—overtime. There may be a similar reaction the first time seeing a squat toilet or a bucket in the bathroom. Different countries have different ways of doing their business.

Writing in Red Pen

Signing paperwork is a big part of being a housing agent. But, when you sign on the dotted line—or you’re asking your clients to sign on the dotted line—make sure you offer a blue or black pen, and not a red one. In some cultures, writing someone’s name in red superstitiously signifies death.

Bringing a Gift

If real estate agents send gifts to their clients, it’s typically after closing or after they move into their homes. But, don’t be surprised if one of your clients brings you a gift, even before you close. Gift-giving is customary in some cultures, and should be accepted graciously.

Handling Trash

The way we dispose of our trash can be very unique to the specific neighborhood where we come from. Some of us are still trying to figure out the best way to dispose of trash and recycling in our home countries. Learning the ropes of how to get rid of trash properly in a new country can be really hard to figure out. As a housing agent, helping your clients learn how to do this—and, perhaps setting them up with the appropriate trash bags and where to go to put their recycling and trash—can ensure they’re not on their neighbor’s bad side shortly after moving in.

Man in Charge

In some families, the man is the one that makes the decision for the household. If you are a female real estate agent that works side-by-side with a male real estate agent, you may find yourself in certain situations in which the male client will only address the male real estate agent.

Cultural differences are what makes our world beautiful. And, being a real estate agent is a great opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds from your own. Embrace these differences and use them to help make you the best agent you can be!

All this considered, you have to make sure that those who need you can find you! Create your Housing Agent profile today, and be sure to read up on what you should include in your Housing Agent profile in order to be found.