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By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, July 12, 2007—Today, home buyers in America come in many shapes, sizes and nationalities. In fact, 33% of the U.S. population is non-Caucasian, and by 2050, that number is estimated to increase to half of the country’s entire population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Clearly, the one-size-fits-all approach to real estate is long gone and defunct. Indeed, within the next five to 10 years, minorities—the majority of them Hispanic—could account for up to 60% of all first-time home purchases.

To that end, real estate practitioners are finally beginning to realize that there is a significant need to market to and edify these potential customers. Here, we feature three Coldwell Banker brokerages that are taking the lead in bringing education, marketing and professionalism to the Latino community.

Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Northern California

In California, where the minority population is higher than in other regions of the country, there’s definitely a shortage of agents who cannot communicate with Spanish-speaking consumers, according to Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s Northern California Hispanic Network Chairperson Todd Mendoza. That lack of manpower, as well as a need to educate the minority public, prompted the brokerage to create what it calls “Casa Coldwell Banker”—a network that brings together Realtors to bring some much-needed professionalism to the Latino community, Mendoza says.

“All too often, we run up against brokers not having Spanish-speaking agents on staff,” he says. “We realized that the community is underserved. There are so many predatory lending issues, with these guys saying, ‘just sign here.’ These people are not getting a full grasp of the transaction and are not getting educated on the process. We’re trying to change that.”

According to Mendoza, his agents had similar feelings, which is how the Casa Coldwell Banker group finally came together just over a year ago.

The group started outlining its goals, budget, logistics and mission in June 2006 and launched last fall. Now, Mendoza and Marketing Project Manager Kacie Ricker meet each week to discuss new initiatives and ideas, including possible certification training for agents.

“We want clients to see that we’re not only fluent in their language, but trained on how to work with the Spanish community,” says Mendoza. “We want to up the quality of service they receive. We want to raise the bar on service, but also educate the community to say, ‘this is how you should be served.’”

What’s more, the two say that they’re already seeing a difference in community awareness. In fact, Casa Coldwell Banker recently held its first recruiting night, a gathering to attract bilingual agents and those looking to be agents. “We were hoping for 15 people and more than 40 attended the event,” says Ricker. “That’s almost tripling our estimates; we were obviously thrilled.”

Also interested in the program are other brokerages, some from as far away as the East Coast.

“We’re already getting interest from offices in Southern California, New York, Utah and Arizona,” says Ricker. “We have such a passion for this program and really want to see it succeed, so to have people from across the country calling is a huge success for us. They’re calling for materials and really trying to understand how we’ve constructed the network.”

These days, the program’s become so popular that Mendoza and Ricker are just trying to take the feedback they’re receiving and grow from there.

“Since last November, our network has grown from 50 members to 250 members,” says Mendoza. “Our original goal was 200 by the end of the year. So, now we will focus on identifying and recruiting experienced Spanish-speaking agents to help us continue to raise the bar.”

Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Chicago, Illinois

Over the past several years, Chicago-based Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s marketing staff have taken a hard look at the customer segments that it believes need the most attention, with regard to both marketing as well as education. To that end, the company began implementing programs and initiatives to support its Realtors with outreach efforts to these segments. 

“In 2003, we looked at where we should be directing some of our attention,” explains Jim McEneaney, senior vice president who also heads up the company’s diversity programs. “For us, it was the Hispanic and African-American markets. With that, we began focusing on one community at a time.”

To help promote and initiate awareness, McEneaney’s group has formed a Hispanic Advisory Council, which meets every other month to discuss and implement initiatives throughout the year—both internally as well as externally.

“We tackle everything from bringing in more Spanish-speaking agents to recruiting people to volunteer at Hispanic parades and festivals,” he explains. “All told, we probably participate in about eight to 10 events a year. In fact, we recently participated in a Chicago Fire [MLS soccer team] event. They held a Hispanic Heritage Night and we bought a number of tickets so that our agents could invite people.”

In addition, the company also holds home buyers’ seminars in Spanish for community members as well as internal seminars for agents on everything from marketing in Spanish to working with Latino investors. “A seminar for Spanish-speaking investors is in the planning stages.” What’s more, the company is taking additional steps toward helping those who do not speak and/or read English by launching a program on its Web site for those who speak many different languages.

