Real Estate Translation Services for LEP and Foreign Homebuyers
Legal translation services play an important role in real estate transactions. In addition, there is a segment of our society that represents untapped potential for real estate agencies, mortgage bankers, loan servicing companies, title insurance companies, and any company that takes part in real estate transactions in the U.S. That segment consists of LEP individuals, some of whom are foreign homebuyers.
“LEP” stands for individuals with Limited English Proficiency, and statistics show that more and more people in the U.S. fall under that category, the largest percentage being those who primarily speak Spanish.
According to the president of Mortgage Bankers Association, the Latino community is massive, it’s ready to own, and it’s now. “The significance of Hispanics to housing and the economy will only grow, creating opportunity for all who focus on this vibrant, dynamic, and impactful part of the U.S. economy.”
As more foreign-born people join the U.S. population – the current 13% of foreign-born Americans is projected to increase to 19% by 2060 – the more there will be a need to address the needs of LEP individuals. And rather than have this phenomenon be viewed as a problem in society, it should be seen as a business development that private companies can embrace to both help LEP individuals and help a company’s bottom line.
In this article, we take a brief look at real estate trends, particularly in the Hispanic market; discuss the ways in which federal and state governments are addressing the needs of LEP individuals for financial translation services; the risks real estate companies take in not keeping up with the trends in homeownership; and what companies can do to capitalize on the opportunity to serve a growing LEP population.
Current Trend in U.S. Real Estate: Hispanic Homeownership is on the Rise
According to the Hispanic Homeownership Report quoted above, Hispanics were the only major racial or ethnic group to raise their homeownership rate in the year 2015. In fact, Hispanics accounted for 69% of the total net growth in U.S. homeownership in 2015, and Hispanic homeownership spiked upward while overall homeownership rates in the country trended downward.
Virtually all LEP persons have limited English proficiency because either they or their family members are from non-English speaking countries. In the U.S., 61% of people born in Latin America, and 46% of people born in Asia are LEP. By contrast, 2% of persons born in the U.S. are LEP.
Those statistics show that Hispanics are currently driving the housing market in this country, and a good number of Spanish-speaking individuals in the U.S. are LEP individuals. Accordingly, companies involved in real estate transactions would be wise to accommodate for LEP (particularly Spanish-speaking) individuals.
Federal and State Government Responses to Help LEP Individuals
The need to ensure that LEP individuals have access to goods and services in the same manner as those fluent in English has prompted both federal and state governments to put appropriate regulations in place. In 2000, President Bill Clinton pioneered the effort by issuing Executive Order 13166, titled “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency.” The Department of Justice provided “LEP Guidance to Recipients” to enforce that Executive Order, setting forth rules that federal agencies should follow to accommodate LEP individuals who receive federal funds or services.
Specific to the real estate industry, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently provided legal guidance to mortgage banks and lenders on the subject. It stated that discriminatory treatment of LEP individuals is akin to discrimination based on national origin. It added that such discrimination would run afoul of the Fair Housing Act.
In addition, many state legislatures took initiatives to ensure LEP individuals were not the subject of discrimination. For example, California enacted a law requiring lenders who negotiate loans in Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Tagalog, or Vietnamese provide certain disclosures in those languages; and Delaware requires that lenders of short-term consumer loans provide the loan applications in Spanish and English.
Risks Companies Take in Not Accommodating LEP Population
The first big risk real estate-related companies take in not addressing the needs of LEP individuals is legal. As noted above, if discrimination based on someone’s English language proficiency can be proven, then it likely could be actionable as national origin discrimination.
Such discrimination could lead to claims under the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices law (UDAAP). In addition, the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may initiate an enforcement action against a company that discriminates based on a customer’s English proficiency. Finally, companies also need to be aware of state laws regarding foreign-language accommodations.
The second big risk real estate companies take is in missed business opportunities. The percentage of foreign-born people in the U.S. is increasing. It makes good business sense to address the needs of potential customers. Not creating policies and procedures to help LEP individuals on the front end may leave your company at a disadvantage in the long run.
What Can You Do to Capitalize on the Growing Foreign Homebuyer Population?
First, your company should be aware of, and comply with, all of the federal and state laws and regulations related to LEP individuals. Second, you should make sure your company’s foreign language marketing materials are not deceptive or disadvantage LEP individuals.
Third, and most important, your company should establish company policies and procedures that are designed to assist LEP individuals. Virtually all real estate transactions have a voluminous amount of legal paperwork that needs to be reviewed by customers. Your company should be prepared ahead of time to translate those dense, technical documents into the languages of LEP homebuyers, such as Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Arabic, Portuguese, Farsi, Polish, French, to name just a few. That is where a good legal translation service comes in handy.
Rather than try to support a bilingual function in-house, which can be costly, simply take advantage of the services of a good legal translation service. Indeed, the best way to ensure accuracy, responsiveness, and comprehensive coverage for all languages is to hire a certified legal translation service. Language experts at All Language Alliance, Inc. can help you serve the traditionally underserved LEP community. Contact our legal translation company to obtain accurate translation of commercial lease contracts and residential lease agreements in all languages, and to retain services of legal interpreters for real estate closings.