Erica Christoffer is a multimedia journalist and contributing writer and editor for REALTOR® Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Niche Spotlight: The Deaf Community
Learn how one Denver-based broker is reaching this underserved market and how you can make a transaction with a deaf client a smooth one.
January 20, 2017
When Maria Gallucci was in second grade, her parents, Ray and Ellie, bought their first home in Loveland, Colo. They purchased the third house built in a new development, but they didn’t use a real estate agent because they couldn’t find one who understood their language — American Sign Language.
She started out in the mortgage industry after graduating from high school in 1992, and then she got her real estate license in 2005. Her goal was to help deaf and hearing-impaired customers navigate the home purchase process. “They really do get taken advantage of a lot,” Gallucci says. “I’ve seen some of their paperwork; I’ve seen people put them into bad mortgages. There are more regulations today, but many still don’t understand the process.”
Today, Gallucci is a managing broker with Savvy Realty, a boutique brokerage serving the Denver area. She’s also one of only a handful of real estate professionals in Colorado who are fully bilingual in ASL and English. “She’s very compassionate and has a huge heart,” says Stacey Stambaugh Malcolm, broker-owner of Savvy Realty who works closely with Gallucci. “She’s not hard-headed — she knows the right way to go about getting something done.”
There are more than 300,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in the state, home to the Colorado School of the Deaf and the Blind, which attracts people from all over the country. Gallucci personally serves a broad area from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs because she goes to where her clients need her. Currently, about 85 percent to 90 percent of her clientele are deaf, and her production in 2016 was close to $15 million. The vast majority of her clients are referrals, but she has advertised in deaf community publications as well.
Malcolm describes Gallucci as charismatic, spunky, and fun. It’s not hard to miss her curly dark hair bouncing through the office, Malcolm says, moving with her energy and laughter. “I’ve never seen her have a bad day. Even when stuff is going wrong, she’s always a ‘we’ll get through this, we’ll get it done’ type of person, and that rubs off on other agents and her clients,” Malcolm says.
Because Gallucci was raised among the deaf, she fully understands the culture and specific needs of her clients. She also knows how to bridge the language barrier to make sure they understand each step of the buying or selling process.
Many of her clients are seeking deaf-friendly housing, which generally includes an open floor plan so they can easily communicate visually and watch their children even while cooking dinner in the kitchen. Fire alarms and CO2 detectors have to include lights, which the local fire department will install for free. Buyers may also want to install blinking doorbells, outdoor motion sensing lights, and security systems that include visual alerts. Some also want to be close to community resources and social groups for the deaf and hearing-impaired.
Gallucci says her niche is an underserved community in need of more real estate professionals who are bilingual. Over the years, she has worked mainly with hearing agents on the other side of transactions. She has a few pointers for making the process a smooth one. “Be more understanding and patient,” Gallucci advises. “Make sure your emails are clear and more detailed than usual, and don’t use a lot of real estate lingo.”
If you’re working with a deaf individual, whether at the closing table or as a client, speak normally because many can read lips, she says. Make eye contact, and be as detailed as possible. And, above all, be respectful, Gallucci says. “Don’t treat them like they’re a different breed. They’re just like us — they just can’t hear.”