Listen, Learn, Pivot and Adapt: Today’s Secrets to Growing Your International Business

Mary Prenon | November 2020

Kevin Brown, senior global real estate advisor and associate broker, Sotheby’s International Realty

Growing your international residential real estate business in today’s “new normal” times requires listening, learning, pivoting and adapting. That advice, courtesy of Kevin Brown, senior global real estate advisor and associate broker with Sotheby’s International Realty in Manhattan, was presented on Nov. 5 during the 2020 Global Real Estate Summit, held virtually this year.

Brown is often quoted in international newspapers and appears in media broadcasts on a regular basis. His approach in servicing both buyers and sellers has helped him to achieve sales of more than $2 billion.

Held via Zoom video conference, Brown’s session concentrated on how to navigate and expand global real estate transactions during the continuing pandemic. “You have to be able to pivot your business plans and marketing during these uncertain times,” said Brown. “Be the best listener, learner and adapter that you can and work on getting ahead of the next stage of a crisis.”

Prior to COVID, almost 75% of Brown’s international real estate business came from real estate buyers and investors in China. However, when the pandemic struck, that market began to dry up. “All of a sudden, though, we started getting a lot of inquiries and referrals from Mexico and South America,” he said. “At that point, I had to pivot my marketing to south of the border, making more connections with brokers and bankers in that region.”

Brown’s mantra for expanding business is “follow the money.” He reads “Mansion Global” every week and keeps on top of trends, following where buyers are coming from and where they’re going.

“Then I just reach out to brokers in those areas because I know that every person I touch probably knows another 200 people,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s still all about relationships.”

He also invests in having all of his marketing copy translated to the language of the potential buyer, and even his business cards offer translations on the back. “It’s just another way of respecting your potential clients,” added Brown.

The virus itself was responsible for forcing just about everyone to pivot their business to virtual meetings and showings. “In New York City, we just didn’t do virtual tours, but now I do all of my pitches for major properties via Zoom,” he explained. “People just don’t want to have others roaming through their apartment right now, so I think this technology is definitely here to stay.”

Despite the unfavorable press that New York City real estate has endured lately, Brown remains optimistic. “Manhattan is not emptying out and I believe the marketplace is actually starting to recover,” he explained. On the international front, buyers are still looking to New York as a safe haven because of the way the virus has been handled and because of the region’s renowned health care facilities. “These clients can also escape to New York to be able to do their banking in a stable political system.”

On the domestic side, Brown sees a lot of people who moved to Long Island, the Hudson Valley or Connecticut starting to come back to Manhattan. “Many of them are keeping their suburban locations, and looking for smaller apartments in the city,” he said. “There’s also a shift away from open floor plans. People want their privacy and now everyone wants some outdoor space.”

Interest in Manhattan’s “hot” areas of Tribeca, the Meatpacking District and SoHo are giving way to the quieter neighborhoods of the upper East and West sides. With interest rates still on the decline, Brown predicts a great future for New York City.

Another big change that Brown has seen over the past year is that close to 95% of his business now comes from referrals, as opposed to only 60% just a year ago. To stay on top of this, he sends out some 35,000 e-mails every month to former and potential clients and referring brokers.

He keeps the content focused on lifestyle and community news. “Its so important to be touching someone every month and making that connection,” he added. “While it does take a certain amount of discipline, you have to be consistent to get the results.”

Mary Prenon
HGAR, Director of Communications