“The program is called ‘We Speak Your Language.’ It’s a program on our Web site where we list our agents who speak languages other than English,” McEneaney explains. “So if you do not speak English, you can still find an agent who you can communicate with.”

Moving forward, the company plans on continuing to push its education and marketing initiatives. “There’s been so much negative press about foreclosures lately, we’re now trying to figure out how we can help those in the Hispanic community better understand financing and how to avoid such problems,” he says.

Coldwell Banker Burnet, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

Minnesota-based Coldwell Banker Burnet’s market area has seen significant population increases among all ethnic groups, with the biggest increase in the Hispanic/Latino community. Consequently, the company began implementing a Hispanic Outreach Program more than a year ago to help their Realtors connect with this community. 

“While we’ve always been proactive in reaching many different groups, about two years ago we got a lot more formal with our Hispanic community initiatives,” explains Leonard MacKinnon, senior vice president of marketing and communication for Coldwell Banker Burnet. “We now participate in a variety of things—events that are both educational as well as cultural.”

To that end, the company rents booth space at Hispanic festivals and brings materials to help encourage and educate the Hispanic community on the real estate market.

“We put together a program last year in which we worked with one of our sales associates on radio advertising,” MacKinnon says. “We received some good feedback back from that campaign. Plus, we also worked with a targeted ad agency to get their advice. Through these efforts, we have learned how to approach the different segments of the market and how to best educate them.”

MacKinnon says that his company makes a point of focusing on educational outreach regarding many different topics, from foreclosure prevention to basic home-buying practices. “Education is so important,” he says, “so we’ve teamed with the Minnesota Homeownership Center, which supports educational outreach and other programs.” What’s more, Coldwell Banker Burnet has also developed a relationship with NeDA (The Neighborhood Development Alliance) and others that promote the education of minorities.

“Our agents who serve the Hispanic market clearly identify education as the most important issue, so we’re trying to be responsive to that need,” MacKinnon says. “We’re continuing to try to identify what we can do and what will have the most benefit.”

Overall, Coldwell Banker Burnet has seen a fairly substantial response from the community, according to MacKinnon. “We have 40 sales associates who speak Spanish,” he says. “Consumers can come to our Web site and choose a language and people find this to be very useful. We also have a designated phone number for those who speak Spanish where they can leave a message. It’s all about trying to do things to make people feel more comfortable.”


A Brief Breakdown of Casa Coldwell Banker

Monthly internal digital newsletter
Marketing tools:
-Spanish listing presentation
-Spanish Just Listed/Just Sold postcards
-Prospecting and direct mail tools
-Monthly state-of-the-market piece translated into Spanish so agents can keep their clients informed on real estate trends and conditions
-Advertising in select Hispanic publications

Translate a monthly manager’s column into Spanish and distribute it to all Spanish-speaking publications in the Bay Area (this is not a Coldwell Banker ad, simply an informational piece to educate consumers on real estate trends)

A Snapshot of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s Efforts

The company has formed a Hispanic Advisory Council, which meets every other month to talk through and implement initiatives throughout the year—both internally as well as externally.
The company participates in up to 10 Hispanic community events a year.
The company also holds home buyers’ seminars in Spanish and internal seminars for agents on everything from marketing in Spanish to working with Latino investors.
The company will be putting on a seminar for Spanish-speaking investors in the near future.

A Look at What Coldwell Banker Burnet is Doing

The company participates in annual local Hispanic fairs and festivals.
Coldwell Banker Burnet advertises in local Hispanic publications.
The firm has developed a number of marketing pieces in Spanish, including a comprehensive flier entitled “Tips for Home Buyers and Sellers:  Important Facts to Know Before You Buy or Sell a Home.” 
Coldwell Banker Burnet’s president is on the board of directors of the Minnesota Homeownership Center, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable homeownership for low- and moderate-income Minnesotans, including people of color and immigrants.
A number of the company’s Latino Realtors teach first-time home buyers’ classes in Spanish through local organizations, such as the Minnesota Homeownership Center and the Neighborhood Development Alliance.