Where it used to be the preserve of large companies and a few very wealthy individuals, more and more small businesses, and even casual investors, are now getting involved in the international property investment market.
Is this something that would have happened anyway, or is it a product of technological change? There are a number of factors to consider.
One thing that the internet has definitely made easier is the tracking of international markets. This was once something that the average person heard snippets about on the news or explored through the back pages of the broadsheets. Now, sites like xe.com make it easy to follow day-to-day exchange rate changes, and most of the world’s major stock exchanges have an online presence.
It’s fairly easy to access foreign newspapers and read the property pages to get a general picture of what’s going on in the country. There are many specialist publications available, which look at property investment issues in more depth and are free to access.
This makes it easier to identify which countries are ripe for property investment at any given time. It also makes it possible, on occasion, to identify new building projects looking for partners – especially in areas of high population growth. You can also find government initiatives aimed at enticing foreign investors to help improve or build up housing stock in particular areas.
The internet makes it easier to identify specific properties for sale. Both traditional estate agents and auctioneers have a presence online and many also have email lists detailing a larger selection of properties.
Improved image technology means there are now more and better pictures associated with most of these than before. However, it’s never advisable to buy on the strength of pictures alone, but these can make it much easier to begin identifying properties that suit what the investor is looking for before commissioning surveys.
Researching property histories
When buying any property today, it’s worth searching the address to see what emerges. In most European countries and the US, it’s usually possible to unearth a history of the times it has changed hands this century, as well as how much was paid on each occasion.
Local press databases are useful for finding out if there is any past history of serious damage to the property, such as fire or flooding. You can also get an impression of the level and types of crime in the area, which normally affect the property’s real value (albeit not necessarily the asking price).
If a property is advertised in publications targeted at international buyers but not in those targeted at local viewers, this should cause alarm bells to ring.
Just as the best way to check the real value of a property – and establish how much work needs to be done on it – is to partner with local surveyors, it’s important to partner with local tradespeople in order to be able to carry out repair and maintenance work.
Usually, it’s necessary to engage a letting agent in the area. It’s much easier to make these connections over the internet and professional networks like LinkedIn make it easy to compare recommendations.
However, investors should be wary of simpler review sites where it’s easy to sign up and post a review under a false name, as some unscrupulous companies use these to try and boost their own reputations.
Getting attention internationally requires a strong and broadly accessible web and social media presence. Take Center Parcs owner Pierre & Vacances Property Investments, for instance. The company maintains a regular blog and a large, frequently updated website full of useful information, as well as a second, holiday-focused website and a presence on holiday comparison and review sites.
It has a Facebook page and is active on LinkedIn and Twitter. Using multiple languages across these different forms of social media makes it easier for it to connect with customers and other business people across the regions where the company operates.
Language and culture
Doing business successfully in unfamiliar countries requires getting past linguistic and cultural barriers. Tools like Google Translate can be a big help with this, though at present they’re not good enough to be relied upon without careful checking.
In person, apps like iTranslate Voice and WayGo make doing business easier – and the range of languages they can handle is continually expanding. None of this can help directly with cultural issues like understanding different regional ideas about what constitutes polite body language and business meeting etiquette.
The best way to gain this kind of knowledge is to network, but fortunately the internet also provides lots of useful opportunities for this. There are also useful country guides available online that focus on this area.
Key technological tools
Software designed specifically for property management, like Qube or Entrata, is increasingly structured to take into account the variety inherent in the international marketplace, and it can be very helpful for investors trying to keep track of multiple properties.
This makes it easier to work across multiple nations which, as soon as companies grow large enough to have the capacity to sustain it, can be a practical strategy because it reduces the risk of getting into trouble if one national economy slumps.
Online money management systems like PayPal are a must when receiving or making small payments in a variety of currencies. They mean there’s no need to deal with the high currency conversion fees still charged by most traditional banks, and they also mean money can be moved much more quickly.
Finally, don’t overlook the power of crowdfunding. An increasing number of small businesses are using this to get off the ground and, for people with strong ideas but limited capital, they can make all the difference. Thanks to tools like this, international property management looks set to change permanently.