Monday, March 14, 2005

Numbers of Latino homebuyers on the rise in Solano County

At A Glance

• 1.4 million Latino residents in the Bay Area represent 21 percent of the total local population, this home buying segment is expected to generate more than 30,000 property transactions in 2005.

• The U.S. Latino community is expected to account for 31 percent of the nation's household growth between 2000 and 2010, making it the fastest growing minority group, according to the Tom's Rivera Policy Institute of Southern California.

• With an estimated total buying power of $992 billion in 2009 - a 45 percent increase over 2004 - Latinos are likely to impact residential real estate in the U.S. more than any other single demographic group during the next decade.

Source: First American Title Company

Article Launched: 03/12/2005 08:32:41 AM

Finding their dream
Numbers of Latino homebuyers on the rise

By Barbara Smith/Business Writer

A succulent supper of lamb shared last week between the Navarro and Chamblee families of Dixon was more than a celebration.

It was a tradition - the Navarro's way of saying "gracias" to real estate agent Melvin Chamblee for representing them in their recent homebuying transaction. The event, complete with an ethnic meal, is part of the Latino culture - a culture that a nationwide title company is now focusing on with real estate professionals to help them work more effectively with the growing Latino homebuying population.

A burgeoning number of homebuyers who speak little or no English - like the Navarros - is just one reason First American Title Insurance Co. has launched its Diversity Marketing Program in Solano County. First American recognizes the cultural, language, real estate challenges and barriers that often arise when members of the Latino community enter the home-buying process, company officials said.

It's not all about language, said Pablo Wong, director of First American's diversity program, Bay Area region.

"The color of money is green, but this is more than about money," Wong said. "Equally important to speaking the language is also understanding their culture. They don't want to feel just welcome, they want to feel embraced."

That was the experience of the Navarro family, who ventured into Century 21 Distinctive Properties in Dixon to buy their home. Because their sales agent Chamblee is bilingual, the Navarros went through the signing of their loan documents, purchase agreement and more without the confusion most first-time homebuyers or buyers who speak limited English have.

Miguel Navarro, who is in the construction business, understands more English than he can speak, Chamblee said.

"We built up a rapport and a relationship during the transaction process. ... We had talked about his family in Mexico," Chamblee said.

Once the transaction was complete, Navarro offered to slaughter a lamb of Chamblee's choice and cook a traditional meal for Chamblee and his family.

Chamblee, 37, said he grew up speaking Spanish. A native of New York, his mother hailed from Puerto Rico.

"Spanish was spoken in my home, then I took it a little in school as well so I could read it and write it," he said. "Most people are very shocked when they find out I speak Spanish, because I basically have more African-American features than anything else."

He said it's made a difference in his success as a real estate agent. Right now, he's the only Spanish speaking agent in the Dixon office.

"Occasionally some of the other agents have clients they can't communicate with, so they allow me to handle that end of the business and I pay them a referral," he said. "I'll take on the clients, and that leads to other clients."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latino homeownership in the Bay Area is growing at nearly twice the rate of non-Latinos. The 1.4 million Latino residents in the Bay Area represent 21 percent of the total local population. This home buying segment is expected to generate more than 30,000 property transactions in 2005.

Chamblee's Broker Linda Green, who owns six Century 21 branches, said First American's new program will complement what she already has on hand - one or two bilingual agents in each of her offices.

"We couldn't work without them," Green said.

Also, the California Association of Realtors has available a purchase agreement written in Spanish for her agents if needed.

In the past, Spanish speaking clients would bring a family member into her office to interpret for them.

"Which is fine to an extent, but it's that you're talking to their family and you're hoping it's getting across correctly. Otherwise, you're worried about it, you want to represent them right," Green said. "I think with First American, it's going to go hand in hand together, which will help."

A couple of Green's agents sat in with other agents and mortgage lenders at a recent "Understanding the Latino Homebuyer" seminar presented by First American's Fairfield office.

The event was held to kick off the expansion of its Bay Area Diversity Marketing Program in Solano County. The program has already taken root in the Northern California communities of San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo, Santa Rosa, Brentwood, Castro Valley, Salinas, Watsonville and Campbell.

At the same time, the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) announced the formation of its new local chapter for Solano County.

Launched in late 2003, the Bay Area Diversity Marketing Program is comprised of consumer-focused outreach and educational events, specialized programs for real estate professionals, and the hiring and training of key First American staff to better service ethnically diverse communities. The first of its kind in the title insurance industry, the program was initially implemented to address the Latino market and later expanded to reach out to Asian-American homebuyers.

"It's very important because what we're doing is creating a partnership between the title company, the real estate professionals, and the consumer, so that we can close the homeownership gap for the non-Anglo homebuyers," Wong said.

Changing demographics are forcing many companies to think about how to better serve the new consumer, he said.

"According to the Census, six of 10 first-time homebuyers in the next decade will be either Latinos, Asians or African Americans," he said.

And that's just in the U.S., he noted.

"In California, that number is probably more powerful," Wong said.

The homeownership rate for Latinos and African Americans is about 45 percent, and about 55 percent for Asian Americans, Wong said. Anglo households are roughly 75 percent, he said.

"So we're trying to help close the homeownership gap in a way that we develop a win-win homeownership," he said.

Not only will the program help First American recruit and groom its own multi cultural staff, but they will work with real estate professionals to service the targeted market, he said.

"Diversity training is culture competency training," he said. "Language is one of the many component of culture," he said.

Barbara Smith can be reached at

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