Although globalization isn't everyone's cup of tea, some large residential builders in the United States are casting longing glances at markets in other countries.
Some already have tested the waters and found them warm and inviting.
KB Home, a Los Angeles-based builder, produces, in the words of its advertisement, "une grande et belle maison confortable" called the Alicia in France, where it also maintains a design showroom.
Pulte Homes Inc., the nation's largest residential builder, is involved in Mexico and Argentina.
But differences have to be surmounted first.
Though foreigners cannot directly own real estate within 62 miles of Mexico's borders and within 31 miles of its coasts, they can buy the right to hold, use, improve, develop, rent and sell real estate by purchasing a beneficial interest in a bank trust, which holds the legal title to the property.
Last year, the Commerce Department awarded $400,000 to the National Association of Home Builders to develop "Access Mexico," a program to promote U.S. builders and building products south of the border.
In 2003, Mexican builders came up 220,000 units short of annual demand nationwide. This means that Mexico is now short 7 million units of housing.
A few years back, K. Hovnanian Cos. built townhouses outside Gdansk, Poland.
Townhouse living has always been popular in Europe; most Europeans still live in towns and cities in small attached housing. And the growing Polish middle class seems to be interested in American-style amenities -- a living room with an open kitchen, three bedrooms, two to three baths, an attic that provides a livable "flex space" area and a garage.
All of which the Hovnanian houses offered.
"We're not doing anything internationally right now," said K. Hovnanian spokesman Douglas Fenichel. "But I would never say never" regarding future efforts abroad.
Poland, a former Soviet-bloc country, has made great strides toward capitalism. On May 1, it joined the European Union, which will probably accelerate the westernization of its real estate market.
Real estate transactions were not unknown in the communist era, but there were fewer of them than there are now, said Marek Stelmaszak, a Warsaw real estate agent.
"In the past, lots of real estate transactions were paid for in cash," he said. "Due to the high interest rates offered by the banks, people could not meet loan repayments and preferred to borrow money from family and friends."
Poles' concerns about nationalization of banks did not encourage close contact with those lenders, he said. But with the drop in inflation, home and investment loans are becoming more common.
Foreigners may own property in Poland, although in some cases permits are required from the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Residential real estate is perhaps the most vibrant part of the overall property market, Stelmaszak said. Each year, residential construction accounts for $1.72 billion of the $5.4 billion property market, mostly in the privatization of apartment units in state-owned buildings.
Poland is building 50,000 housing units a year and is expecting that rate to quadruple by the end of the decade.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has been encouraging its members to explore possibilities abroad, especially in Eastern Europe.
A significant portion of new homes in that region is do-it-yourself construction, and because much of the existing housing stock needs remodeling and upgrading, there also is great potential for building-materials manufacturers and suppliers to sell their products.
The Commerce Department, too, has been pushing U.S. builders to move outside the box and look at emerging markets such as China.
Thomas Mullen, a multi-family builder from Indianapolis, attended a housing symposium in Shanghai sponsored by the NAHB and the Commerce Department.
He said he found the Chinese had an "insatiable" appetite for information on American building products and technology, now that the government is enforcing building standards and construction practices in keeping with U.S. methods of building.
A Commerce Department survey of Chinese at the symposium found that they were most interested in heating, air-conditioning and ventilation equipment, sealants, doors and windows, prefabricated housing, and wood products.
"In the 20 years I have been with the Commerce Department, I've traveled the world and found that, whether it is a high-rise in Beijing or a single in the Russian Far East, people love their homes as much as we do in America," said Gary Stanley of the department's International Trade Administration.
"We have a great opportunity here," he said of the global market.
Americans likely would feel much more comfortable in some markets than in others, especially English-speaking democracies such as New Zealand.
With 4 million people, New Zealand does not appear to offer as large an opportunity as China, said Chris Preston, chief executive of the Registered Master Builders Association of New Zealand.
But the similarities between the two markets are striking, once you get past the annual volume of construction.
New Zealand's 5,000 residential builders complete 30,000 houses a year.
The more than 200,000 members of the NAHB, and the thousands of non-members, have been selling more than 1 million houses annually for several years.
The economic drivers are more alike. Lower interest rates have created unprecedented demand for housing, and immigration is creating the households.
"For the first time in years, more people are moving to New Zealand than leaving," Preston said. "A large number of New Zealanders are returning."
With 30,000 immigrants in 2003, it meant 7,500 new households, which translated to 7,000 new houses, he said.
America already is providing a blueprint for the latest generation of New Zealand houses -- they are larger and filled with more bells and whistles.
But New Zealanders are opposed to suburban sprawl, so there is a tendency toward higher-density multifamily construction, he said.
How do cultural issues affect real estate transactions in New Zealand?
Mark Lee Levine of the University of Denver's Burns Real Estate School, said New Zealanders greet each other with a handshake, though it is more popular when greeting a friend to raise both eyebrows in the direction of the person.
Among the Maori, people may greet one another with hugs or the traditional hongi -- pressing the noses together with eyes closed and making a low mm-mmm sound.
But if you think this gesture will get a Maori to buy your house, think again. It only works if you are Maori, too.