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Hispanics Learn 'All The Tools' They Need To Be Homeowners… Ownership Takes Root

Hispanics Learn 'All The Tools' They Need To Be Homeowners

By Sandra Pedicini | Sentinel Staff Writer

August 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

"Going to buy a house?" Victor Alvarado asked of a young woman who had stopped by his booth to look at information on federal housing programs.

The woman smiled shyly, appearing not to understand. "House?" she asked gingerly.

Alvarado quickly switched gears to get the conversation started.

"¿Comprará usted una casa?"

Representatives from government agencies and mortgage companies shifted easily between English and Spanish at Saturday's information fair, targeted to the Hispanic community.

Latino Leadership, Central Florida's foremost Hispanic outreach group, hosted its fourth annual fair at Stonewall Jackson Middle School.

The fair provided information on topics from immigration to education. Kids received free school supplies, haircuts and vaccinations.

But the focus this year was on home ownership.

Many Central Florida Hispanics need help overcoming language and cultural barriers to buy homes, said Marytza Sanz, Latino Leadership's founder.

"The number of Latinos being homeowners is not a good number," she said. "We are here to give them all the tools."

In some countries, she said, peoplemust put up huge amounts of money to buy their homes. They don'tknow about all of the programs available in the United States to help people buy their first homes, she said.

Sanz's target audience included peoplesuch as 40-year-old Mildred Acevedo, a Puerto Rico native who has lived in Central Florida three months and wants to buy her first house. She andherhusband, Armando Mora, 49, navigated through two rows of booths, picking up pamphlets on mortgages, insurance and taxes.

Here, "I find everything that I need," said Acevedo, who speaks some English but is more comfortable in her native language. "All the first steps."

Not everyone visiting the homeownership booths was an inexperienced homebuyer. Maria Rodriguez, 54, owned a home in Delaware before moving to Kissimmee in October. She wanted to find out more about neighborhoodswhere home valuesare likely to increase. Al Jimmy, 45, wanted to get information on refinancing his Rio Pinar Lakes home.

As their parents talked about mortgage rates and credit reports, kids munched on hot dogs and got their faces painted.

Adults made their way around a ring of booths circling the fields of Stonewall Jackson Middle, where 62 percent of the students are Hispanic. The booths offered bilingual information about community services and health care.

"I don't know much information about Orlando," 28-year-old Iris Delgado said. "I need some . . . I'm just going around and around."

Sanz already has plans for next year, when the fair will focus on another important issue: health care. Studies have shown that minorities tend to get worse health care than white non-Hispanics, even when income levels are the same.

The fair, advertised in Spanish-language publications and on radio and television, always attracts a crowd. About 7,000 people attended Saturday, with some showing up two hours before the 10 a.m. starting time.

"It's awesome," Sanz said. "It's good energy."

Homeownership Takes Root

By Jack Snyder | Sentinel Staff Writer

October 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

Carlos and Melida Ferreyra -- immigrants from Peru and renters here for seven years -- just bought their first home.

They were tempted into trying after Carlos learned that a co-worker, also from Peru, had purchased a home.?

"I began to wonder if I could buy," he said. The couple are proud of their adopted country -- their oldest son is in the U. S. Army in Iraq -- but they were in the dark about how to start the home-buying process.

The co-worker referred the Ferreyras to Cesar Bustamante, the real estate agent who had helped him buy a home. Bustamante helped the Ferreyras find a house in southwest Orange County.

"They wanted someone who could speak their language and understand their needs," said Bustamante, a broker with Vance Realty Group's Poinciana office in Osceola County.

Hispanics are now the nation's largest minority and the fastest-growing ethnic group in Central Florida. While the country's non-Hispanic white population is expected to grow 9 percent by 2020, the number of Hispanics is expected to leap 75 percent.

The Hispanic real estate market "is a huge opportunity," said Vada Hill, senior vice president of marketing for mortgage giant Fannie Mae. But it's also a market filled with barriers beyond the obvious one of language. Lack of knowledge about real estate fundamentals, spotty credit histories and a general fear of the unknown -- especially among recent immigrants -- must be overcome in many instances, Hill said.

Builders, real estate agents and mortgage companies that want to tap the burgeoning Hispanic market have to understand its nuances and make a concerted effort to get inside the community.

"If you think having someone in the office who speaks Spanish is a strategy, you're in real trouble," Hill said.

Bustamante, for example, gets most of his business from referrals and networking within the region's Hispanic community.

Bank of America, the second-largest bank in metro Orlando, has made a point of promoting its money wire-transfer business among Hispanics, said Hill, hoping to make other inroads by helping people wire money home to relatives.

