Language of the Land Bilingual Real Estate Agents, Lenders Bridge Barriers Immigrants Face in Buying Homes

Article excerpt

Byline: Deborah Donovan Daily Herald Real Estate Writer

Immigrants have a reputation for working hard. And many of them are determined to achieve the American dream - including homeownership.

It's one thing people from all over the world understand, say real estate agents. Yes, in America with hard work you can own your own home and build a better future for yourself and your children.

Choosing which home to buy can affect a family's lifestyle and financial situation for the rest of their lives. The first home purchase is confusing and nerve-wracking to start with, but think of the pitfalls for those new to the country.

It starts with the first hurdle of being able to understand English.

There's also a dizzying amount of paperwork and a need to grasp the details of the home-buying process from earnest money to closings to home maintenance.

"You have to explain that this is a serious deal they're getting in to," said Jane Juanita Barbosa. She works with RE/MAX Horizon in Elgin and came here from Mexico as a young child.

"You have to explain to them that once they give the earnest money they may lose it. It's a legal process when you make an offer that has been accepted."

The importance of a home inspection and having an attorney are among the realities of the transaction that an agent must be sure clients understand, said Chris Hagn, who sells real estate through the Coldwell Banker office in Hinsdale.

Hagn speaks German, and his wife, Margaret, helps him when he has clients who speak Polish.

Immigrants today come up with the financial resources to purchase homes in an amazingly short time - sometimes two years or less - said several agents.

Most real estate companies in the suburbs have lists of agents available who speak all kinds of languages from Spanish to Swahili, from Russian to Punjabi, from Mandarin to Italian.

Realtors who speak the immigrants' language - and even those who don't - pride themselves on being able to provide the help and information these new residents need.

For one thing, many immigrants speak at least a little English, said Alicia Anderson, a native of Argentina who speaks Spanish but has worked with people from Europe and Thailand.

"When people want to make themselves understand, it's funny how you do," said the agent with Coldwell Banker in Buffalo Grove. "You understand each other."

Belarmino Sagols, managing broker for Century 21 Kammes United in West Chicago, speaks Spanish and English, but works with buyers who are fluent in neither.

"I speak very slowly," said Sagols, a native of Cuba. "I write the numbers on a piece of paper before we fill out the contract. I make sure they understand the important parts."

Anderson finds her immigrant clients are especially eager to get information about mortgages, and says a lending agent who speaks their language is helpful.

The mortgage agents can explain programs that fit the home buyers' specific needs. Perhaps, the real estate agent didn't know about a new program with no down payment required, for example.

However, the real estate agent can't just turn the home buyer over to the lender or attorney no matter how fluent they are in the client's language, Anderson said. …