- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

A new survey from Harris Interactive Market Research — the Harris Poll

people — reveals major changes on the way for real estate professionals. The face of the real estate customer is poised to change.

“Home Buying Among Ethnic Groups” surveyed the attitudes and expectations of Hispanics, blacks, Asians and whites. The survey, which included responses from more than 4,000 people, was funded by the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M; University. It was published May 26.

Some of the highlights:

• Forty-eight percent of Hispanics who do not own a home say they are likely to purchase a home in the next two or three years and that they prefer or need to work with an agent who speaks Spanish when engaged in real estate dealings.

• Blacks are more likely than others to view all aspects of the home-buying process as easy. Of all the ethnic groups surveyed, they hold the highest opinions of real estate agents and are more likely to want to negotiate the sales commission when it comes to selling their homes.

• Asians own the largest and most expensive homes of the groups surveyed. Meanwhile, they are more likely to purchase new construction over resales.

• Whites have the highest rate of current homeownership and the most experience with homeownership and working with real estate agents.

The survey dramatically points up the opportunities on both the consumer and agent sides of the growth of the Hispanic market.

According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, by 2040, the U.S. population will be 54 percent white non-Hispanic. Hispanics recently surpassed blacks as the largest minority group in the United States and, if trends continue, will remain in that spot during the next 25 years.

State by state, the growth trend of the Hispanic population is amazing. Virginia, for instance, not necessarily a state known for its large Hispanic population, experienced a gain of more than 169,000 Hispanic residents between 1990 and 2000, according to census figures. That’s an increase of 106 percent in the state’s Hispanic population. This gain represented 19 percent of the state’s total gain of 889,318 residents over that 10-year period.

“Real estate agents who conduct business in Spanish have an advantage,” says Gary Maler, the Real Estate Center’s associate director. “Hispanics told researchers that they prefer or need to work with an agent who speaks their own language when engaged in real estate dealings. More than any other ethnic group, Hispanics say they feel uncomfortable handling business transactions in English.”

This scenario is the first opportunity available to the industry — a growing niche market of Spanish-speaking customers. More and more real estate companies and their ancillary businesses, such as title companies and mortgage companies, are beginning to print their marketing materials in both English and Spanish. However, the survey results point up a need for these firms to take the next step and start recruiting, training and fielding bilingual agents and employees.

A day will come when members of this ethnic group will expect to walk into a real estate office and request a Spanish-speaking agent and get one instead of struggling through the buyer and seller interviews with an English-speaking agent using English-only support materials.

The wake-up call for many Spanish-speaking customers, however, is that not all materials will be translated into Spanish for their comfort.

Many state courts recognize only English documents (contracts) in court, thus the real estate contract will remain in English for the foreseeable future, except in states where the legislature has deemed bilingual documents as acceptable evidence.

The second opportunity is for Spanish-speaking consumers who want to consider a career in real estate. The market is wide open for those bilingual people who want to come in and create a very profitable niche.

The industry as a whole is starting to recognize the need for multilingual services. The California Association of Realtors (www.car.org), for example, has a multilingual section on its Web site, offering consumer information in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Spanish.

For foreign-born consumers wanting an agent who speaks their language, the Virginia Association of Realtors (www.varealtor.com) offers a database of Realtors who speak anything from Arabic to Vietnamese. As the prevalence of foreign-born residents grows, more state and local associations are starting to track this type of information for consumers.

A list of state and local association Web sites can be found at www.realtor.com. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for more information on associations.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate for more than 15 years. Reach him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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