Ontario-based Hibiscus International has carved out a niche in the area of real estate tourism, and real estate agents from around the world are increasingly turning to it to learn how to help their clients buy and sell property abroad.
Company president Anne Brobyn believes it may be the only business of its kind in North America. REM recently caught up with Brobyn to learn more about her business. (This story was edited for space).
REM: How did you get into the field you call real estate tourism?
Brobyn: I’ve been in the travel and tourism industry for 35-plus years. When I first established Hibiscus I was working primarily in the development of cultural, educational and sustainable tours throughout the Caribbean and Europe. In 2005 I was asked by a Canadian developer/investor/Realtor if I would recommend four possible locations to build a Caribbean hotel and was asked to help make the necessary introductions to some of my contacts in the region. Another Caribbean project developer hired me to be their Canadian marketing representative and from there my passion for the real estate market grew.
It made sense to blend the two industries – real estate and travel – as a new niche and so I coined the phrase “real estate tourism”. I developed the consultancy side over the past 15 years and grew the business to include a full-service travel agency.
REM: What does a travel advisor who specializes in real estate tourism do?
Brobyn: We provide Realtors the opportunity to build their knowledge of destinations around the world. As we all know, the real estate corner stones are the 3Ls – Location, Location, Location. Who better to know these locations than an experienced traveller, educator and travel advisor? We train Realtors in the cultural norms, nuances, geography, history, safety and what makes a location stand out. We introduce Realtors to the local professionals who are necessary to put a deal together and make the real estate transaction possible. We send investors to look at properties and experience a destination, either on a vacation or on one of our organized real estate tours and cruises.
REM: What happens on those tours and where do you go?
Brobyn: For the past 15 years we’ve organized and led real estate cruises in the Caribbean (during our Canadian winters) and starting in 2021 we’ll have annual real estate cruises to Europe and the Mediterranean in late spring. Cruising is a way to see multiple destinations in order to narrow down the search. We also organize and lead real estate tours so agents can experience one destination in greater depth.
REM: Any other options if they don’t take one of these tours?
Brobyn: In September we are launching a series of virtual real estate tours for Realtors who don’t want to wait for the travel industry to bounce back. These will be highly educational and fun. Realtors will be immersed in the destination for a half-day, with a highly visual platform and interactive experiences. They’ll get an intimate look inside the culture, meeting real people with real stories. We’ll also learn about the process for real estate transactions in each country and meet the people who can make it happen. They’ll treat us to unique property inspections so participants can see first-hand what their money will buy. The virtual tours will be followed by optional real tours to that destination once the world opens up for safe travel. Currently we are developing in 53 countries throughout Central America, the Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East.
REM: What can go wrong if people don’t educate themselves before investing in a home abroad?
Brobyn: The stories are too numerous to mention. We’ve certainly heard some horror stories where Realtors/investors have come to us to ask our assistance in getting them out of a mess. By then it’s too late. A few I could mention without naming any countries:
- Help! There are seven titles on the same property. What do we do?
- Someone else built on our land by mistake. They actually owned the lot next door. What do we do?
- No one is getting back to us in a timely manner. We were told this would only take 30 days.
None of these were our clients by the way. Hibiscus International is not involved in any real estate transactions. We are a licensed travel and tourism company and don’t take any part of an agent’s commission or referral fees. The real estate transaction is solely between the buyer and seller agents.
REM: How do you work with real estate agents and where are they based?
Brobyn: Our agents are primarily from North America and even though we are a Canadian-owned company, the U.S. Realtors make up 75 per cent of our current clientele, but per capita, that’s just numbers. We’ve seen a trend over the past couple of years with more international Realtors wanting to come on our tours and cruises. Our new Global Realtor Community platform will be launched on the Hibiscus website, which will be open to the world. Our real estate agents have an interest in global investment and so it is our goal to bring the world together for the benefit of all.
REM: Are there certain countries that are popular places in which to buy a home at the moment?
Brobyn: The Commonwealth countries are doing well because they’re viewed as safe shelters for wealth management. They speak English so all documents are in English, they have attractive treaties and tax shelters and our Canadian banks are found in these destinations. It’s worth noting though that in most Commonwealth countries they drive on the left side of the road.
REM: What’s business like at the moment? Has COVID affected this industry?
Brobyn: Our future is looking very bright. International deals are still happening and our foreign Realtors say they are seeing signs of growth this month.
REM: How do real estate agents connect with you?
Brobyn: They can reach us through a number of channels including our new website. They can read our blogs or sign up for our newsletter. In September we will launch the Global Realtor Community membership services on our new website platform. Until then, Realtors can join our Hibiscus Global Realtor Community Group on Facebook; follow me through my personal LinkedIn page; and join the 15,000 Realtors who are connected to Hibiscus; or reach out personally through emails or the toll free number on our website.