Spanglish Spells Success

Armando Tam is growing his network of Casa Latino franchises by concentrating on underserved Latino neighborhoods in Northern California.

June 1, 2009

Armando Tam
Casa Latino AT Realty, Concord, Calif.

Years in Business: 7; became a salesperson in 2002, opened an independent brokerage in 2006, and joined Casa Latino franchise network in 2008.
2008 Gross Sales: $211 million (six offices) on 936 transaction sides
2007 Gross Sales: $56.5 million (two offices) on 257 transaction sides
Number of Offices: 6
Number of Sales Associates: 30

His Business Mission

We seek out the people no one else wants to help. We’re in lower-income neighborhoods, and sometimes we share space with existing businesses that have already earned the trust of the community. Right now we share space with a tax preparer, a Christian bookstore, and a travel agent. We only need about 200 square feet and four desks at each location. And we have our people there as long as business is coming into the store. During tax season, the tax shop is open until 10 p.m., so we always have a sales associate working, too. We brand our business so that it’s recognizable from place to place, even with just 200 square feet. We know we can’t buy trust. We have to earn it.

Why He's Not Overniched

People have wondered if a name like Casa Latino might exclude us from parts of the market, deterring non-Hispanics. I say no. We have a brand that’s growing. Branding helps drive traffic as people become more familiar with our concept. We have the same signage at every location and the same gray furniture. About 50 percent of our clients are Hispanic, but we work with everyone. About 35 percent of our business is with African Americans.

Speaking the Client's Language

Because our sales associates are bilingual, we can communicate directly with adults rather than rely on their children to be translators—which happens often in the Latino market. It’s much more challenging to do deals that way. Customers appreciate our approach. They tell us: "You made our dreams come true. You understand our struggles."

Cultivating Future Clients

We never turn people away. If customers don’t have enough money for a down payment, we counsel them on setting aside money for the future. Our plan is to stay in touch and see how they’re doing with their goals. For people having trouble making mortgage payments, we know attorneys who can help with loan modifications. Maintaining our relationship with existing clients is as important as finding new ones. We send people information on all kinds of topics—it might be an article about how their kids can make the most out of college or a recipe for chicken with black beans.

Why 'Spanglish' Works on the Web

Combining English and Spanish on our Web site helps keep our costs down, compared with setting up multiple sites. It’s also what our customers are familiar with. We’re working with many second-generation Hispanic families, and Spanglish is the way they communicate.

Dealing With Short Sales

We’ve set up an affiliated business for short sales so buyers and sellers know they can count on us for these types of transactions. Our associates can take on these clients because we have an expertise. Currently, about 20 percent of our revenue comes from short sales.

How Martial Arts Shaped His Career

My family moved to the United States from Nicaragua when I was four and I got involved in tae kwon do soon after. At 13, I was teaching kids and adults. The sport gave me a lot of confidence and helped me launch my other career in salsa dancing. I always liked being a leader and a trainer, even as a child. I enjoy seeing other people become successful.

Using Food to Recruit

Every month I prepare a fantastic meal for my sales force and salespeople from other companies. People really want to try Armando’s cooking! I might make a seven-hour roasted pork, a Brazilian black bean and sausage dish, and Caribbean rice. It costs me $200 for food. I hold the event in my office, with Latin jazz playing in the background. I want people to see what we're about.

What's your story?

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Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.