A CCIM leverages her multicultural background to build a niche business.
While the economy is hampering transaction volume nationwide, international investors remain active and ready to make deals in prime U.S. markets. LyLy Lê Fisher, CCIM, CIPS, broker/owner of Fisher & Co. Real Estate in Austin, Texas, specializes in brokering shopping centers and has built an independent, niche business catering to inbound foreign investors. Commercial Investment Real Estate asked Fisher to share her insights on working with these specialized clients.
CIRE: What tips can you share with CCIMs about working with international clients?
Fisher: Be patient and thoroughly understand all aspects of the transaction at hand, including cultural differences and mannerisms. While modesty is a virtue in the U.S., you will gain more respect with international clients if you communicate the high-level positions and offices you have held along with your degrees, professional designations, and certifications. In short, publicize your achievements.
How do you leverage your multicultural background to build your business?
Fisher: Overall, I understand and empathize with international and foreign-born clients because I have been in their position. I came to the U.S. from Vietnam 34 years ago with two goals: To learn to speak English well and to graduate from college. I attribute my success not only to my own efforts but also to the U.S., which helped me flee from the war. As a result, I strongly believe in giving back to my community and my country. I also take classes to continually increase my knowledge and provide education to my clients and colleagues.
CIRE: What types of special skills are required to successfully manage international transactions?
Fisher: First and foremost, professionalism and ethics. In addition, I seek out information on my clients’ cultures so that I can adapt to and understand the way they handle business and their mannerisms. I make every effort to speak their language and learn about their families and their businesses. This allows me to build a firm foundation of trust and confidence before I even begin negotiations.
CIRE: Tell us about a recent international deal you’ve completed.
Fisher: This difficult transaction involved two convenience stores with gas stations. The sellers and lender are from India. The four buyers are from Texas and India. The buyers’ agent is also one of the buyers and is Indian. There were three original mortgages against the properties and two invalid fuel contracts with the gas distributor. During the listing period, the properties also were listed by an unauthorized commercial broker who posted them on his Web site with false incomes and expenses and a much lower asking price. And, the title company failed to send me a copy of the settlement statement to review prior to closing, so the closing went through with an incorrect figure for my commission.
CIRE: So what strategies helped you close the deal?
Fisher: I realized that the owners wanted my personal attention and was prepared to provide that. I also was in constant contact with all parties in the transaction, provided daily updates to the owners, and made weekly visits to the properties. And I extensively marketed the properties with several listing services and advertising outlets and even encouraged backup offers after the property was under contract in case the deal fell through.
CIRE: How has the economy affected investment in your local market?
Fisher: It has hampered inbound international investment, but in spite of the increasing volatility in global real estate, Austin, Texas, remains an attractive place for foreign investors looking for U.S. opportunities. I have both buyers and sellers ready to invest, but they are in a wait-and-see mode right now — waiting to see if and when lenders will start lending again.
Running an independent brokerage must be challenging — and rewarding. Tell us about a few ups and downs you’ve experienced.
Fisher: The most rewarding aspect is negotiating directly with our clients. We are able to cater to our clients’ needs without consulting a higher authority or following a set of rigid corporate guidelines. Another upside is being able to brand our own business as we grow instead of someone else’s company.
The only downside is being responsible for the actions of agents we sponsor. We minimize our liability exposure by sponsoring agents with high ethical standards that are consistent with our own or by hiring more assistants so that we personally can handle more clients.