A new survey released by Harris Interactive Market Research reveals major changes are on the way for real estate professionals as the face of their customer base is poised to change.

"Home Buying Among Ethnic Groups" surveyed the attitudes and expectations of four ethnic groups: Hispanics, whites, blacks and Asians. The extensive survey -- which included questions from more than 4,000 people, was funded by the world-renowned Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. It was released May 26, 2004.

Some of the highlights include:

  • Forty-eight percent of Hispanics who do not own a home say that 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 their own language when engaged in real estate dealings.
  • Blacks are more likely 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 home.
  • Asians currently own the largest and most expensive homes of the ethnic groups surveyed. Meanwhile, they are more likely to purchase new construction over resales, as well.
  • There weren't too many surprises with the whites -- they have the highest rate of current home ownership and the most experience with homeownership and working with real estate agents.

The biggest point I picked up from the survey is the opportunity on both the consumer and agent side of the growth of the Hispanic market. According to the U.S. Census, by 2040, the make up of the U.S. population will be 53 percent Anglo and 47 percent non-Anglo. Hispanics recently surpassed blacks as the largest minority group in the United States and if trends continue, will remain in that spot over the next 25 years.

State by state, the growth trend of the Hispanic population is amazing. The Commonwealth of 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 total Hispanic population in the state. 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 business, such as title companies and mortgage companies, are beginning to get the message and print their marketing materials in both English and Spanish. However, they need to move to 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, 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 able to 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, not just an interest in Spanish. The California Association of Realtors has a multilingual section on its website, 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 offers a database of Realtors who speak anything from Arabic to Vietnamese (and then some languages I've never heard of). As the prevalence of foreign-born residence grows, more state and local associations are starting to track this type of information for consumers. A list of state and local association websites can be found at www.realtor.com -- scroll down to the bottom of the page for more information on associations.

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