Saturday, November 26, 2005

Real estate industry embraces growing Hispanic market

By Liz Garone
Special to Valley Homes

As a young child, Richard Salinas worked in the cotton fields of Chowchilla and often didn't know where he would be living from month to month. Today, Salinas is a successful valley real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Endsley & Associates. He owns six homes and has plans to buy even more both in and outside of California. Salinas is also on the board of the Stanislaus County chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, which only started four months ago but already has 80 members.

Like a number of valley real estate professionals, Salinas hopes to share his slice of the American dream with other Hispanics in the area. As the number of Hispanic homebuyers increases, so too does the number of professionals catering to Hispanics and offering them a broad range of services.

Hispanic buying power in the United States was $686 billion in 2004. It is predicted that it will increase to $992 billion in 2009. Hispanic homeownership has always lagged behind Caucasian homeownership in California, but Stanislaus County ranks among the top 10 counties in the state for Hispanic ownership, according to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Currently, about 75 to 80 percent of Salinas' clients are Hispanic, and he expects those numbers to grow despite rising interest rates.

Salinas conducts his business in both Spanish and English, using whichever language his clients prefer. His Web site offers information in both languages and he sends out two versions of his biweekly real estate newsletter to clients: one in English, the other in Spanish.

"When my clients are signing anything, they have to fully understand it," Salinas explains, adding that simply having a relative present to do the translating isn't good enough. Crucial pieces of information can get mistranslated or not translated at all, and that can put a lot of pressure on the person doing the translating, especially if he or she is a child, which is often the case, Salinas says. To make sure that doesn't happen, he works with his own team made up of lenders, a title company, an escrow coordinator, and an assistant - all bilingual. "I'm a stickler on this point," Salinas says. "When my clients are being serviced, they are provided services in their language."

Jose Padillo, one of Salinas' repeat clients, says details like this are what keep him coming back and referring friends.

"I feel better with a Spanish-speaking person, no matter what," Padillo says. "There's better communication and you're coming from the same background. You feel comfortable. You feel safe with them. They're your own people." When Padillo talks to Salinas, he does so in Spanish and English. "Sometimes, we forget something, so we just kind of mix it up," he says.

Kim Arivett-Treadway doesn't speak Spanish; she studied French in high school. But that hasn't stopped the branch manager for All-American Mortgage from putting together a team of approximately a dozen bilingual employees to service her growing Spanish-speaking clientele. Arivett-Treadway, who manages All-American's Carpenter Road branch, saw a need for more Hispanic-directed services and jumped on it. "It's just getting ready to explode," she says. Currently, Hispanic clients make up approximately one-third of the branch's business.

These days, when a Spanish-speaking client calls the office on an 800 number that is advertised in the Hispanic community, he or she is greeted in Spanish by a bilingual receptionist. The client can go through the entire mortgage process - from choosing terms and rates and securing the loan to signing all of the necessary documents - without ever having to utter a word in English.

"From step A to Z, the client is made to feel comfortable, speaking in their native language and understanding the whole process," says Arivett-Treadway, who adds that she is studying Spanish. Eventually, she would like to see the branch offer services in Asian languages as well.

In addition to offering all of its services in Spanish, All-American Mortgage is running first-time homebuyer seminars conducted in Spanish at local Catholic churches and schools. The seminars discuss the loan process and cover such issues as poor credit and buying a home with only a tax identification number. The second half of the seminars are left open for question and answer sessions.

Having already conducted a handful of seminars, the staff is gearing up for more, says Maria Guevara-Lozano, an All-American loan officer and member of the three-month-old bilingual team. "We're sensing that it's just getting going, and the community has been very receptive so far," she says.

While many of the valley's businesses are focusing on first-time Hispanic homebuyers, Salinas, who is also a director with Modesto's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says he is seeing a new trend: clients purchasing larger and second homes, as well as homes for investment purposes. He now refers many of them to a Spanish-speaking certified public accountant with whom he has teamed up.

"The Hispanic community is evolving into more affluence," Salinas says. "They're getting to where the other parts of the market have been for awhile."

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