BY RICK WEINBERG, CALIFORNIA BUSINESS JOURNAL
He is finally back in his office after meetings with real estate clients, investors and bank executives in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, England, Russia, Iceland, Amsterdam, Austria, Hungary and, of course, China, where Jerry Koller’s international real estate venture first began several years ago.
Koller is President and CEO of International Home Realty in Irvine, California, an innovative real estate company that focuses on foreign real estate buyers. Koller was among the first in the industry to recognize that foreign investors, particularly those from China, were interested in buying homes and investment properties in the U.S.
“Contrary to what people are thinking or saying, I feel the world is one big market,” Koller says, staring out his office window. “It’s not separate countries. It’s just different locations. We’re one world.”
Especially when it comes to real estate and California.
According to the National Association of Realtors, foreign buyers purchased $35 billion worth of properties in California in 2016, an increase from $27 billion a year earlier. Seventy-one percent of those foreign buyers were from Asia and Oceania – up from 51% a year earlier.
When Koller initially visited China several years ago, he realized that “wow, these people really do have a real appetite for real estate in California and the U.S.”
He decided this was the market to be in and he built his business model accordingly. He hired a Chinese-speaking realtor, Claudia Chyang, and he journeyed again to China, this time to build relationships with real estate companies, investors and banking executives.
Koller and Chyang conducted presentation after presentation, seminar after seminar, throughout the biggest cities in China, including Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Tianjin.
The plan worked beautifully.
“There’s not too many real estate companies out there doing what we’re doing,” Koller says. “Rather than sending mailers to some of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Orange County and Southern California to get a listing, it’s actually cheaper for us to go to China, spend two weeks there, network and come back.
“So we decided that rather than hack it out with the thousands of real estate agents here, where you get mailer after mailer from them, wrestling with that was not beneficial to us,” he adds. “I felt it would be easier and more cost effective if we go to where the buyers are and meet with groups. We wound up getting tied in with people and companies who now refer clients to the U.S. It has really snowballed.”
It snowballed to the point where Koller also hired real estate specialists who speak a variety of languages, including Korean, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese and Farsi.
It snowballed because Koller took the time and made the effort to go to China, the Baltics, Scandinavia and the other countries. He didn’t sit back and wait for them to come to him. He went to get to know them. He was proactive.
“They respect that – that’s their culture,” he says. “Now they are sold on us. We’ve built quite a reputation and now we’re a real trusted resource for people worldwide.”
Koller has been involved in real estate since he was 18 years old, when he purchased his first property – a four-family apartment building in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“Did I mention I did it without any money,” he says with a laugh.
At the time, real estate loan rules were far less stringent than they are today — post 2008 housing crisis.
The creativity Koller utilized to put down $5,000 on the property was intriguing. After viewing the property, he typed up a list of intended repairs for the owner. The amount of the repairs was $5,000. When the seller handed Koller the check, Koller turned around and handed it to the bank as the down payment.
Several months later, he sold the property for $25,000 more than what he purchased it for.
“I thought, ‘This is the easiest way to make money ever,’” he says. “I was sold on working in real estate right away. I knew this would be my career.”
He bought and flipped two more properties and after attending the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Koller moved to California to launch his real estate and lending practice. He served as VP of Sales for LendingTree and in 2007 he began “dreaming up” his international business focusing on Chinese homebuyers and investors. Then, when the 2008-09 housing crisis struck, he launched his new business.
Koller has been contacted by several worldwide developers who are building 300-500 units in Southern California and they’re interested to have International Home Realty represent them to sell them overseas.
“They’ve been watching us as we’ve developed our company and they like our style,” he says. “We earned their trust that we can do the job and market internationally.”
They have their own teams, but not an international one like Koller.
“No one has the knowledge that puts it all together like we do – people who look at the world the way we do,” he says. “The idea that real estate is a local product is no longer the case.”
International Home Realty
16485 Laguna Canyon Road
Irvine, Ca. 92618