By Caroline Lynch Pieroni, The Courier-Journal
It took more than a year, and several dozen open houses, but Isidro and Rosario Magdaleno finally found the perfect home.
The pair, who came to the U.S. from Mexico seven years ago to work, bought their first house -- a three-bedroom off Goldsmith Lane, complete with a large yard for their two children.
Though there was a lot to learn about buying a house in the United States, the Magdalenos were able to find Spanish-speaking real-estate agents to explain what to do and help them get a loan.
For Rosario Magdaleno, 31, the house represents a better life for her children.
"In an apartment, they're always closed in," she said, through a translator, of her daughters Judit, 7, and Linda, 2. "We have to always be telling them: 'Don't jump, don't play music too loudly.' "
The Magdalenos are part of a group that is growing both locally and nationally. The homeownership rate among the country's 42.7 million Hispanics hit a record 49.5 percent in 2005 and 50 percent in the past quarter, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"I would say it has taken off more within the last year," said Patricia Bajandas, a Spanish-speaking agent with Semonin Realtors who does 90 percent of her business with Hispanics.
"I find that my business, in comparison to last year, it has doubled."
Several factors are involved. The growing Hispanic population explains some of it, and those in the Louisville and Southern Indiana markets point to local reasons.
Real-estate agents and others credit more education, including seminars offered in Spanish throughout the state by the Kentucky Housing Corp., for taking away the mystery of home buying and teaching first-time owners the ins and outs of the U.S. system. Also, local banks say they are increasingly courting the Spanish market through advertising and hiring bilingual workers to make potential homeowners aware of financing options.
The Magdalenos' search was fast-tracked when Isidro Magdaleno, a 32-year-old forklift operator, saw an ad at a National City bank branch promoting a bilingual loan officer. That led to a Spanish-speaking Realtor, and the couple said that with help from people who spoke their native language, buying a home became a goal they could reach.
"You feel more comfortable," Isidro Magdaleno said, through a translator, of having bilingual help. "For this type of thing you have to be very certain -- completely."
Bridging education gap
The Kentucky Housing Corp., a self-supporting corporation attached to the Finance and Administration Cabinet, promotes affordable housing. For the past few years, the corporation has offered its programs, including the "Yes you can … Own a home" seminar, in Spanish.
Bilingual employees help counsel Hispanics on creating a budget and teach the basics of home buying.
Charla Jackson Peter, spokeswoman for the housing corporation, said it has hired a business development manager to plan more outreach and is considering a Spanish version of its Web site.
Local agents and loan officers who work with Hispanic buyers say many are first-time home buyers and even those who owned a home in their native country find the system here far different.
"Many people come from their homelands and they never have had the opportunity to buy homes," said Bajandas, the real-estate agent. "The system is completely new to them."
Monte Cosin, who moved here three years ago when her husband took a job with Yum! Brands, was surprised at how much Americans move around. She said in her home country of Spain, people stay put, making it more difficult to buy or sell a house.
"Everyone here is buy, sell, buy, sell," she said, adding that affordable prices here have made their Lake Forest home possible. In Spain, "you can't buy a house like this. It's more, more expensive."
For the Magdalenos, the part that was hard to swallow was the 30-year mortgage. In Mexico, Rosario Magdalenos said, a down payment of 30 or 40 percent might be required, and the loan periods are not so long.
"It's a little worrisome to think … 30 years," she said, her eyes widening.
The pages of local Spanish newspapers also hold another clue to the growth in Hispanic home buying. Each week, real-estate and bank ads call out to readers: "Get more from your mortgage" and "Call … for information about mortgage loans."
Local real-estate professionals say banks have started to understand the power of the growing Hispanic community and are trying to reach that market, through advertising, hiring bilingual staff and understanding cultural barriers.
One of those barriers is that experience in the home countries have taught them not to trust banks or the government.
"They feel safer having their money under the mattress, rather than in the bank," said Felipe Mendoca, a loan officer for International Mortgage Lenders. "Most of them pay rent and bills with cash, so it's hard to establish their credit history."
Jeff Nelson, a senior vice president for Republic Bank, said his company has tried to be flexible and understand cultural challenges, including customers who don't have credit.
"We look at some other things to try to make a decision," he said. "We look at their work history, how long they've been paying their bills, their employment status. We look at income."
With continued education and better understanding between banks and Hispanics, the buying will continue to increase, said Yidda Landis, a bilingual Realtor with ReMax Properties East.
She said she's seeing a more diverse clientele -- from professionals to factory workers, from Mexicans to Cubans to Spaniards -- and they're coming to Louisville because of jobs, affordable housing and the city's reputation as a good place to raise kids.
Home buying, for them, is about "stability for their children," she said. "They want to have a little bit of the American dream."
Reporter Darhiana Mateo contributed to this story.