The Situation
You visit the home of a prospect whose culture is relatively unfamiliar to you. How do you understand the role culture might play in their remodeling needs?

Selling Blind
“Many remodeling contractors say they treat everybody the same,” says marketing consultant Michael Lee. “But that isn't true,” he says. “If I were blind, would you just hand me a brochure to read?”

Lee cautions that there are only cultural tendencies, and you should never presume a prospect's likes or dislikes. Sensitivity, however, is essential. A remodeling preference that may not make sense to you may be deeply important to the homeowner. Respecting this can lead to a larger project, a better relationship, and strong referrals.

Some Cultural Tendencies
Asian homeowners, particularly those of Chinese descent, often want a range hood that vents to the outside, according to Lee. It's not that they don't like the smell of their cooking but because many Asians see homes primarily as investments. They don't want food smells to harm their home's resale value.

Similarly, practitioners of feng shui — the Chinese practice of positioning objects to achieve harmony with the environment — believe that bad energy travels in straight lines. They prefer curves to straight lines, and they may want to keep walls instead of creating open spaces. A similar practice in Indian cultures is called vastu. Other remodeling preferences common to some immigrant groups include additional guest bedrooms for extended-stay guests, and larger garages, sometimes with apartments over them.

Capitalizing on Culture
Once you've established a comfortable rapport, ask about their beliefs and cultures, and really tune in to their response. Many people from other cultures believe that American contractors either don't care about their culture or believe their culture is odd, Lee says. You can dispel this perception by talking about your own culture. “By the way, my ancestors came from Ireland and Italy in the early 20th century. Where are your ancestors from?”

This approach doesn't always work, Lee admits, and that's fine. “But generally, if you show a sincere interest, they'll open up,” he says. And even if you make a cultural mistake, they'll be more forgiving than if you showed no interest in their culture.

Michael Lee is author of
Opening Doors: Selling to Multicultural Real Estate Clients, and principal of; 800.417.7325.