Manners maketh sales to foreign buyers

Africa is becoming a business destination, bringing many foreigners in search of business opportunities - and residential property.

Long regarded as the basket case of the world, the continent is slowly reversing its fortunes with the sum in investment overtaking international financial aid for the first time in 2006.

“And that gap has since grown,” says Dr Willie Marais, national president of the Institute of Estate Agents (IEASA). “Foreign investment has quadrupled in the past decade, with China in the forefront of the new wave of interest in Africa’s resources.

“As a result, increasing numbers of Chinese businessmen and workers are settling in Africa and those planning to stay for extended periods are looking to buy residential property,” Marais says.

“This is also the case in South Africa. However, sellers hoping to market their property to this community are advised to take cultural differences – which can diverge sharply from Western norms – into account.

“For instance, whereas informality may be seen as nothing more than good-natured friendliness in Western culture, it may offend the sensibilities of cultures that place a high premium on respect and social decorum,” Marais says.

One instance where cultural differences are glaring is the business lunch. While it is quite appropriate to invite Chinese clients to lunch, it is a serious faux pas to discuss business over a meal. And if business cards are exchanged, it is considered polite to accept or offer a card with both hands – and never to place a card in a pocket or wallet instead of in a special card case.

It would be a serious breach of social etiquette to touch clients in public or to dress casually for a business meeting.

And any gifts or small tokens of appreciation will have to be selected with care to avoid giving something that denotes bad luck, such as clocks, handkerchiefs, anything in the colours white, black or blue, or anything with the number four. The number four is associated with death and many Chinese buyers would be extremely reluctant to buy a property with this number in the address.

Consequently, Marais says, sellers would do well to seek out estate agents versed in the required social and business etiquette if they wish to tap into this market. “Moreover, agents should also take into account that the concept of private property is foreign to many Chinese. Until the 1990s, all property was owned by the state and could only be leased for periods up to 70 years.”

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