Leasing From a Pub: Differences in the Global Housing Market

A few days into my trip to Ireland—a five-month period of “self reflection” otherwise known as a vacation—my friends and I needed a place to rent. The hostel we were staying in served free breakfast, but we also had to wear flip-flops in the shower to avoid contracting Athlete’s foot.

After making a few phone calls, we agreed to tour a home for rent on the outskirts of town. The address was 4 McDonough Drive, but after discovering three such streets in the same neighborhood, we called the owner for help. “It’s the house with the blinds in it,” said Tom, who, judging from the background noise, was in a pub. “I’m not home, but there’s a key in the rafters above the door.”

Now I was annoyed. I could overlook Tom’s affinity for mid-afternoon drinking (this was Ireland, afterall), but he was unaccountable and gave ridiculous directions. The house with the blinds in it—how silly of me! What other unique features should I look for? A door? Some windows? A roof?

Twenty minutes later, we were standing in front of Tom’s house (blinds included), wondering how in the four-leaf clover we were going to get the key from the roof. Of all the times to forget one’s pocket-sized ladder!

My friend, Liz, had the lightest frame, and I was given the job of hoisting her up into the air on my shoulders. She managed to get her fingertips above the rafters, but the key—much like Tom—was nowhere to be found.

Trudging back into town to face another night of showering with shoes on, one thing became very clear: the leasing process is far more casual in Europe than the U.S.

I’m certainly not saying that Tom is representative of all owners in foreign countries, but as Paul Bergeron discovered while writing the article “Worldly Investments” for the May issue of units, it’s important to understand cultural differences when entering a global housing market.

  1. Language barriers. Things can get pretty awkward (and illegal) in Ireland if you don’t know the difference between craic and crack. Imagine the misunderstandings that could arise in a non-English speaking country.

    To overcome the language barrier, it is helpful to have local staff who can conduct business meetings. Many countries prefer to work with vendors who have a local presence anyway. If you don’t speak the language, some foreign housing firms offer English translation on their website.
  2. Cultural considerations. Traveling in a country the size of China—and in one that has such wide-ranging levels of development, religious customs and general social cultures—requires a savvy approach, says one CEO. Companies with a presence in China say that the closer a city is to Beijing, the more government regulation and restrictions apply.

    This did not seem to be an issue when I sold unrefrigerated sandwiches on the streets of Galway, but something tells me we were flying under the government radar.
  3. Operational differences. European employees typically are given six weeks of vacation, 10 holidays and have a liberal sick-leave policy—and, if you’re Tom, a liberal pin
    t-drinking policy. Keep this in mind when staffing regional offices and company headquarters.

Global executives say savvy apartment management companies entering international markets learn to blend their effective business practices with those in place in the local market.

This should not include hiding keys on a roof, regardless of what country you are in.

For more on doing business abroad, check out the May issue of units, which mailed May 8. The e-version is available here.

What’s the most interesting experience you’ve had in the global housing market? Send your story to lauren@naahq.org.