Around five years ago, we were introduced to a Saudi Arabian family that loves visiting New York City. During the course of the next two years we developed a friendship while we helped them find an amazing condo in Manhattan. In business and in life, relationships are the most valuable reward, and in so many instances we’ve been fortunate enough to stay connected with our clients long after they’ve closed on a new home.

Eventually, our friends from Saudi Arabia introduced us to their friends, and we worked hard to help them successfully negotiate on an investment property. After that, our network started to grow. We were working with more than a half dozen families from that region of the world. So many times, we were invited to visit our growing network of friends in their home countries. They’d tell us that Americans don’t visit there enough, and they genuinely wanted for us to experience it ourselves.

We visited Saudi Arabia late last month, first Jeddah and then Riyadh. We met dozens of the most gracious and most interesting people in an unbelievably fascinating part of the world. Our hosts treated us like royalty. They gifted Marie a beautiful traditional Abaya and invited us both into their home for weekly dinner with their extended family.

Saudi Arabia is still a conservative place but being there was enlightening. It was demystifying. Personal freedoms are spreading and becoming the norm. Among the professional class, there’s a palpable level of excitement as they watch the country liberalize faster than anyone might have imagined.

New regulations have brought order to industry, making investments safer and more stable. Enormous resources are flowing into the diversification of the economy and the growing pains are mitigated by the optimism of what the leadership’s vision and steps will eventually lead to.

Not far from our hotel, we saw a McDonald’s and a KFC. Then we saw all of the high-end retail stores you’d find on 5th Avenue. Jeddah is clean and beautiful, but unlike New York City, during the day, you’re not likely to see a parade of pedestrians navigating the sidewalks. Instead, they opt to travel from the confines of their air-conditioned vehicles.

On foot, we didn’t make it more than 5 or 6 blocks before we turned back to get out of the sun. When we got back to our hotel, a musician sat playing on a Grand Piano that was setup in the lobby, something that would have been revolutionary less than 2 years ago.

Our visit to Saudi Arabia was transformative. We learned so much and we had the most amazing time. But officially, we were there on business. Our network expanded exponentially. We met with groups and individuals and were given the opportunity to explain the complexities of investing in New York real estate.

Naturally, almost all with whom we met compared New York to London, the city that Gulf State homebuyers have been most comfortable investing in for years. There were so many questions. “What’s the story with the NYC market?” “Is it soft?” “What does the data show?” “How does it compare to London.”

Thankfully, we spent weeks preparing. We felt like true real estate “diplomats.” On the flight home, we talked about becoming global brokers. It’s almost too exciting to think about all that we could learn from meeting with some of the world’s most interesting people and learning about their cultures while exploring parts of the world that we’ve never visited.

We imagine an annual trip back to the Middle East, but we’ve also set our sights on Europe and Asia. What an amazing job we have!