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Study confirms rising Latino market

October 13, 2002|Mary Umberger | Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- The real estate industry just got a couple more reminders to sign up for Spanish lessons. But it's not as if the message hasn't been left before.

For years, demographic soothsayers have urged the housing industry to take seriously the riches that could be mined by marketing its products and services to immigrants, particularly Latinos.

The latest reminder comes from Pepperdine University, which has released a study of Latino housing demand. The study drives home the huge strides in Latino homeownership and the potential for more.

More than two-thirds of U.S.-born Latinos in California own their homes. About 40% of Latino homeowners bought their homes in the last five years. In 2001, more than 1 in 5 homes sold in California were to Latinos.

More than 65% of potential home buyers who are Latino say they would prefer to conduct the home-buying process in Spanish. Almost 80% say they would prefer to work with Spanish-speaking agents, and more than 60% want to deal with Spanish-speaking mortgage lenders.

Recognizing a market and making the most of it are two different things. Just 5% of members in the National Assn. of Realtors are Latino, according to the trade group's most recent numbers.

Individually, many real estate companies say they're trying to recruit more Spanish-speaking agents. The Realtors group has developed a program with the federal government that teaches business etiquette as practiced by various cultures and business strategies intended to attract immigrant and minority clients.

Small steps? Well, sure. But this is an industry that almost seems to relish its fragmented nature: a zillion entrepreneurial players dominate home sales, home building, lending, rentals and the many related fields. This fragmentation could be an asset, according to another new report.

"A Nation of Niches," a new forecast from Lend-Lease Real Estate Investment in Atlanta, reminds clients that American consumers are growing more segmented every day.

"Product customization is key to success in a society with dozens of cable TV channels and FM radio stations catering to just about every age group, native language and hobby," according to the authors, M. Leanne Lachman and Deborah L. Brett.

America's demographic profile is expanding but fragmented. Market demand will be specialized and best served by the Department of Housing and Urban Development by niche players, the authors claim.

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