Hurdles in Immigrant Representation

By Fred Moreno, Chief Deputy Legal Counsel

Year after year it seems that  multiple cities across the state of North Carolina continue to show up on “Best of” listings and rankings. These accolades tend to bring new companies, more jobs, and an increase in population to those regions which create a demand for housing and new clients for real estate brokers.

Did you know that many of the people that make up these increases in population might be immigrants? It has been reported that the immigrant population in NC has increased from 1.7% in 1990 to 7.6% in 2014, and has steadily increased year after year.

From 2000 to 2010, NC’s Latino population, for example, ranked sixth in the nation for growth, according to the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. With these increases to the market population, some brokers are trying to build future potential immigrant client bases by engaging in their representation. As with all clients, brokers must exercise skill, care and diligence.

Probably the largest hurdle in the representation of certain immigrant populations is that of language. Many brokers believe that certain immigrant populations do not speak English very well, if at all. However, a 2012 study by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 44% of the foreign-born population age 5 and older, who arrived in the United States in the year 2000 or later, reported high English-language speaking ability.

This may be due to the global economy and its ability to spread English music, literature, and entertainment to other parts of the world quickly. It may also be due to other countries requiring school aged children to take English courses as part of that country’s education curriculum. So, the chances that an immigrant would in fact speak English seem to be pretty good. Even in cases where a broker’s client cannot speak English, if that client has children that were born in the U.S., chances are that their children may speak English along with their parent’s native language very well.

According to a 2013 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 73% of Latinos ages 5 and older said they speak Spanish at home and 89% of U.S.-born Latinos spoke English proficiently. It is quite common to see children act as “translators” for their parents in many situations. However, brokers should proceed with this line of communication with caution. It is difficult to know if your message is being delivered to your client exactly as you intended or if a different message altogether is being conveyed. Furthermore, there may be words that are “lost in translation” as your client’s language may not have a word similar to the English version.

To help ease the language barrier, there are now several translation options which a broker may choose from simply by tapping their smartphone.

Google, for example, allows you to freely input words, sentences, and paragraphs that can be translated into many foreign languages, all at no cost. This may also help if you can speak a certain language conversationally, but are unfamiliar with specific terms such as “contract” or “agency agreement”.

Other software programs are also readily available for a fee that can do anything from text-to-speech, email, and document translations. Finally, there are easy-to-use software programs used to learn foreign languages, which can provide for immediate understanding of basic terminology to start a conversation.

Despite technological advances in communication, issues may still persist. For example, a broker may not be able to determine if the software program made an accurate translation or if the correct word was translated but was not used in the appropriate grammatical format. The best course to overcome a language hurdle would be to hire a professional translator. Due to the country’s diverse population, certified translators are now more widely available through various business entities.

Additionally, many relevant documents are produced in Spanish language versions. For example, the Working with Real Estate Agents brochure and three Commission Q&A brochures are available in Spanish. Go to for ordering information. Similarly, NCREALTORS® offers some Spanish language forms for use by its members, including the listing and buyer agency agreements and the 2T Offer to Purchase and Contract.

Another hurdle in the representation of certain immigrant populations is a lack of understanding of the customs or traditions celebrated by that immigrant population. After all, this population may speak a different language, dress differently, celebrate different holidays, and eat differently. When immigrants move to a new area, they may network  with people who share their background as this may help with their assimilation to their new environment.

Some brokers may see an opportunity to expand their client base by building relationships within this network. With advances in technology and the Internet, brokers have more information readily available at their fingertips than ever before. Not only could a broker learn to speak the potential client’s native language as discussed above, a broker could also research the various traditions and gift-giving practices that are accepted by diverse cultures.

Implementing these practices through their representation, a broker may soon find that it brings a sense of ease and comfort to their client during what can be a stressful event of buying or renting a home or leasing commercial space. Furthermore, by successfully representing just one member of an immigrant population, a broker may tap into an excellent referral network among this population.

A broker must still use caution, however, when attempting to participate in an immigrant client’s customs or traditions. If a broker does not have a full and complete understanding of a client’s ethnic traditions and cultural background, it could work to their disadvantage. Some immigrant clients my take offense at a broker participating in certain customs or traditions when the broker does not share the same background. In addition to this, brokers must use caution when practicing common American customs and traditions with immigrant clients, as there are certain customs or practices in the U.S. that are at odds with other cultures. For example, in most Asian and Caribbean cultures, it is expected that you take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. Also, touching a person on the arm, although it may seem innocent, might be considered offensive to those who grew up in China, Thailand, Korea, and the Middle East.

Finally, another hurdle in the representation of certain immigrant populations is the belief that those persons would have difficulty in obtaining a loan due to limited credit or with transferring legal documents at closing. While it is true that obtaining financing from a lender may be more difficult for anyone with limited credit history, it is not impossible.

There are a number of loan packages offered by a variety of lenders either through the typical conventional loan or portfolio lender. Also, a number of lenders market to certain immigrant populations and provide assistance by hiring employees who speak their language and by providing translated forms. A broker could gain valuable insight by meeting with these lenders as well and learning what they have to offer. It is also possible that an immigrant client may also decide to pay cash, and this could sidestep most financing concerns.

On the flip side, brokers should expect that the closing process may take longer for immigrant clients than their American counterparts. This may be due to more stringent verification processes required by lenders or source of funds verifications in cash transactions mandated by the Internal Revenue Service. Should a broker decide to engage in the representation of an immigrant client, it would be a good idea to reach out to local law firms that specialize in immigration law for advice.

Due to shifting populations, more and more brokers are interacting with immigrant populations through representation. These potential new clients are searching for housing and looking for persons to communicate with about their new environment. It is also important to know that a broker is still obligated to follow all NC license laws and Commission rules, regardless of the ethnicity of their client or the challenges it may bring. This requires the broker to represent each client competently, and prohibits discriminatory practices.

This article came from the May 2018-Vol49-1 edition of the bulletin.