Sunday, April 21, 2002

Title Resolutions breaks language barrier

Company translates home-buying jargon to Hispanics

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        BLUE ASH — Title insurance. Tax pro-ration. Escrow account. Closing. Comprende? Cincinnati lenders talking to Spanish-speaking home-buyers from Central and South American countries often realize they might as well be speaking Chinese as English. The terms are often unfamiliar, but the concepts are even more foreign.

        That's a growing concern in the Tristate, which is seeing an ever-increasing influx of Hispanic people. When these Spanish-speaking immigrants are ready to buy a home, they need a translator.

        Enter Louis Valencia and his company, Title Resolutions. Mr. Valencia says that his firm is the only title company in the Cincinnati area that offers its services in both Spanish and English.

        “We provide the Hispanic customer with a comfort level that can be very needed in the process of buying a home,” he explained. “We are familiar with their culture and can provide services to them in their language, while also translating any technical terminology.”

  Title Resolutions offers seminars in English and Spanish that are aimed at the first-time home buyer. The sessions focus on understanding the financial requirements for homeownership and the process of purchasing a home. They also include information about nontraditional sources of mortgage funds and rehab loans. Owner Louis Valencia also talks about what's involved in home ownership.
  The classes are given through the Better Housing League in Mount Auburn, 721-6855; the Avondale-based Home Ownership Center of Greater Cincinnati, 961-2800; and Catholic Social Services of Northern Kentucky in Covington (859) 581-8974.
  To learn more about these free classes, call the organizations. Title Resolutions is at 10979 Reed Hartman Highway, suite 115, Blue Ash. Telephone: 984-8700.
        The majority of Mr. Valencia's clients can get by in English conversation. But whether they're corporate executives or day laborers, they are more comfortable conducting legal matters in their native tongue, and with someone who understands how strange U.S. homebuying customs may be to them.

        Title Resolutions' translations aren't limited to the home-buyers. Company employees provide background information to lenders and real estate agents so they will understand a Hispanic buyer's expectations, experience and culture.

        Compared to Latin America

        Mr. Valencia, whose family emigrated from Colombia when he was a baby, explains that in many Latin countries interest rates can reach 40 percent, and families may save for years to accumulate enough money for the sizeable down payment.

        “It's hard to save money, and it's hard to draw it out of the bank,” he said. “In some countries, buying property is a bad investment, because you will owe more than the property will ever be worth.”

        For those who do purchase homes, it's not uncommon to qualify for a loan by having several friends or family members as cosigners. Paperwork is minimal. Formal closings are nonexistent.

        “You might meet at a local cantina and sign a couple of papers,” Mr. Valencia said. “Tax pro-rations don't exist. Escrow accounts? We don't have them. There's no such thing as APR.”

        Title Resolutions has been in business almost two years. In that time, the company has tripled its office space and is ready to expand again.

        “We've got six people here, three at the courthouse and one that works in the evenings. We need to almost double,” said the owner.

        While most of Title Resolutions' clients are English-speaking, the prospect for growth in the Spanish-speaking market leads Mr. Valencia to hire associates who are bilingual.

        It's not the career Mr. Valencia envisioned when he was in law school at the University of Toledo, but his work experiences while a student influenced his decision to use his legal training to bring the American dream within reach of the Hispanic population.

        “In law school, I was really into trial law. But I started working for a title company, and started seeing all the abuses by predatory lenders. You never saw the banks targeting the Hispanic community.”

        In its first two years, Title Resolutions has developed relationships with others in the industry who offer bilingual capabilities.

        “There are 14 bilingual real estate agents in the area, and we deal with them,” he said. “Bank One and Wells Fargo have hired their first bilingual loan officers.”

        Now the company is poised to communicate with the vast majority of agents and lenders who can't slip into Spanish when it's needed. It's also trying to raise its profile in the Spanish-speaking community through ads in the Spanish Journal and contacts within the Panamerican Society of Greater Cincinnati and classes that Mr. Valencia teaches for first-time homebuyers.

        Mr. Valencia's brother, James, was hired about a year ago by the Home Ownership Center of Greater Cincinnati. A loan officer, he also provides long-term counseling for new home owners. The brothers bring valuable capabilities to the organization, said Joann Brady, its director of operations.

        “By having Louis Valencia's title company we can now reach a segment of the community we couldn't reach before, because we can speak Spanish,“ she explained. “By having his brother here it helps us tremendously.

        “Louis is great as a teacher too. He explains the title and closing process, and offers his translation services free of charge when he's doing the closing.”

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