"It's a point of contact that can lead to more," he said.

Recent immigrants and households in which Spanish is the dominant language are much more likely to need extensive education to draw them into the home-buying process, Hill said. The payoff is that, in most cases, a successful sale will create a personal bond and a lasting relationship.

"They are looking for a trusted adviser," he said. "Face-to-face contact is critical. Businesses relying heavily on Internet and telephone contact likely won't do well with this group."

Community outreach

HomeBanc Mortgage Corp., an Atlanta-based lender with an Orlando office, has set up a special division to target Hispanic homebuyers -- HomeBanc En Español. The division started in Atlanta, but its first expansion is taking place in Central Florida.

Josh Diaz is heading up that effort from an office in Maitland. His first order of business, he said, is to immerse himself in the Hispanic community. "We will take a role in the community," said Diaz, who came to this country from Cuba when he was 7 years old. "We will be visible."

Such outreach has paid off in Atlanta, said Mark Scott, a HomeBanc spokesman. Loans in Atlanta grew from $4.75 million in April to $6.86 million in August and totaled nearly $30 million in the first five months, Scott said. That's just a smidgen of the lender's overall monthly volume of $600 million, but future growth is expected to make Hispanic borrowers an ever-greater part of the business, he added.

Barbara Vance, owner of Orlando-based Vance Realty Group, decided she needed Hispanic brokerswhen she opened the Osceola County office specifically to tap into the local Hispanic market -- the region's fastest-growing.

The husband and wife team of Cesar and Aurora Bustamante filled the bill.

"They were already part of the Hispanic community," Vance said. The brokerage opened in the heart of Poinciana in Osceola County, with sales agents who are plugged into the community, participating in neighborhood functions and Hispanic cultural and business meetings.

"They're all bilingual and they're all involved," said Vance, who expects the office to be a major source of income for her company this year.

Education is key

Home builders have been focusing on Central Florida's Hispanic market for a long time.

Landstar Homes, developer of Buenaventura Lakes in Kissimmee -- a heavily Hispanic community -- was marketing itself to Puerto Rican customers in the early 1980s. That effort included sales offices in Puerto Rico and in New York and Chicago, both of which have large Puerto Rican populations.

By the late 1990s, the Home Builders Association of Metro Orlando had created the Latin Builders Council, largely to give Hispanic builders within the association a forum for their concerns. When the local builders group in Dade County ignored its Hispanic membership, they broke away and formed their own group, said Tom Lagomarsino, the Orlando association's executive director.

Tony Rey Jr., vice president of finance for The Rey Group, a family-owned home-building company, said the local Hispanic council has grown steadily.

"We get Hispanic Realtors, subcontractors, suppliers, all wanting to learn and network," he said. The group's meetings draw Hispanics already in the business as well as non-Hispanics hoping to tap into the market.

The council is now moving into outreach for the first time, organizing a home-buying seminar for Hispanics later this year.

That's a smart move, according to Carmenza Gonzalez, vice president of International Business Development for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. Many Hispanic consumers aren't familiar with the basics of buying a home in this country, such as the ability to buy with a small down payment.

"The biggest problem is they don't know where to go for help," said Gonzalez, who is originally from Colombia. Businesses are also getting help on the education front from Hispanic organizations that host seminars to explain getting a mortgage and buying a home.

Trips to Puerto Rico

Realtors, meanwhile, haven't been waiting for the customers to come to them -- they've been going to the source to learn more about their prospects.

Members of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association's Orlando International Council have made three trips to Puerto Rico during the past three years to network and generate business leads,said Lisa Templin, the association's vice president of professional services.

Ron Acker, a former association president and current chairman of the international council, has made all three trips.

"It's a chance to learn more about a significant part of our business," he said. Acker estimates that 10 percent to 20 percent of all new and existing homes sold in Central Florida now involve Hispanics buyers, and he expects the percentage to grow.

As a result, many Realtors, lenders, builders and related businesses are increasingly placing ads with Central Florida's growing Hispanic media.

Renar Homes is "gearing much of its marketing toward Hispanic home buyers," said Jeff Mottram, a company vice president. That includes a long-term advertising contract with La Prensa, a weekly Spanish-language newspaper, he said.

For some businesses, making sure there is no language barrier is a critical first step.

Being able to communicate in Spanish "doesn't offer any one company an advantage -- just a severe disadvantage if they cannot," said Daniel A. Wallace, Central Florida vice president of Fidelity National Title Insurance Co.

Fannie Mae's Hill said that, while language skills are critical, understanding the market is equally important.

"It's a very diverse group," he said. "One size doesn't fit all."

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