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York Daily Record (KRTBN)

More Hispanic Buyers Look For First Homes In York, Pa., Area

By Sean Adkins, York Daily Record, Pa.

December 26, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. All rights reserved.

After eight years of renting a one-bedroom apartment in York, Miguel A. Rivera and his wife, Elvira, decided to stop wasting money.

The couple wanted to buy a house but were not sure what they needed to do first.

"We wanted something for our future," Miguel Rivera said. "I would pay rent every month, but I wouldn't own anything."

Elvira Rivera was born in Mexico. Miguel hails from Puerto Rico. More comfortable dealing with professionals fluent in Spanish, the couple sought help from the Housing Council of York.

That step guided the Riveras down a path that led them to a three-bedroom home in York.

Roughly a quarter of all first-time homebuyers across the nation are black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander or a member of some other minority race, according to a recent National Association of Realtors survey.

Within the next two decades, the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals expects about 40 percent of all homebuyers nationwide will be Hispanic, said Mary Mancera, communications director for the organization.

Elevated birth rate among Hispanics nationwide and increased immigration will contribute to minority homeownership, she said.

In the past, the number of minorities who invested in residential real estate lagged behind that of their white counterparts, said Steve Snell, executive officer for the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties.

The association encourages its members to develop marketing strategies aimed at promoting minority homeownership, he said.

"Access to the American dream should not be colorblind," Snell said.

Many Hispanics who move to York County come by way of New York, said Isidro Segarra, owner of Oak Tree Real Estate in York.

Segarra said about 80 percent of his customers are Hispanic.

In recent years, many Hispanics who have made a home in York County have spread the word to those who live in New York about the area's lower cost of living and reduced crime rate, he said.

Within the last four months, Segarra said, he has sold six homes to people who have come from New York.

Segarra said in August he sold the Riveras their home in York.

Like many of Segarra's other customers, the Riveras' long journey to their new home started in New York.

The year was 1996, and Rivera worked for a company gearing up for a relocation that would take him and his wife away from friends and family.

The couple did not want to move with the company from New York to Georgia.

But Miguel Rivera needed a job.

At the same time that he struggled with his decision, an official at Datum Filing Systems in Emigsville asked Rivera's brother if Miguel Rivera would consider moving to York County to take a job with the company.

Four years earlier, Miguel Rivera and his brother both worked for Datum Filing Systems when it still operated out of New York.

When the company moved to York County in 1992, Rivera's brother relocated but Miguel Rivera and his wife remained in New York.

In the years between 1992 and 1996, Miguel Rivera and his wife would often visit York for family gatherings.

"We loved Pennsylvania," Elvira Rivera said. "We saw it as a beautiful place and very cheap to live."

Miguel Rivera took the offer from Datum Filing Systems and relocated to a one-bedroom apartment in York.

Many Hispanics who move to the area tend to settle in the city, said Carrie Rosales, a mortgage loan officer for Irwin Mortgage in Springettsbury Township.

Public transportation and markets within walking distance list among reasons why the city is a popular choice among new resident Hispanics, Rosales said.

Recently, Segarra said, he has seen a shift in that trend where many more Hispanics are moving to the suburbs rather than the city.

"It's mostly a school concern," The busy work schedules of some Hispanic parents do not allow them time to drive their children to school, he said.

School districts in the suburbs tend to provide bus service that makes it easier for some parents, Segarra said.

While minority homeownership is on the rise, Hispanics face a number of obstacles commonly not a factor for most potential home buyers.

For the Riveras, language proved to be the biggest barrier set between them and owning a home.

The couple sought out professionals such as Segarra and Rosales who are fluent in Spanish and could better explain the often complicated process of buying a home.

Aside from language barriers, home-buying obstacles that affect many Hispanics include citizenship status and a lack of credit.

Some Hispanics prefer to live on cash rather than by credit, Mancera said.

"If you have no credit score at all," she said, "you are invisible to banks and lenders."

Lack of a credit history was not a problem for the Riveras, Miguel Rivera said.

The 37-year-old man said his challenge was to find a house close to his brother so as to keep close ties with his family.

After a few months of house-hunting last summer, Miguel Rivera and his wife bought their house a few doors away from their relatives.

"We never questioned why we moved to York," Elvira, 37, said. "York means opportunity to me and my husband."

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