In a growing real estate market, realtors address challenges of Hispanic buyers

Claudia Schulz, a broker and the owner of Lopez Schulz Realty, serves a mostly Hispanic clientele. This home in South Phoenix is one of the properties being sold by Lopez Schulz Realty. (Photo by Damon Smith)

By Damon Smith

The Hispanic real estate market has been on the upswing for a while in Phoenix. The growth of homeownership among Hispanic residents is projected to be over three times that of non-Hispanics in Phoenix between 2015 and 2020, according to Geoscape. Despite the growth, there are challenges preventing would-be homeowners from finding their place in the Valley.

The Hispanic Association of Real Estate Professionals (HAREP) is a Phoenix-based organization that advocates “sustainable home ownership through education and the empowerment of real estate professionals who serve multicultural home buyers and sellers,” according to its mission statement. HAREP often interacts with Hispanic homebuyers.

“We are about educating the real estate community, making sure that the real estate agent, the loan officer, anybody that’s involved in the real estate community knows how to work with Hispanic buyers,” HAREP president Delia Wilkens said. “Basically, we’re there as a resource. We’re also there for the community as well. If they need us, we are there to help.”

HAREP president-elect Mario Trejo Romero said one of the key differences between the Hispanic market and the broader Phoenix market is the focus on family.

“A lot of times decisions are made by the family,” Trejo Romero said. “When I go out with a Hispanic client, or with an Asian client, we discuss it, but the decision is not made then. The decision is made later when they have a discussion with whomever is going to make the decision.”

Another big difference, Trejo Romero said, is the language barrier. “I grew up, in my family,” he said, “I was the translator. My parents never spoke English. So you always have a translator in the family to kind of translate. I never thought it was strange at the time, but now that I do have that situation, I may be talking to a 12 year old and that 12 year old translates to mom and dad.”

Claudia Schulz, a broker and the owner of Lopez Schulz Realty, echoed this statement. Some 90 percent of her clientele is Hispanic.

“One of the things that makes the Hispanic community different a lot of the times is the language barrier,” Schulz said. “They will need bilingual services. If English is their second language, even if they speak it, they’re going to have a little bit more difficulty understanding the process, the paperwork, but I think that goes across the board. But I think they have a little stronger need for handholding when it comes to the language.”

Children acting as translators for their families “happens a lot,” she said. “That’s a little bit scary because you’re doing business transactions and that should not fall on the child. So there is a huge value to working with a real estate agent who is bilingual or an agent that has a translator.”

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 67 percent Hispanic residents age 5 and older speak a language other than English at home, as of 2011.

One issue echoed by many realtors working with Hispanic communities is that the language barrier can result in potential homeowners being taken advantage of.

“A lot of the times (homebuyers) feel lost in this country in general,” Schulz said. “They look for someone to trust. So when somebody offers them help, a lot of times they feel relieved and let their guard down. And they will do things that we generally advise them not to do.”

According to a 2014 report by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP), in 2013 “Hispanics were turned down for home loans at twice the rate of non-Hispanic white borrowers and were more than twice as likely to pay a higher price for their loans.”

Furthermore, the NAHREP report found “language barriers and limited experience can exacerbate an already complicated process. It is generally believed that the number of Hispanics or culturally competent individuals employed in counseling, real estate and the mortgage industries are much lower than what is needed in the market.”

Maria Brandenburg is an account manager with the First American Title Company in Scottsdale. She works with buyers and sellers to provide escrow services. She stressed the importance of focusing on the needs of the buyer.

“This market is so saturated with real estate agents, and it’s important to differentiate yourself and really focus on what your buyer needs,” Brandenburg said.

This sentiment is echoed by Maricruz Martinez, who emphasized the needs for bilingual agents in the Phoenix markets. Often, when Hispanic millennials are buying a home, they’ll bring their parents along for help. But the language gap between generations is still present because the English-speaking kids have much less experience in the market than their Spanish-speaking parents.

“Something that really helps a lot, when you have a young buyer and some family members are helping or giving their opinion … it’s very nice to switch between Spanish and English to be able to communicate with both generations, because a lot of the times the parents are helping the kids,” said Martinez, a realtor with RE/MAX Excalibur.

She said it is important to understand the language of the clients in order to prevent such issues from occurring. The parents who were around during the 2008 housing market crash, she said, “don’t want their kids to go through the same thing. So it’s nice to be able to communicate with both at once and explain the current situation and how they can take advantage of any programs or how to stay away from predators.”

Martinez said, “I think for me, it’s a cultural thing, not just being able to speak Spanish.”

Despite these challenges, organizations like HAREP are making steps to ensure a smoother transition for Hispanics into homeownership and ensure a lasting connection between realtor and buyer, Trejo Romero said.

Bridging the language barrier is “a little bit easier than it used to be because we have copies of contracts in Spanish,” Trejo Romero said. They use the contracts in Spanish to educate, he said. “So it’s not that big of an issue anymore, because you can work with the Hispanic market as long as you’re honest, you treat with respect, and you understand the family piece of it then you’ll get repeat business, referral business, for years to come.”