Making a Home in America

By MNR News posted 20 days ago

Realtor® Jairo Ramirez is dedicated to helping Hispanic people succeed in Minnesota
During a time when first-time homebuyers across the state compete for affordable properties, many members of Minnesota’s burgeoning Hispanic community face not only economic challenges, but language and cultural barriers, too. And because so many of them work in the hospitality, restaurant, and other service industries, it can be hard to take time off for house hunting.

“Scheduling showings for properties around their work schedules in a hot, sellers’ market is difficult,” said Jairo Ramirez, a bilingual Realtor® who serves a largely Hispanic clientele in the Minneapolis area. “The properties sell so quickly, and they usually don’t have the luxury of leaving work momentarily for a showing on short notice.”

Because so many of Ramirez’s clients were laid off or furloughed during the pandemic, their dreams of owning a home were put on hold.

“They lost their financing approvals. Lender guidelines required them to stabilize in a new job or field or return to their current job for a period before they could be approved for financing again,” Ramirez said, adding: “Hispanic buyers are resilient though, and eager to own their own homes. The pandemic has only temporarily slowed them down.”

In a market distinguished by a race-based disparity gap in homeownership that is among the largest in the nation, Ramirez’s attitude is defiantly optimistic. Despite the obstacles, he always sees a way forward. As the American-born son of two Colombian immigrants, Ramirez’s strong work ethic and drive to succeed was forged early on.

“Beginning in middle school, I cleaned the next-door neighbor’s garage every weekend; was a scoreboard operator at basketball games for the middle school I attended; and at 14 started working at a deli in a health club.” Ramirez proudly ticked off items from his early resume, recognizing each job as a training ground for successively greater responsibilities and opportunities. Somewhat ironically, his introduction to real estate came along during those rare moments when he was kicking back on the couch and relaxing.

“In high school, I used to watch Flip This House on A&E with Armando Montelongo. Real estate looked exciting and fun,” Ramirez recalled. Although it would be some years before he seriously considered the profession, a seed was planted.

In the meantime, he focused his energy on education, an inclination strongly supported by his high-achieving academic parents. His father, who had come to the University of Iowa as a Fulbright scholar, earned an MA in Industrial Management and Engineering, plus an MBA. During those years, his mother got an MA in Spanish Language and Latin American Culture.

The bar was set high, and Ramirez leaped. While at the University of Minnesota, he pursued a major in Economics, and studied Finance, Management, and Negotiation. Plans changed though, and during the summer of 2011, he took a job at a brokerage in West St. Paul.

“The housing market was recovering and there were a lot of foreclosures and short sales. Although a challenging time, I knew real estate was the career for me,” Ramirez said. In 2014 he got his license and went to work for Coldwell Banker Realty.

As the economy regained momentum and demand for homes rose, housing surpluses became a distant memory. Although Ramirez’s business continued in the heated market, the intense competition for homes squeezed out many of his Hispanic clients. This bothered him deeply. When he was a child and later as a young man, he made several extended visits to Colombia where his core ideals were shaped by community values of volunteerism, collectivism, and devotion to supporting extended family. Ramirez says it is a philosophy encapsulated by the Latin American mantra: mi casa es su casa. My home is your home. Yet as a Realtor® in the highly competitive, individualistic American economy, he was challenged to provide his Hispanic clients with that most fundamental building block of the American dream—a home.

One of the biggest obstacles he faced—and still deals with—is convincing sellers to accept offers from his Hispanic clients.

“Many utilize FHA financing combined with down payment assistance,” Ramirez observed. “These are great programs; however, there are many misconceptions and inaccurate assumptions about them from fellow Realtors® and sellers. The result is that more buyers are competing for the few properties with sellers who will consider those terms. That’s why it can be such a struggle for Hispanic Realtors® to get their clients to the closing table.”

Beyond the economic challenges of buying a home, Hispanic people face the cultural challenge of making a home in Minnesota. For a state that proudly touts its ethos of “Minnesota Nice,” the reality of delivering on those words is a little more complicated.

“Minnesotans are polite, courteous, generous, and generally accepting to newcomers of different cultures and faiths,” Ramirez said. “However, Minnesotans are not good at making newcomers really feel Minnesotan, because many of them lack a genuine understanding of other cultures.”

Helping Hispanic people become fully integrated in Minnesota’s broader community requires more advocacy, education, and outreach, Ramirez observed. “It will take time and effort and requires support and collaboration from everyone to achieve real, noticeable progress,” he said.

As part of his commitment to create a path forward for Hispanics and other people who are not part of Minnesota’s racial majority, Ramirez serves on Minnesota Realtors’ (MNR) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. One of his proudest achievements was helping create the Pathway to Achievement Program, an initiative designed to increase diversity within the state’s Realtor® membership.

Although Ramirez is ever mindful of the challenges faced by Hispanics in Minnesota and the United States as a whole, he believes this nation offers opportunities like no other.

“In the U.S., anyone can achieve their dreams,” Ramirez said. “In other countries, you are generally born into your social class, and changing classes is not common. It doesn’t mean there aren’t obstacles or racism here, but the U.S. offers the highest chance of success. And that is why it is the best country in the world.”