MAR President’s Report | “Foreign Clients At Our Door”

“Not only is Detroit the home of the auto industry, it is an absolute icon to the Chinese.” That is the gist of what Ann Arbor attorney Peter Theut shared with MAR leadership at its Achieve conference in Detroit.

The international business theme was picked up by several speakers at Achieve, which was held in January at the MGM Grand. Theut, who’s “been to China 50 or 60 times”, painted a colorful picture of determined Chinese investors seeking U.S. investments. He also lauded Governor Rick Snyder’s aggressive approach to kindling new economic ties in China.

“The Chinese see foreign investment as a way to diversify and get their money out of China,” noted Theut. They look for residential real estate, as well as golf courses, strip retail centers, hotels and industrial properties. Michigan, he said, is ranked #5 on the list of states in which the Chinese seek investments.

“Seventeen Chinese investment projects are in the Michigan ‘funnel’ right now,” according to Mark Kinsler, Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Vice-President for International Business Development. “That’s compared to only two at this time a year ago.” Kinsler told Achieve attendees that exported goods to China soared to $2.6 billion last year, a figure that surpasses that of our exports to Germany.

Michigan’s largest international trading partner, however, is Canada, which buys 46 percent, or $23.5 billion, of our exported goods. In recognition of the strength of this relationship, the MEDC opened a new Michigan trade office in Toronto last year.

Michigan investments have also been sought by Canadians, many of them from just across the Detroit River in Ontario. Magna International, a Canadian manufacturer of automotive components, recently made a $29 million investment in an Auburn Hills facility, a move that created 230 jobs. One of Toronto-based Avison Young’s 43 commercial real estate offices also opened in Detroit last year, as the firm cited Detroit as an emerging commercial market.

MAR and the Ontario Real Estate Association (with its 55,000 members) have begun talks on how to work cooperatively across the border on both residential and commercial real estate. MAR was invited to Ontario’s leadership conference in March, and we have reciprocated with an invitation to their leadership to join MAR’s board of director’s retreat this summer.

“The world’s becoming more global at an astounding rate,” Mark Kinsler reminds us. In a bid to become more competitive with other U.S. states vying to catch the eye of foreign and domestic commercial site selectors, the MEDC has acquired new marketing software. The underlying data will continue to be derived from Commercial Property Information Exchange (CPIX), but the packaging will format all of the candidate properties uniformly. “It is an intensely competitive process,” says Kinsler, “but MEDC is shooting to position Michigan right at the top of the site selector’s lists.”

Germany has been our strongest foreign direct investor over the past decade, bringing 72 companies to Michigan. Other prominent players are Japan (51), the United Kingdom (24), India, France and South Korea.

The January issue of REALTOR® Magazine captured the essence of this emerging market in its article, “Reaching Across the Globe.” It describes how international buyers are investing in the U.S. market in increasing numbers.

Are you ready to step up? Consider a Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation; it is the preeminent way to learn cultures, currency exchanges and cooperative foreign real estate practices. Youwill need to take 2 core courses and 3 elective courses, then pass a NAR administered exam. The coursework is done periodically in Michigan, but is always available somewhere around the U.S. About 2,000 designees wear the CIPS pin, and with it you become part of a broad, international network.

A Transnational Referral Certification is a tool that lays the groundwork for real estate professionals to make and receive compensated referrals. Furhad Waquad, who was 2007 president of MAR, is a TRC instructor, and plans courses on the certification this year.

The Global Business Council at NAR ( supports councils in the Grand Rapids area and southeast Michigan. They offer globally themed education, networking and programming, and serve as a clearinghouse for Realtors interested in international brokerage. Another solid resource is the International Real Estate Federation (,whose membership encompasses REALTORS®, attorneys and related professionals from 50 countries around the world.