Since learning English in his youth, Jorge “Junior” Ibarra has often been called upon to translate for his Spanish-speaking parents.
Sometimes the stakes were low. At parent-teacher conferences, when his teacher said Ibarra was a frequent talker and got into trouble, “I would turn around and say, ‘Mom, she thinks I’m a good student,'” he said. – he says laughing.
Often, however, as children of non-native English speakers well know, the stakes were much higher.
When it came to buying a car or even a house, areas such as financing terms, interest rates, etc. – already a foreign language for some native speakers – were almost impossible for a child to understand, let alone transmit.
“I had no idea what I was translating,” recalls Ibarra. It was particularly difficult when his parents bought a house: “English-English real estate is difficult enough. But I was supposedly translating.
As Ibarra grew and began to invest in real estate himself, he realized that Spanish translators were still in short supply in such large transactions. And, more often than it should, it’s resulted in bad business.
Financial institutions seemed to take advantage of the language barrier – and the lack of full citizenship of their customers, in some cases – by inducing borrowers to accept riskier loans or terms. Ibarra talked about people he knew who were encouraged to buy houses under contract with interest rates that would increase every year, or predatory balloon clauses that imposed refinancing within a certain time frame, all of which weren’t not clearly explained.
“Unfortunately, some of my family members lost their homes because they probably had this 12 or 13-year-old translator, and they didn’t know what they were buying,” Ibarra said.
In 2014, he started Ibarra Realty Group, a Des Moines-based team within real estate brokerage Keller Williams that not only treated these types of clients fairly, but actually spoke their language. It was the first place in Iowa, and a rarity nationwide, that focused exclusively on non-Native Latino residents who were on the path to citizenship.
“You can still buy a house as long as you file taxes,” Ibarra said. “It’s been a game-changer because you don’t have to buy under contract anymore if you don’t want to, and it really creates a tremendous opportunity for immigrant communities.”
Now immigrants like Ibarra’s parents could buy houses fairly. But they also wanted to start their own business, not only to live, but also to prosper. Here, too, they faced problems.
“First and foremost, there are no loans” at all on the business side, Ibarra said. This meant that would-be business owners racked up tens of thousands of dollars just to clear the first hurdle to opening or expanding their business.
And when they finally saved enough for a lease, “they were taken advantage of,” Ibarra said, just like on the residential side. “They signed leases (where) they didn’t know what they were signing.”
This is where Manny Toribio comes in.
Toribio has experience and connections on the government side, working for and with cities and learning the ins and outs of applying for small business loans and tenant law. He and Ibarra first connected with the board of the Latino Center of Iowa and realized they could combine forces for good.
“Is (this) type of business allowed? What would be the requirements? What about fire escapes or landscaping?” says Toribio. be thoughtful and communicated to them, because sometimes when they just see a contract to sign the lease… they’re going to burn that the first year with things that they didn’t know they were going to come in.
The two real estate professionals, along with COO Ryan Cahoy, are already seeing results on their new 25-person project, just six months old. Recently, they reported helping Mariela Maya, owner of popular Peruvian restaurant Panka in Des Moines, prepare to open a second location, Panka Peruvian Chicken.
“She is now in the final stages of opening up,” Toribio said. “We learned a lot with her, she learned a lot with us.”
Maya, herself a former real estate broker, said she was referred to Ibarra Realty Group. She said the pair were “great, very helpful and professional” and noted that she had recommended them based on their attentiveness.
“It’s very important that if you need them they are able to answer your questions, and they were there the whole time trying to help you, and that’s important,” Maya said. “They’re not like, ‘I’ll call you back,’ and then never call back.”
At conferences in more Latino-heavy places like Dallas, Ibarra answers questions from like-minded realtors who want to tap into the fast-growing new Latino market. He and Toribio have also worked with credit unions, which they say seem much more willing than traditional banks to try new ways to adequately fund underrepresented populations.
“Everyone is just surprised that this is happening, at this level, in Des Moines,” Toribio said.
It’s a struggle, both acknowledge. But they are determined to do it right and tap into a huge market that is growing exponentially.
“The purchasing power of Latinos goes like this,” Ibarra said, arm raised. “Big, big companies pay attention, do what they have to do, and hire a lot of bilingual or Latino talent. But when I see the commercial world of real estate, we are in the infancy in this regard to be able to provide good services and products to entrepreneurs.
By Amie Rivers
Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on the impact of state and national decisions on the daily lives of Iowans. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can help us here. Also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.